Roundup Tuesday July 28, 2009

Obama:  Cooperation with China key to avoid ‘ravages’ of climate change—Keith Johnson, Environmental Capital blog, Wall Street Journal 7/27/09

President Obama, initiating the US-China summit in Washington today, focused squarely on energy and the environment.  “Will the need for energy breed competition and climate change, or will we build partnerships to produce clean power and protect our planet?”  With joint energy and global climate change projects already in the works, Mr. Obama continued to urge both countries to work together on clean energy and energy efficiency.  Johnson also said Mr. Obama addressed the concern that the US and China assure that the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks “don’t collapse into farce.”

Johnson emphasized another statement Obama made in the opening summit speech:  “And the best way to foster the innovation that can increase our security and prosperity is to keep our markets open to new ideas, new exchanges and new sources of energy.”  But Johnson was intent on the implications this statement may have for “carbon tariffs” in the Waxman-Markey bill, and the costs to ‘clean technology’ producers of sharing secrets in the name of fighting global climate change.

Uranium contamination haunts Navajo country—Dan Frosch, New York Times 7/26/09

A year ago, an environmental scientist came to Fred Slowman’s residence near Teec Nos Pos, Arizona and advised Slowman, his wife and two sons to move out until the home could be rebuilt.  The almost half-century old, one-story cinderblock structure had been contaminated potentially dangerous levels of cold-war era uranium.  Hundreds of uranium mines were developed across Navajo Nation lands during the cold-war uranium boom.

Navajos mined upwards of 4 million tons of uranium ore for producers in the Nation during the era, many dying from radiation-related illness, others unknowingly building homes from contaminated rocks and mine tailings.  Dozens of contaminated structures are still standing, experts believe, and a recently established government program is temporarily relocating families while the homes are torn down and re-built.

The new program evolved out of a 2007 Congressional hearing on the matter that initiated collaboration from a host of federal agencies addressing health and environmental impacts of uranium mining on the reservation.  The EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA set out to assess uranium levels in 500 structures by 2012.

The reservation contains 27,000 square miles of remote land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.  Radium, which decays from uranium and can cause lung cancer, is the principal contaminant the assessments are surveying.  Only 113 structures have been inspected so far, but 27 of them contained above-normal radiation levels.  An EPA spokesman working with the assessment called the need to address these contaminated sites “somewhat urgent”.

Many of the homes had been vacated due to rumors of contamination, but 8 still have families living in them, and the EPA and Navajo officials are persuading residents to leave for the safety of their health.  Many families didn’t leave when word of contamination first surfaced because they didn’t believe anything was going to be done about the issue.  The reconstructed homes are based on the occupant’s interests and the EPA has typically commissioned a Navajo contracting company for the log cabin or traditional Hogan structures.  Each dwelling, including temporary relocation, has cost about $260,000 and the replacement has taken about 8 months apiece.  $50,000 has been offered to anyone not choosing to rebuild.

The EPA is also reviewing historic records of mining operations on the reservation and interviewing family members to determine whether any liability for damages is in order.

EPA, gas company settle in Utah case—Deseret News, 7/26/09

Colorado Interstate Gas Co. agreed this week to pay over $1 million in civil penalties and back fees and to install environmental controls facility on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in Vernal, the EPA said.  The EPA previously filed a complaint alleging the gas-pipeline company failed to obtain permits for the engines at the station and failed to test emissions sources.  Clean Air Act violations were uncovered during EPA inspections.

The improvements should reduce hazardous air emissions by 48,000 pounds per year and reduce nitrogen oxides by 313,000 pounds per year, EPA officials said.  A 30 day public comment period and approval by the federal court are required before the settlement is finalized.

Study shows too much noise affects diversity of birds—AP, San Antonio News 7/26/09

The University of Colorado study co-funded by the BLM found that many species can be driven away by noise, with potential ecosystem impacts.  The study, published online Thursday in Current Biology, compiles 3 years of data, and also found that some species thrived due to fewer predators.  The study area was south of Durango in pinon-juniper woodlands where natural gas field areas were compared with quieter areas.

