Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Silk Road Stategy

I saw where someone posted this. As far as I know this has been little talked about in the media.

Congress originally passed legislation on this in 1998/9 and then updated it in 2006.

From the 1998 hearings on it->

Mr. GEE:

"I also appreciate the opportunity to appear before you as you begin consideration of H.R. 2867, the House version of the Silk Road Strategy Act. While the Administration does not yet have a formal position on the bill, the underlying theme of the proposed legislation is consistent with our policy objectives and strategic goals in the region.

To begin, you may ask why is the United States active in the region? The United States has energy security, strategic, and commercial interests in promoting Caspian region energy development. We have an interest in strengthening global energy security through diversification, and the development of these new sources of supply. Caspian export routes would diversify rather than concentrate world energy supplies, while avoiding over-reliance on the Persian Gulf.

We have strategic interests in supporting the independence, sovereignty, and prosperity of the Newly Independent States of the Caspian Basin. We want to assist the development of these States into democratic, sovereign members of the world community of nations, enjoying unfettered access to world markets without pressure or undue influence from regional powers.

We also have an interest in maximizing commercial opportunities for U.S. firms and for U.S. and other foreign investment in the region's energy development. In short, our interests are rooted in achieving multiple objectives. Rapid development of the region's energy resources and trade linkages are critical to the independence, prosperity, democracy, and stability of all of the countries of that region.

Four factors frame our policy. First, promoting multiple export routes. The Administration's policy is centered on rapid development of the region's resources and the transportation and sale of those resources to hard-currency markets to secure the independence of these new countries. Accordingly, our government has promoted the development of multiple pipelines and diversified infrastructure networks to open and integrate these countries into the global market and to foster regional cooperation...

Our support of specific pipelines, such as the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and trans-Caspian oil and gas lines, is not driven by any desire to intervene in private commercial decisions. Rather, it derives from our conclusion that it is not in the commercial interest of companies operating in the Caspian States, nor in the strategic interests of those host States, to rely on a major competitor for transit rights...

The United States supports regional approaches to Caspian energy development. The Eurasian corridor will enhance Turkey's energy security through diversification, and will ensure that Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have reliable and diversified outlets for their resources...

Our policy on Iran is unchanged. The U.S. Government opposes pipelines through Iran. Development of Iran's oil and gas industry and pipelines from the Caspian Basin south through Iran will seriously undercut the development of east-west infrastructure, and give Iran improper leverage over the economies of the Caucasus and Central Asian States. Moreover, from an energy security standpoint, it makes no sense to move yet more energy resources through the Persian Gulf, a potential major hot spot or chokepoint. From an economic standpoint, Iran competes with Turkmenistan for the lucrative Turkish gas market. Turkmenistan could provide the gas to build the pipeline, only to see itself displaced ultimately by Iran's own gas exports....

The U.S. Government's position is that we support multiple pipelines with the exception of the southern pipeline that would transit Iran. The Unocal pipeline is among those pipelines that would receive our support under that policy.
I would caution that while we do support the project, the U.S. Government has not at this point recognized any governing regime of the transit country, one of the transit countries, Afghanistan, through which that pipeline would be routed. But we do support the project....

"Our Standard of Living"

I post various things and I don't always comment on them. I think a lot of things speak for themselves.

But recently, a friend of mine defended the Utah wilderness destruction - since we need oil.

What bothers me is that our country is not doing more - that passive solar homes are not standard/normal - that cars do not all get 50+mpg - that people don't consume less in general, etc. That people in the US are willing to destroy some of our greatest places rather than change consumption habits. That people are willing to send their children to war rather than change and conserve.

Conserving, living smarter and more sustainably is something that various groups in the US have been working against for quite awhile. As if we can just keep tearing down mountains and drilling every square foot to maintain "our standard of living". What a bunch of nonsense.

You would think that "our standard of living" is like "God" or something that must be worshipped and maintained above all other interests.

What will happen with that sort of mentality is that "our standard of living" will be greatly diminshed sooner and more drastically than would have been necessary. And our world will be a far less habitable and wonderful place.

