Roundup Friday, July 3, 2009

Tribes urged to support renewable energy legislation

—Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today,

High Country News, 6/28/09

Recent legislation in the House and Senate could make renewables on tribal land even more attractive.  The Fair Credit Act, introduced by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Az., would be able to use 100 percent of a tax credit to reimburse alternative energy partners.  Federal studies have shown that some of the most significant wind and solar resources in the country are on tribal lands.  Wind generation on tribal lands was estimated at 14 percent of total U.S. energy production in 2007, and solar potential was estimated at 4.5 times the annual total electricity needs of the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  Tribal lands also contain significant geothermal resources.  Bob Gough, a leader with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, an energy-focused non-profit, has said that these issues are very important with tribes, and tribal members should be contacting their congressional delegations, the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  In Grijalva’s home state, 37 percent of Navajo Nation households are without electricity, and unemployment is above 50 percent, both issues at the heart of his legislation.  George Hardeen, a Navajo Nation spokesman, expressed appreciation for the legislation, but was quick to acknowledge that the Nation has 100 years of minable coal, its most plentiful resource, and central to the Nation’s energy development plan is the Desert Rock Energy Project, a coal fired power plant that would generate jobs for the nation.

NM land managers to study solar possibilities

—Susan Montoya Bryan, AP, Santa Fe New Mexican,

High Country News

Following Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement that the BLM will fast track solar generating facilities in states including New Mexico, work is underway to study 190 square miles of land for solar development, including environmental review.  While solar panels have long been a fixture on rooftops around the state, using public land to build commercial-scale solar plants is considered a new venture for New Mexico’s BLM.  “As far as BLM New Mexico goes, it’s like babies in a crib,” said Bill Merhege, deputy state BLM director for lands and resources.  “We’re learning as we go.”  Merhege pointed to aspects of commercial scale solar that could change the affected lands’ potential under the BLM multiple use mandate.  Of especial note is elimination of all vegetation, “a carpet of glass with a buffer zone around it”, Merhege said.  A report on the cost of using fossil fuels in New Mexico from the citizens group Environment New Mexico says that New Mexico will spend as much as $230 billion on oil, coal and fossil fuels between 2010 and 2030, more than five times the earnings of New Mexico workers in 2007.

California otters continue to decline:  Count finds lowest total since 2003

—Laith Agha, Monterey County Herald,

High Country News/The Wire 7/1/09

2,654 otters were counted this spring from Point Conception in the Santa Barbara area to Half Moon Bay.  This was the lowest single year total since 2003, when about 2,200 were counted.  More alarming says advocacy group Otter Project, is that the three hear average which the USGS uses for the official population count dropped for the first time since the late 1990’s.  The executive director for the Otter Project said they view the sea otter as the canary in the coal mine of the marine system.  Otter population counts must reach a three-year average of 3,090 before the sea mammal can be considered for removal from the threatened species list.  Executive director Allison Ford added that more otters are turning up dead in the spring counts, and otter population decline suggests ecosystem-wide problems.  Contamination and errant boaters are partly to blame, but Ford said an assortment of diseases was the main cause.  Contamination may have suppressed the otters’ immune systems.  Otters at one point were hunted nearly to extinction.

The lesser evil:  Nuclear or coal?

—Veronique Greenwood, Seed Magazine,

High Country News/The Wire, 7/2/09

Five experts were interviewed.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said in a NOVA special recently that he’d rather see renewed investment in nuclear power than investment in more coal plants.  “There’s no question in my mind, that’s the lesser of the two evils,” Chu said.  The sheer amount of power generated by coal and fission cannot be rivaled by any current system of renewable energy, Greenwood said.  Nuclear and coal produce more than 70 percent of US electricity.  Renewables provided 9 percent as of 2007.  Greenwood said some dependence on these super-producers will be necessary for the foreseeable future.  Carbon capture technologies while gaining ground still have dangerous side effects, including acidified groundwater and weakened rock.  Nuclear plants produce radioactive materials with half lives of up to a few million years.  Pollution tends to be from catastrophic accidents or storage waste leaks, but can impact the environment in large ways for decades or centuries.  Nuclear development is further complicated by Obama’s plan to abandon the long-term nuclear storage project at Yucca Mountain.  Jesse Ausubel, director of the Rockefeller Program for the Human Environment, has said that the sheer amount of land and infrastructure needed for renewables suggest unaccounted costs for these alternatives.

Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World, argues that Nuclear Power is the only alternative.  In part, this is due to renewable’s inability according to Cravens to meet more than a fraction of growing electricity demands.  Coal burning alone emits 2.5 gigatons of CO2, though it currently provides 70 percent of our baseload electricity.  She argues that fossil fuel combustion kills 24,000 Americans per year.  Nuclear, which currently contributes 21 percent of our baseload, has not caused a single US death, and is virtually emissions-free.  The 73 percent of emissions-free electricity it currently provides is like taking 68 million automobiles off the road per year.  Wind and solar are too diffuse and intermittent to provide baseload, and require backup.  Nuclear operates at 90 percent capacity, compared to coal’s 53 percent and wind’s 34 percent, according to her statistics.  “As far as mining is concerned, half our nuclear fuel comes from recycled Russian warheads.  Despite vast American reserves, virtually no uranium mining has occurred here in decades.”

K.J. Reddy, carbon sequestering researcher and University of Wyoming professor and founding member of the Council for Energy Research and Education Leaders, argues that clean coal is a boon.  He believes that coal is necessary for providing global energy needs.  While current sequestering technology is aimed at coal fired power plants, the technology could be valuable in sequestering carbon emissions from other plants and processes.  He is convinced that as with scrubbing SO2 in order to address the acid rain problem targeted by the Clean Air Act, new technologies will effectively come to grips with anthropogenic CO2.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist and senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, says both nuclear and coal pose serious risks to human health and the environment.  He points to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ energy strategy, “Climate 2030:  A national blueprint for a clean energy economy”, which aims at a robust economy and energy development without additional coal or nuclear increases.  Nuclear energy, Lyman says, poses a unique and potentially catastrophic threat, one that could release enough radiation to cause thousands of deaths within several weeks and tens of thousands of deaths over time from cancer.  “The risks of such a disaster are still unacceptably high,” Lyman believes.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently assesses the risk of reactor core meltdown in the US at about 1 percent per year, Lyman reported.  Because fuel production technologies can also be used to make bombs, adequate oversight for the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation is necessary but currently inadequate.  Lyman argues that neither coal nor nuclear power should be expanded unless both technologies comply with far more restrictive safety, security and environmental protections than are in place today.

Benjamin Sovacool, an assistant professor at the School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, previously of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the NSF, and the DOE, emphasizes the assortment of other choices over nuclear or coal, including energy efficiency and demand-side management.  Sovacool says that efficiency developments and practices have saved more energy than any single source of existing electricity supply in the US.  He notes that energy-efficiency techniques and technologies have saved electricity at a cost of about 2.5 cents per kWh while production has exceeded 6 cents per kWh.  And, Sovacool believes, renewables as they exist in the market today could easily meet three times the country’s 2007 electricity needs.

Victor Rudolf, a professor who studies clean coal at the University of Queensland, says coal is the best way to generate electrical power.  He claims that coal needs an environmental facelift.  Because trillions of dollars have already been invested in coal based power generation, and nothing can currently replace this in the short run, sequestration technology must be developed and applied.  He points to those around the globe who prevented global warming science from pushing the envelope of sequestration technology earlier, but also points out that developed countries have created an imbalance in terms of resources and consumption that must be reckoned with as well.

Utah cherry crop is looking luscious

—Dawn House, SLT, 7/2/09

After almost total crop loss last year because of cold weather, farmers expect to harvest 2.8 million pounds of sweet cherries this summer.  Tart cherries are expected to come in around 23 million pounds, up 15 percent over 2007 and 2008.  The record year for tart cherries was 1992, when the state harvested 30 million pounds.  Utah has been second only to Michigan in the nation’s tart cherry production.  Utah produces about 10 percent of the nation’s tart cherries.  Because nearly all tart cherries are frozen, canned or dried, and supply is regulated, this year’s abundance is not expected to affect consumer prices.  Cherry production typically has large variations in annual harvests.  A 25 million pound storage capacity helps regulate the market.  Some farmers have noted that sweet cherries, which absorb water and then split, have been affected by recent spring rains, which may cause the harvest to be less than forecast.

Utah scientists question Everett Ruess DNA findings

—Ben Fulton, SLT, 7/2/09

Utah Division of State History archaeologist Kevin Jones and physical anthropologist Derinna Kopp have contested conclusions that remains found earlier this year were those of Everett Ruess, in a joint statement titled “Everett Ruess:  A suggestion to take another look”, posted last week on the division’s website.  The two argue that while recent conclusions, including DNA tests, may not be false, questions have been left unanswered.  Especially at issue are claims that officials damaged the skeleton before examination, and no investigator reports have been opened for peer review.  Other issues suggesting skepticism may turn up other answers include worn teeth more compatible with a stone ground corn diet for Native Americans of the era, and whether the DNA was too degraded for analysis.  UC Boulder experts who oversaw the DNA tests were confident that the DNA and testing were more than satisfactory.