The study’s lead author said it was “the first study to show that noise pollution causes changes in species interactions within bird communities.”  He added that noise pollution could be a major contributor to declining bird diversity around urban areas, suggesting quieter road surfaces and berms and sound-reducing walls should be used to protect the communities.

Most previous studies have been conducted near heavily used roads, outside of controlled environments.  In this experiment, energy companies worked with researchers turning off natural gas compressors for several hours a week while researchers located nests and determined nesting success.  32 species were identified in quiet areas, but only 21 species were found in noisy areas.  But 3 species nested exclusively at the noisy sites, though 14 nested exclusively in quieter ones.

Black-chinned hummingbirds and house finches were favored by 31% at noisy sites, less than 3% in quiet sites.  Researchers speculated that their high-frequency vocalizations allowed communication over industrial noise and absence of Western scrub jays which prey on eggs and young of songbirds also curried favor.  Scrub jays, more frequent in quieter areas, vocalize in the same frequency range as the gas compressors.  Because the jays also carry, eat and cache pine nuts across Southwest woodlands, researchers speculate that pinon distribution and density could be affected.

Mourning doves and black-headed grosbeaks are found to have vocal frequencies in the industrial noise range that could impair pairing, nesting and rival repelling communications.  All the grosbeaks and 97% of doves nested away from industrial noise.  Researchers are concerned with understanding the impacts especially on birds with critical links to ecosystems.

California sets pace for generating solar power—Felicity Barringer, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle 7/24/09

Research and lobby group Environment California notes 50,000 solar-panel installations in the state, a capacity of more than 500 megawatts of solar at peak periods of the day.  One third of that capacity was brought online between 2007 and 2008.  California’s solar capacity represents about 2/3 of the national total according to the nonprofit Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).  Industry experts note that the states with the most generous subsidies are seeing the fastest growth.  California has long subsidized rooftop panels with rebates and other financial incentives.

New Jersey places second, with 70 megawatts of solar capacity, followed by Colorado and Nevada.  Beyond highly environmentally conscious areas like San Francisco and Sacramento, San Diego has more than 19 megawatts in 2,200 rooftop installations, San Jose boasts 15.4 megawatts on 1,330 rooftops, and Fresno 14.5 megawatts on 1,028 rooftops.

IREC noted too that California’s Central Valley, with sunny agriculture-friendly skies and hot summer days, is a good location for solar panels, which could cut down on heavy peak loads in afternoons due to air-conditioning.  Current statistics suggest that residential panels supply about 1/3 of the total panel-based input to the grid.  Installations on government buildings, retail stores, military installations and the like account for the other 2/3.  Led by Colorado, 10 states more than doubled rooftop solar capacity in 2008.  Still, the California Energy Commission reports that rooftop solar represents about ¼ of 1% of California’s total energy capacity.

Energy Inefficiency:  The Department of Energy fails another audit—Keith Johnson, Environmental Capital blog, Wall Street Journal 7/23/09

According to Johnson, the latest inspector general’s report results showed the DOE isn’t practicing rigorous energy conservation in its buildings.  Heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs due to conservation neglect may have amounted to over $11 million in additional costs.  Computer monitors left running in off hours may cost over $1 million per year.  The report acknowledged that some buildings didn’t have automated controls like those used in smart buildings.  Elsewhere, DOE workers didn’t know how to use installed controls.

EU mulls climate billions for developing countries— 7/27/09

EU environment ministers are considering immediate diversion of $1-2 billion for climate adaptation in low-income, vulnerable countries.  Commitment to funding between now and 2012 hopefully will encourage developing countries to in turn commit to terms of the developing international climate treaty, due to be finalized in December in Copenhagen.

The plan was forwarded in a joint report by the European Commission and the Swedish EU Presidency, which follows on the heels of Swedish Commission on Climate Change and Development findings in May.  Other initiatives suggested by the report include fulfilling an existing commitment by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries calling for .7% of gross national income as official development aid (ODA). Current funding from member countries stands at .3%, and the report noted the increase would raise annual funding to poor countries from $180 to $280 billion by 2015.