It will be place where much of the land and oceans will have been destroyed and polluted. Many of the wild animals will not be able to survive. The coral reefs will be gone. The Appalachians will be gone. Jellyfish will do alright, probably. Algae and a few other things. The coasts will be decimated. Most of the snow will be gone. Water will be scarce.

There will be wars and destruction. Perhaps there will be more diseases. But it's people who are living now who are making the choice for this to happen and to happen sooner - because of "our standard of living".

Passive Solar Homes

There is an article in the New York Times about "Passive Houses". The article is about houses in Germany - mostly about super-insulated houses. Which have been built for awhile. At least I've known about them for 30-35 years. The difference is the ones featured in the article use:

"an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency."

So that sounds good. I knew someone who made a super-insulated 6" thick walled house that needed very little heat (one small log a day) -and they had to turn on a ventilator daily because it was so air tight.

Also - in Germany - it said that the houses only cost 5-7% more to build and you essentially do not need any or very little extra heat.

The technology has been there to make well-insulated houses. Perhaps it just takes the building codes to require it - to get all of the architects and builders on board. There is a certain amount of insulation required, esp. good windows, a good south face - but there is no reason it couldn't be common.

"Mobile homes" - at least those in certain states ought to require better standards in regards to insulation and wall thickness as well. It's nuts for people to continue to spend ridiculous amounts for heat (using up coal, etc.) instead of spending more on the structure of the house to begin with. We noticed it didn't cost any more to heat a large 3000+ sq. foot old house than to heat a 750 sq. foot "mobile home" (that aren't all that mobile and are often left to rot after a certain amount of time).

The article suggests that these designs are for 500 sq. feet of living space per person. But it also said this design is used for schools. The super-insulated house I saw was probably a 2000-2500 sq. foot house. I expect that these could be made no matter what the size - but that it would be best if people did not use up resources on huge houses, anyway.

From the article:

The first passive home was built here in 1991 by Wolfgang Feist, a local physicist, but diffusion of the idea was slowed by language. The courses and literature were mostly in German, and even now the components are mass-produced only in this part of the world.

The industry is thriving in Germany, however — for example, schools in Frankfurt are built with the technique.

Moreover, its popularity is spreading. The European Commission is promoting passive-house building, and the European Parliament has proposed that new buildings meet passive-house standards by 2011...

Ironically, however, when California inspectors were examining the Berkeley home to determine whether it met “green” building codes (it did), he could not get credit for the heat exchanger, a device that is still uncommon in the United States. “When you think about passive-house standards, you start looking at buildings in a different way,” he said...

The air from outside all goes through HEPA filters before entering the rooms. The cement floor of the basement isn’t cold. The walls and the air are basically the same temperature.

Look closer and there are technical differences: When the windows are swung open, you see their layers of glass and gas, as well as the elaborate seals around the edges. A small, grated duct near the ceiling in the living room brings in clean air. In the basement there is no furnace, but instead what looks like a giant Styrofoam cooler, containing the heat exchanger....

But the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly are not readily available in the United States. So the construction of passive houses in the United States, at least initially, is likely to entail a higher price differential.

Moreover, the kinds of home construction popular in the United States are more difficult to adapt to the standard: residential buildings tend not to have built-in ventilation systems of any kind, and sliding windows are hard to seal...

Researchers are looking into whether the concept will work in warmer climates — where a heat exchanger could be used in reverse, to keep cool air in and warm air out....

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Tennessee Ash Flood"

Fifteen homes like this one in Harriman, Tenn., were flooded with fly ash sludge on Monday after a storage pond wall broke.

The spill was "5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep."

The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

A test of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders, said John Moulton, a spokesman for the T.V.A., which owns the electrical generating plant, one of the authority’s largest.

Mr. Moulton said on Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.

Understanding the Exponential Function

This is a good review of what's going on with population growth and consumption growth and why our lifestyle is not sustainable.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

What it means for Utah - is that people want to tear up the wilderness for 7 weeks worth of oil and 5 months of natural gas:

An Analysis of Utah Oil and Gas Production, Leasing, and Future Resources

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Bush Giveaway of America's Redrock Wilderness

By Robert Redford (@ The

You can't put a price on silence or solitude. You can't quantify the beauty of wilderness. And yet that's not going to stop the Bush administration from trying to sell off what should be the birthright of future generations.