Utah expands mercury warning

—Brett Prettyman, Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune 7/1/09

Three more reservoirs have been added to the previous 13 fish advisories for rivers and reservoirs across the state of Utah.  Specific fish are targeted.  Wipers, a white bass-striped bass hybrid, have what has been called extremely high mercury levels, the highest one expert has seen in her tenure at the health department.  Fish that eat other fish are more likely to build up toxic levels of methyl mercury, which under normal advisories limit fish consumption to two 8 ounce portions per month per healthy adult, pregnant women and children excluded.  Adult women tend to be more vulnerable to methyl mercury toxicity.  Mercury toxicity in wipers is so high that the health department recommends they not be consumed by anyone, from the Newcastle Reservoir.  The EPA considers 3ppm or more in fish tissue unhealthy.  1,929 fish from 268 waterways have been recently tested in Utah.

Utah Fish Advisories

EPA approves California pollution rule

—AP, Judy Fahys, SLT 7/1/09

The new requirement will create tighter regulations on tailpipe emissions linked to global warming.  The EPA’s go-ahead comes after a longstanding California request denied by the Bush administration to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than the Fed.  The law, originally created in 2002, will require 40 percent increase in fuel economy for new cars by 2016, and could lead the way for stronger federal regulation.  EPA administrator said “This decision puts the law and science first”, suggesting that historic and traditional legal interpretations of the Clean Air Act would resume.  The new fuel economy standard for California would be 35.5 mpg average.  Obama has said he too supports the tougher mpg standards.

Bear sighting temporarily closes Bridal Veil Falls area

—Sheena Mcfarland, SLT 6/30/09

Nunn’s Park to Vivian Park was shut down by Department of Wildlife Resources officials temporarily Monday, allowing the bear to move out of the area on his own.  No signs of aggression occurred, though DWR said if he comes back, he would have to be relocated.  Due to the wet year, officials expect a good berry and acorn crop up high, keeping the bears out of lower campground areas.

How to handle an aggressive bear

Baby falcon falters in flight in downtown Salt Lake City

—Brett Prettyman, SLT, 6/30/09

Two peregrine falcons that have hatched in a nest box on the 12th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building are attempting flight this week.  The first flight resulted in a flower bed fall, but the bird was not hurt.  The Peregrine Falcon Watchpost Team, a volunteer organization, were unhand with an official from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who checked out and banded the bird, and returned it to the nest box apparently unharmed.  The two fledglings will be watched for the next 10 days while they begin to fly.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building Peregrine Falcon Webcam

Protection sought again for giant, spitting worms

—Nicholas K. Geranios, AP, SLT 6/30/09

Advocates for the giant Palouse earthworm are again seeking federal protection for the “rare, sweet-smelling species that spits at predators” under the Endangered Species Act.  Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Clearwater, Palouse Prairie Foundation, Palouse Audubon and Palouse Group of Sierra Club jointly filed the lawsuit.  The worm has been seen only four reported times in the past 110 years.  The Palouse is a region of about 2 million acres of wheat fields near the Idaho-Washington border south of Spokane.  Intense agriculture and urban sprawl are considered the main culprits in habitat reduction.  Only 2 percent of the prairie remains in a native state.  The worm can reach 3 feet, is white, and has a lily-like smell.  It is considered the largest and longest-lived earthworm in North America.  The Bush administration rejected a similar plea based on lack of scientific information.  1897 sources said the giant Palouse earthworm was “very abundant”.  Last confirmed sighting was May 27, 2005, and previous to that, 1988.  The giant Palouse is a rare native species of earthworm, most having originated in Europe.

Giant Palouse Earthworm on the web

Hordes of hungry grasshoppers invade Utah

—Mike Stark, AP, SLT 6/29/09

This year’s invasion in Tooele County is the worst that anyone can remember.  People living next to undeveloped land, where grasshoppers hatch, have experienced up to 2,000 per square foot.  Many are clear-winged grasshoppers.  Most are about an inch long.  In hordes they devour plants and grasses, including home gardens and agriculture.  So far officials estimate 250,000 acres have been hit.  Grasshoppers come and go in 7-10 year cycles.  1.4 million acres were infested in 2001. The insects are receiving greater attention as they move from agricultural land to expanding suburbs.  Upswing of the normal cycle is complemented by the wet spring, providing abundant food.   The insecticide of choice targets grasshoppers’ ability to grow in their own exoskeleton.  Seagulls feed on the abundant grasshoppers.  Chickens also feed on the grasshoppers.

Arbitrator rejects Nebraska in three-way fight over river

—Claire Trageser, Denver Post, 7/2/09

Retrieved from ProQuest Newspaper Database

The arbitrator was appointed to resolve a three way fight between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska over use of water from the Republican river.  The arbitrator rejected most of Nebraska’s claims and recommended Nebraska pay $10,000 in damages from overuse of water.  The decision is non-binding, and the case can be re-directed to the Supreme Court.  Arbitration began eight months ago to resolve disputes involving Nebraska’s failure to comply with a 2002 Supreme Court settlement over the Republican River Compact.