In three days, this Friday, 110,000 acres of majestic Utah wild lands go on the auction block, to be sold to the highest bidders in the oil and gas industry. It's a last-ditch effort by a corrupt administration to further enrich its friends in the dirty fuels business. If they succeed, they'll leave a wasteland behind them.

Never mind that we the People of the United States just rejected the failed energy policy of "drill, baby, drill!" Never mind that once industrialized, these precious lands will be marred for centuries. Ravaging these places will put cash in the pockets of greedy speculators, even if it won't solve our energy problems.

The miraculous thing about America though, is that we the People have options. And one of those options is to take a corrupt and foolish administration to court.

This morning I stood with my friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) to announce an emergency lawsuit aimed at stopping this wanton destruction of Utah wilderness. Sharon Buccino, the head of NRDC's lands program, has been fighting the Bush administration for eight years, holding the line against an industrial juggernaut. She says it's illegal under federal law for the Bureau of Land Management to just snap its fingers and sell off national treasures. In its rush, BLM just ignored the rules.

Sharon's case will be among the last lawsuits NRDC ever files against the Bush administration. Most of those lawsuits have been successful. I don't know the odds on this one, but my fingers are crossed. It could be our last chance to protect these irreplaceable lands.

Bush may be a lame duck president, but he can still quack.

UK - Gov't Attempts to Overturn Pesticide Ruling

By Louise Gray From the

A landmark High Court ruling, that found pesticides are harming rural communities, could be overturned by the Government on the grounds that proposals to control use of chemicals could cripple the farming industry.

Last month environment campaigner Georgina Downs managed to prove that residents across the UK have suffered harm to their heath from crop spraying close to their homes.

The High Court ruled that the Government failed to comply with a European Directive to protect people from the possible harmful effects of exposure to toxic chemicals.

But the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs claim that it is impossible to rule out all "possible harmful effects". Instead ministers are proposing stricter controls on use of chemicals.

A spokesman said: "This decision would make it impossible to authorise pesticides governed by the [European] Directive for use in the UK, which would have a very serious impact on farming and food production and would put the UK out of line with the rest of Europe. Defra will be asking the Court of Appeal to overturn this ruling. The protection of the health of those who live, work or visit the countryside remains our highest priority. We will want to look again at the advantages and disadvantages of additional measures, irrespective of the outcome of the case."

Ms Downs, 35, who has been named as a British Erin Brockovich, said the decision was "completely irresponsible".

She said: "The Government's decision to appeal this ruling continues to demonstrate the Government's absolute contempt for rural residents and communities and is a disgrace. Heads should be rolling, following such a landmark High Court Judgment, but instead it's business as usual with the Government's relentless attempts to protect the industry as opposed to the health of its citizens abundantly clear."

Ms Downs, 35, who suffered from pesticide poisoning as a child and now runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, fought for seven years to prove pesticides can cause health problems from rashes and sore throats to "chronic" illnesses including cancers, asthma and neurological conditions.

"The Government's decision to appeal against the High Court ruling is just adding insult to injury to all those residents whose health and lives have been affected as a result of the Government's flawed and unlawful policy and the sheer arrogance of it all is beyond belief," she added.

Japan Leads with No-waste Lifestyle

By Amelia Newcomb From The Christian Science Monitor

KAMIKATSU, JAPAN ...This is a town singularly focused on banishing waste – all waste – by 2020. The 2,000 people of Kamikatsu have dispensed with public trash bins. They set up a Zero Waste Academy to act as a monitor. The town dump has become a sort of outdoor filing cabinet, embracing 34 categories of trash – from batteries to fluorescent lights to bottle caps.

Kamikatsu has probably pushed the recycling ethic as far as any community in the world. But it's just one small indicator of a national drive by Japan to position itself as a leader in the world's urgent quest to live greener.

The momentum cuts across a broad base – from individual recycling to factory efficiency to trading in electronic trash.

Just four decades ago, this small island nation had become an environmental cautionary tale, some of its cities synonymous with the high health costs of rapid postwar industrialization.

But the strengths that propelled Japan toward economic superpowerdom – efficient manufacturing and technological refinement among them – have also helped lay the foundation for a more energy efficient and less polluting society.

Last July, Japanese hosted the G-8 summit and gave it an environmental cast, touting how their manufacturers sustained a drive for energy stinginess long after the oil shocks of the 1970s gave way to the cheap fuel and SUVs of the '90s.

More recently, recycling efforts have burgeoned, as has progress in reducing waste in everything from cars to copy machines. And with cellphones and computers becoming obsolete at fiber optic speeds, Japan is emerging as a top competitor in what is known as urban mining – safely extracting valuable metals for industrial reuse.

"Japan has generally been better than [the US] internationally on a number of issues, including reducing electronic waste, recycling, and energy-efficiency," says Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy in New Haven, Conn. "The region sees Japan as technological leaders, and as we move more toward understanding the technological role in making environmental progress, there's a sense that Japan has a lot to share."

At Toyota's Tsutsumi assembly plant in Nagoya, Japan's answer to Detroit, evidence of a more environmentally sensitive car industry is on display before you even walk through a door. What was once a vast, gray expanse of industrial might has come to life – literally.

Large trees – 50,000 were planted in May – dot the visitor parking lot to offer a soothing greeting, says the plant's "sustainable initiative" manager. Insulating vines wend their way up the outside of an employee locker building. Some 22,000 square meters of ex-terior walls are coated with photocatalytic paint that, Toyota says, mirrors the ability of 2,000 poplars to absorb nitrous oxide and process oxygen.

The roof of the visitor center is a mat of grass, designed to reduce waves of heat by 3 degrees C. Solar lights dot the streets and 800-kilowatt solar panels blanket the tops of buildings. Even the red roadside flowers were genetically engineered to absorb noxious emissions and help evaporate water.

Behind Tsutsumi's face lift lies one of the globe's most visible bids to lighten the automobile's carbon footprint: the Prius. Hundreds roll off gleaming Line No. 2 here every day.

With the hybrid vehicle an Earth-friendly icon from Tokyo to Hollywood, Toyota decided it was important to have its backstory match up.

"Cars are a burden to the environment, but the hybrid helps," says Osamu Terada, leader of the sustainable plant initiative. "The plant is also important – we don't want manufacturing to cause a further burden."

Like the Prius, the Tsutsumi factory now relies on hybrid power, drawing 50 percent of its electricity from solar panels and 50 percent from capturing waste heat generated within the plant. The facility has reduced its carbon-dioxide emissions to half what they were in 1990, despite an increase in production. It eliminated production of landfill waste in 1999 and dispensed with incinerated waste in March....

It's an approach that has long characterized Japanese business. "Japanese companies have been coming from a real hatred of waste," says John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility, a global corporate consultancy. "And that has gone deeply into their manufacturing philosophy."

At Dowa Eco-System Recycling Co., in Honjo, Japan, Yoshihiko Maeda thrusts his hand into an enormous, waist-high plastic bag and rifles through hundreds of used cellphones. To him, it's opportunity time.

Usually one phone, which weighs 100-130 grams (.22 to .3 lbs.), gives .04 grams of gold, according to Dowa officials. It's a small amount, but it's valuable to manufacturers in growing competition for resources and to recyclers, who can extract and refine it to the same purity as mined gold.

Recovering the contents of everything from air conditioners to circuit boards has taken on increasing global urgency as manufacturing has moved from developed to developing countries, which often lack proper recycling facilities. But extracting the materials is highly lucrative, meaning that businesses vie to snap up the waste. Because it often is hard to automate, unsafe practices can expose workers – including children in some parts of the world – to dangerous materials.

After 2005, says Yasuhiko Hotta, a waste management expert at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Kanagawa, Japan, the government shifted its focus to international efforts. It's taking steps to prevent illegal trade in recyclables, including e-waste, and to develop the capacity for proper treatment of recyclables and waste in developing countries.

Japan's own aggressive efforts on what it has labeled the 3Rs – reuse, recycle, and reduce – have opened up numerous opportunities to support similar strategies in Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. They target improved recycling locally, although more effort is under way to bring waste back to Japan that demands highly refined processes...

As he watches a worker take molten recovered gold and press it into a brick worth some 7 million yen, or about $76,000, Mr. Maeda says that the amount of gold and silver he sees has skyrocketed. And that's a good thing.