Drilling rigs closing in on ‘60s nuke site

—Mark Jaffe, Denver Post, 7/2/09

Retrieved from ProQuest Newspaper Database

Permits are being issued within a mile of the 1969 Rulison atomic blast site south of Rifle, Co., where attempts to use a nuclear bomb to boost natural gas production failed.  The US Department of Energy is permitting drilling in the area with radiation monitoring.  While no assessment of where contamination lies has been made, no traces of radioactivity have turned up yet.  David Neslin, director of the state oil and gas commission, has said stringent monitoring is required on permits within a few miles of the blast site.  Energy companies want to drill within a half mile of the test site.  The atomic blast was part of the Plowshares Program, which sought peaceful uses for nuclear power.  The 43-kiloton device, three times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb, was detonated 8,426 feet—about a mile and a half—beneath the surface.  The blast produced 455 million cubic feet of natural gas, all radioactive and unmarketable.  [ESR Editor’s note:  By comparison, Utah natural gas consumption in 2007 was 219,687 million cu ft—Energy Information Administration]  A 40 acre parcel above the site was originally declared a no-drill zone, and local landowners who want to tap into the recent gas boom have run into obstacles in allowing drilling.  The cavity left from the blast is estimated to be about 518 feet in diameter, and repeated EPA and USGS tests have detected no radioactive contamination.  Tritium, however, a radioactive substance that could pose a health concern, can be found in gas or water.  The DOE estimates that drillers can safely get within 1,310 feet of the site without encountering tritium.  Currently, voluntary monitoring by drilling companies is prevalent.  A DOE spokesman has said that in order to accurately test, a working gas well has to be in place.  The DOE has the right to collect samples from any well.

Guest commentary:  Restore the Clean Water Act

—Melinda Kassen, Denver Post, 7/2/09

Retrieved from ProQuest Newspaper Database

Kassan begins with a review of the Cuyahoga River fire, Lake Erie and other waterways that posed health risks, spawned the Clean Water Act and the ‘everyone lives downstream’ environmental ethic.  She describes the confused and muddled rulings of the Supreme Court in recent years that have narrowed the act’s scope, leaving only rivers that flow year-round as eligible candidates.  In a region where “75 percent of rivers and streams—some 76,000 miles of waterways,” Kassan says, “run either seasonally during spring runoff or after summer rains,” many waterways are left unprotected from discharge, leakage, or unregulated development.  Kassan advocates for the Clean Water Restoration Act.  She says critics portray it as a power grab, while key language in the act before Congress would change ‘navigable waters’ to ‘water of the United States’, clarifying interpretive issues.  She points to the high biological value intermittent streams can have for fish habitat.  She also argues that Field and Stream magazine has called CWRA a top legislative priority for sportsmen, in part because it will strengthen protection of wetlands.  While she acknowledges that Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett originally opposed the bill citing concerns that it was overly broad, the compromise bill approved June 18 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Kassan says has addressed those issues.  Melissa Kassen is director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project.

EPA may settle Bay Area pesticide suit;

Effects on 11 imperiled species would be studied

—Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/2/09

Retrieved from ProQuest Newspaper Database

The suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, if settled, would require reviewing the health effects of 74 pesticides on 11 threatened species by June 2014.  The pesticides are potentially harming species directly and by habitat and food supply destruction.  Pesticides cited include Malathion, an insecticide, and sodium nitrate.  At risk are the delta smelt, the California tiger salamander, the San Joaquin kit fox, the Alameda whipsnake, and the San Francisco garter snake.  The salt marsh harvest mouse, California clapper rail and California freshwater shrimp are also at risk, along with the bay checkerspot butterfly, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and the tidewater goby fish.  Methyl bromide, a fumigant used on strawberries and tomatoes, can poison small mammals and reptiles.  Permethrin, a common insecticide, can hurt crustaceans and insects at the base of the aquatic food chain.  Chlorpyrifos, used by apple and grape growers, threatens many different kinds of species.  The lawsuit was filed in 2007, alleging the EPA failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act, failing to consult with scientists at for instance US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Additionally, the EPA hadn’t sought review of the pesticides it registers, some of which damaged 11 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects in the Bay area, the suit alleges.  The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed settlement agreement for 15 days, and will make a final decision whether to agree after that time.  Comments can be made through the Federal Register announcement.  The Bush administration eliminated the part of the Endangered Species Act that requires federal government agencies consult with wildlife scientists on pertinent decisions, while the Obama administration has reinstated the rule.


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