"Mines dig deep holes, and that produces waste," he says. A ton of earth, for example, typically yields five grams of gold. A ton of cellphones, meanwhile, contains 400 grams of gold, along with 500 grams of silver and 4 grams of palladium, according to Dowa.

Starting next year, the Japanese government will require telecommunications carriers to recycle all cellphones. "We used to think our resources were limitless 40 years ago, but now we can feel the limitation, so we recycle everything," says Maeda...

The town now has an 80-percent recycling rate, up from 55 percent 10 years ago. (The US national recycling rate is an average of about 34 percent, with some cities considerably higher.) The local hotel – where tourists arrive by the bus load to dip into baths fed by mountain hot springs – is heated with biomass burners, saving 7 million yen annually, or about $76,000, and reducing its CO2 emissions...

(Kikue Nii's) practices, which she pushes her grandchildren to emulate, are not just impelled by the new environmental push. Her generation often invoke a long-standing Japanese ethic that has informed samurai and artisans alike: mottainai, or waste not.

"Each person has to do something," Mrs. Nii says, "so their children and grandchildren can have a more peaceful life."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Jellyfish on the menu..."

" edible fish stocks become extinct"

From the

Fish stocks around Britain have been reduced to 10 per cent of what they were 100 years ago due to overfishing. Common skate and angel fish are already extinct while favourites like cod are in danger of being wiped out.

The European Union has been trying to help fish stocks recover by introducing quotas for every country under the Common Fisheries Policy.

However scientists have said that unless the system is completely overhauled fish stocks will continue to deplete to the point of extinction by 2048, leaving consumers little option but to eat jellyfish or the small bony species left behind at the bottom of the ocean.

New fishing quotas are to be set this week by Europe.

Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, said the system is failing to work because ministers haev not heeded the advice of scientists. He said that quotas are consistently around a quarter higher than scientists advise, meaning fish stocks are unable to recover.

"It's a waste of taxpayers' money to develop fisheries advice and science across Europe and then ignore it at the decision-making stage," he said.

Prof Roberts said that in the 1970s three-quarters of Europe's fish were in a healthy or slightly at risk state, but today more than half the EU's stocks were in danger. Another reason the quota system is not working is the problem of discard. An estimated one million tons of fish is dumped in the North Sea every year because it is over quota, the wrong species or too small.

He said that unless the system is improved, fish stocks in UK waters could dwindle to the point of extinction within decades.
"If we do not change our ways we will have less and less to catch... so jelly fish could end up on the menu as opposed to cod in our fish and chips," he said...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jellyfish - Gone Wild

(A combination of news articles based on the NSF “Jellyfish Gone Wild!!“ report. Of course - this is nothing new to Universal Jellyfish. But it's interesting to see articles about it. It sounds like concern is ramping up -> "suspicion is growing that population explosions of jellyfish are being generated by human activities").

A jellyfish swarm in the Gulf of Mexico

Massive swarms of jellyfish are a growing threat to swimmers, the fishing industry, and even the nuclear power industry, a new report argues, and it’s high time for scientists to begin researching the causes of the population boom and how to reverse the trend. The new report from the National Science Foundation may tend towards sensationalism (the report is titled “Jellyfish Gone Wild!!“), but the problem is very real.

Huge swarms of stinging jellyfish and similar slimy animals are ruining beaches in Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, Australia and elsewhere, U.S. researchers report.

Their report says 150 million people are exposed to jellyfish globally every year, with 500,000 people stung in the Chesapeake Bay, off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, alone.

Another 200,000 are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly Portuguese man-of-war, according to the report, a broad review of jellyfish research.

The report, available on the Internet at, says the Black Sea's fishing and tourism industries have lost $350 million because of a proliferation of comb jelly fish.

The report says more than 1,000 fist-sized comb jellies can be found in a cubic yard of Black Sea water during a bloom.
They eat the eggs of fish and compete with them for food, wiping out the livelihoods of fishermen, according to the report.
And it says a third of the total weight of all life in California's Monterey Bay is made up of jellyfish.

Human activities that could be making things nice for jellyfish include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and building artificial structures such as oil and gas rigs.

Creatures called salps cover up to 38,600 square miles of the North Atlantic in a regular phenomenon called the New York Bight, but researchers quoted in the report said this one may be a natural cycle.

"There is clear, clean evidence that certain types of human-caused environmental stresses are triggering jellyfish swarms in some locations," William Hamner of the University of California Los Angeles says in the report.

These include pollution-induced "dead zones", higher water temperatures and the spread of alien jellyfish species by shipping.

From the NSF - Enviromental Change and Jellyfish Blooms

1. 1/3 of the total weight of all life in Monterey Bay is from gelatinous animals.

2. 3 minutes after a person is stung by a deadly box jellyfish, s/he may be dead.

3. 8 years after fast-reproducing comb jellies invaded in the Black Sea, they dominated it.

4. 20 to 40 people are killed annually from box jellyfish stings in the Philippines alone.

5. 100 foot-long tentacles may dangle from the Lion’s Mane Jelly.

6. 400 vast Dead Zones in world oceans are too polluted for almost all life except jellyfish.

7. 1,000+ fist-sized comb jellies filled each cubic meter of water in Black Sea jelly blooms.

8. 45,000 eggs may be released daily by a single jellyfish.

9. 500,000 people are stung by jellyfish in the Chesapeake Bay annually.

10. 500 million refrigerator-sized jellyfish float into the Sea of Japan daily during blooms.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama Selects Top Environmental Advisers

From the New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama has selected his top energy and environmental advisers, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, presidential transition officials said Wednesday.

Collectively, they will have the task of carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated intent to curb global warming emissions drastically while fashioning a more efficient national energy system. And they will be able to work with strong allies in Congress who are interested in developing climate-change legislation, despite fierce economic headwinds that will amplify objections from manufacturers and energy producers.

The officials said Mr. Obama would name Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Mr. Obama also appears ready to name Carol M. Browner, the E.P.A. administrator under President Bill Clinton, as the top White House official on climate and energy policy and Lisa P. Jackson, who until recently was New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection, as the head of the E.P.A.

Aides cautioned that while Mr. Obama appeared to favor Ms. Browner for the new White House post, there were still issues to be resolved before the appointment was formalized. Mr. Obama plans to name the environmental team next week in Chicago, aides said.

If named to the White House climate post, Ms. Browner, an acolyte of former Vice President Al Gore, will have forceful support in the new Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, who will be the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who is returning as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Opposing their efforts will be many Republicans and some Democrats, as well as manufacturers, utilities, oil companies and coal producers who will bear the brunt of the costs of any steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the main culprit in global warming.

In the coming months, the administration will also have to devise a strategy for dealing with global talks to address climate change, which are already under way.

In addition, both Ms. Browner and Ms. Jackson, who have strong reputations for regulating industry, will be under pressure to revisit and overturn many of the clean-air rules and other regulations imposed during the Bush administration over the objections of environmentalists.

Mr. Obama has promised to spend liberally to finance infrastructure projects and support so-called green technologies that will create jobs while benefiting the environment. These officials will work with Mr. Obama’s economic advisers to try to find — and finance — projects that accomplish these goals...

Dr. Chu will be taking on one of the most challenging jobs in government at the Department of Energy. He will be responsible for the maintenance and development of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, as well as for modernizing the nation’s electrical power delivery system.

He will also play a central role in directing the research and development of alternative energy sources needed to replace fossil fuels in a era of constrained carbon emissions. Mr. Chu shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 for work on supercooled atoms.

At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, he has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group, said he was pleased that Dr. Chu had the technical expertise to realistically assess future energy technologies.

“His experience seems to dovetail perfectly with the president-elect’s commitment to bringing new energy technology to market in a timely fashion,” Mr. Segal said. “An understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate change policy.”

...Ms. Browner, a lawyer, is well known in Washington and around the country as a forceful environmental advocate and experienced capital player.

...Ms. Jackson had been the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection since 2006...She has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton and spent 16 years at the federal E.P.A. as a top enforcement officer in Washington and New York.

...Ms. Sutley, who will direct the Council on Environmental Quality, is now the top environmental adviser to the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa. She has years of experience in managing water supplies and water quality in California and has also worked on energy-saving construction rules for the City of Los Angeles.

She was a special assistant to Ms. Browner at the E.P.A.

"Environmental Fugitives Accused of Assaulting Nature"

At first - it sounded like a good thing - the EPA trying to catch people who are "Accused of Assaulting Nature". But then there is the question of 'why now?' At the end of the Bush Administration - when they've been letting god knows who get away with god knows what.

So I go to the list that the article links to EPA Fugitives - and what do you know - the lists starts out with a couple of people from Syria and continues on with a bunch of other people mostly from/living overseas.

What about all of the people in this country? Big corporations and all of that. Most of the people on the list did one time - relatively small things compared to what some of the big corporations do.

I suppose they wanted an environmental headline- so this is what they came up with?

Arctic- Point of No Return?

By Volker Mrasek -

...A new study completed by a team of US, Norwegian and German researchers may now provide some clues. Published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters in November, the study posits that a dramatic change in atmospheric circulation patterns has taken place since the beginning of the decade, with centers of high pressure in winter shifting toward the north-east. The new pattern of sudden climate change is characterized by "poleward atmospheric and oceanic heat transport," the authors write in the study, a transport which drives temperature increases in the Arctic. The discovery was made using specialized filters that allow one to follow changes to high pressure centers over time.

..."In the case of Arctic Sea ice, we have already reached the point of no return," says the prominent American climate researcher James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA.

The waters around the North Pole are heavily influenced by the currents coursing through the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Those currents are driven by conflicting pressure systems in each ocean: in the Pacific, the low pressure zone located near the Aleutian Islands extending west from Alaska is doing battle with a subtropical high pressure zone further south; in the Atlantic the currents are determined by the Azores High and the Icelandic Low.

Winter in the Arctic has long been determined by what researchers refer to as a "tri-polar" pattern. The interaction among the Icelandic Low, the Azores High and the subtropical high in the Pacific led to primarily east-west winds, a pattern which effectively blocked warmer air from moving northward into the Arctic region.

But since the beginning of the decade, the patterns have changed. Now, a "dipolar" (bipolar) pattern has developed in which a high pressure system over Canada and a low pressure system over Siberia have the say. The result has been that Artic winds now blow north-south, meaning that warmer air from the south has no problem making its way into the Arctic region. "It's like a short-circuit," says RĂ¼diger Gerdes, a scientist at the Alfred Webener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and one of the five authors of the study.

The influx of warm air from the south was especially intense during the winter of 2005-2006, the study says. During that period, 90 terawatts of energy flowed into the Artic Ocean from the North Pacific -- an amount that far exceeds the needs of the entire industrial world. Gerdes has no doubt that the ice will "quickly disappear if the new pressure patterns stay the way they are." He says that the Arctic Ocean would still freeze during the winter, but the ice pack would be too small to survive the warmer summer months.

...The series of warm winters experienced in the Arctic this decade, it should be noted, is not the first time in recent history the region has been visited by mild weather. In the 1930s, there was a similar "dipolar" pattern that pushed warm air into the Arctic, as researchers now know. Back then, though, it was air from the North Atlantic and not from the North Pacific. Furthermore, says Gerdes, the warm air did not penetrate beyond 75 degrees north latitude, which roughly marks the previous limits of the ice cap. Today, the heat spreads through the entire Arctic.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"A Summer Crack-up In The Antarctic..."


In late February 2008, a large part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula disintegrated. Since then, what remained of the southern part of the shelf has been held precariously in place by a thin ice bridge connecting Charcot Island in the north to Latady Island in the south. Initially, the ice bridge was about 6 kilometers wide, but further break up during Antarctic fall and winter reduced the bridge to just 2.7 kilometers.

As Southern Hemisphere summer approached, imagery from the European Space Agency’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar revealed that new cracks were continuously forming in the seaward edge of the ice shelf. This image from November 26, 2008, shows the location of numerous cracks and the dates on which they formed. It seemed likely the new cracks would dislodge the fragile ice bridge, which could destabilize the remains of the ice shelf that are wedged between Latady Island (lower left) and the Antarctic coastline (toward the right). The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced more warming in the past two decades than the rest of the continent. The rocky spine of land extends out of the Antarctic Circle into the Southern Ocean, and rising ocean temperatures have been implicated in the collapse or retreat of multiple ice shelves in the area. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is nearly 300 kilometers closer to the South Pole than the Larsen B, which rapidly disintegrated in 2002.

"Feds Set to Eliminate Water Regulations for Toxin"

From wiredscience

Among the Bush administration's final environmental legacies will be a decision to exempt perchlorate, a known toxin found at unsafe levels in the drinking water of millions of Americans, from federal regulation.

The ruling, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in October, was supposed to be formalized on Monday. That deadline passed, but the agency expects to announce its decision by the year's end, before president-elect Barack Obama takes office. It could take years to reverse.

Critics accuse the EPA of ignoring expert advice and basing their decision on an abstract model of perchlorate exposure, rather than existing human data.

"We know that breast milk is widely contaminated with perchlorate, and we know that young children are especially vulnerable. We have really good human data. So why are they putting a model front-and-center?" said Anila Jacobs at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "And they used a model that hasn't yet gone through the peer-review process."

The ruling is one of dozens planned for the final days of the Bush administration. Others include a relaxing of air pollution standards for aging power plants, and a reduction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's traditional role in evaluating the impact of federal projects on endangered species.

These have received more attention than the status of perchlorate, a chemical found mostly in jet rocket fuel and detected in 35 states and 153 water public water systems. It is known to lower thyroid hormone levels in women; it poses a particular threat to pregnant women and breast-feeding children, whose long-term neurological development can be stunted by youthful hormone imbalances.

As many as 40 million Americans may now be exposed to unsafe levels of perchlorate, and the EPA's own analysis puts the number at 16 million. The most comprehensive human exposure study, which measured unexpectedly high perchlorate levels and correlated them with thyroid hormone drops, was concluded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007.

Environmental health advocates saw the study as supporting tightened restrictions on perchlorate levels in drinking water — something the EPA had been loath to do under the Bush administration. The study was not considered in the anticipated ruling, which could effectively end federal monitoring of perchlorate in drinking water.

"If you used the human studies from the CDC, then you would be forced to regulate it, because we know there are health effects at current levels of exposure," said Jacobs.

Benjamin Blount, co-author of the CDC's study, would not comment on the EPA's decision, but said that infants — who consume, proportional to their body weight, about six times more water than adults — "are thought to have a higher dose than at any other life stage."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dumping Mountain Tops

From the New York Times

The White House on Tuesday approved a final rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.

The rule is one of the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President Bush’s last weeks in office.

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, confirmed in an interview that the rule had been approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. That clears the way for publication in the Federal Register, the last stage in the rule-making process.

Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, concurred in the rule, first proposed nearly five years ago by the Interior Department, which regulates coal mining.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, dated Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said the rule had been revised to protect fish, wildlife and streams.

Mining activities must comply with water quality standards established by the federal government and the states, Mr. Johnson said.

But a coalition of environmental groups said the rule would accelerate “the destruction of mountains, forests and streams throughout Appalachia.”

Edward C. Hopkins, a policy analyst at the Sierra Club, said: “The E.P.A.’s own scientists have concluded that dumping mining waste into streams devastates downstream water quality. By signing off on this rule, the agency has abdicated its responsibility.”

Mr. Bush has boasted of his efforts to cooperate with President-elect Barack Obama to ensure a smooth transition, but the administration is rushing to complete work on regulations to which Mr. Obama and his advisers object. The rules deal with air pollution, auto safety, abortion and workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals, among other issues...

“This is unmistakably a fire sale of epic size for coal and the entire fossil fuel industry, with flagrant disregard for human health, the environment or the rule of law,” said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to finish work on a rule that would make it easier for utilities to put coal-fired generating stations near national parks. It is working on another rule that would allow utility companies to modify coal-fired power plants and increase their emissions without installing new pollution-control equipment.

Joan M. Mulhern, a lawyer at Earthjustice, an environmental group, denounced the mining regulation.

“With less than two months left in power,” Ms. Mulhern said, “the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history.”...

The rule gives coal companies a legal right to do what, in the past, they could do only in exceptional circumstances, with special permission from the government....