ODA would fund climate adaptation for poorer countries in the short term, combining development aid and additional sources in the longer term.  NGOs have stated the .7% commitment was earmarked for Millennium Development Targets for poverty reduction.  The EU’s plan would incorporate climate change adaptation as well with the funds.

Continuing struggle over additional funding and control for climate change adaptation is expected within national governments and across the EU.  Britain’s prime minister proposed a $100 billion annual climate fund by 2020 last month.  The UK’s development aid would be capped at 10% of this total under the plan.  The Netherlands and Denmark agree that climate change adaptation funding should be added to the .7%.

An additional area of concern yet to be addressed is “the problem of double-counting offset credits earned from financing emissions cuts in developing countries.”  Environmentalists argue that credits toward developed country targets should not count a second time for financing emissions reductions in developing countries.

ESR editor’s note: According to its website, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ratified the original convention treaty December 14, 1960 with 20 countries, including the United States.  Ten additional countries have come aboard since.  In the “About” page, the OECD states as their mission the union of governments committed to democracy and the market economy from around the world to support sustainable economic growth, boost employment, raise living standards, maintain financial stability, assist with other countries’ economic development, and contribute to growth in world trade.  In addition, the OECD claims the organization is one of the world’s largest publishers in the fields of economics and public policy.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,3305,en_2649_201185_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

Consol gets OK to expand coal slurry dam in West Virginia—AP, SLT 7/27/09

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit to Consol Energy for a proposed expansion of a coal slurry dam near Shinnston.  The Nolan Run impoundment currently holds 2 billion gallons of slurry left over from cleaning coal.  The expansion will increase the retention area to 3.275 billion gallons.  Construction will begin in 2010 and is expected to become necessary for expanded coal production by 2011.  Consol is the largest US underground coal producer, and has operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Utah.

Student group wants to trap, spay and neuter cats—AP, SLT 7/27/09

Utah State University sponsored Aggie Cats has spent the last five years feeding, trapping, fixing vaccinating and releasing feral cats on the Utah campus wants to take the program abroad to Logan.  The city spends around $30,000 per year housing and euthanizing animals, the large majority of which are felines.  A recent Logan city proposal would require registration and licensing fees to help fund the program.  The city council is expected to review the matter in September.

Scientists study 2 ½-mile fissure in Iron County—AP, SLT 7/26/09

The Utah Geological Survey (UGS) study seeks answers on whether fissures such as the one near Enoch, Utah are increasingly present in Utah valleys.  The Central Iron County Water Conservancy District is co-funding the study with UGS.  The Enoch fissure is considered largely caused by excessive draw-down of the aquifer.  Experts attribute such fissures to groundwater mining and falling water tables.

The Enoch fissure could impact land values in neighboring subdivisions, and dates back 30 or more years.  The water conservancy district director said there were “significant water problems with that aquifer.”  Studies hope to determine how the fissure was created.  UGS encourages Utahns to report known fissures so they can be included in the study.

Wyoming wants more snowmobiles allowed in Yellowstone—Matthew Brown with Ben Neary, AP, SLT 7/25/09

The state has appealed to a federal judge for a ruling that would require Yellowstone National Park to set the daily snowmobile cap for the park at 740.  Thursday the Obama administration announced plans to set the cap at 318, less than half of Wyoming’s request.  The administration’s plan would also calls for all riders to enter the park with a guided tour.  The administration plan, an intermediary measure, would limit daily snowmobile use in the park for two years while a permanent rule is devised.  Reductions have also been proposed in Grand Teton National Park and along the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in Wyoming, lowering snowmobile use from 140 to 50 per day across both locations.

Six congressional leaders from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and Utah have also requested the administration reconsider current plans.  A full ban proposal during the Clinton era led to daily snowmobile caps based on “competing court orders and power shifts in Washington.”  The current proposal is open for public comment for 45 days.  Last November a US district judge ordered the then-current 720 per day limit in Yellowstone pending permanent numbers agreed upon for all three parks.  The 720 per day cap, in place for years under the Bush administration, has yet to be approached by actual use, which saw a peak of 426 ‘biles and an average of 205 for the 2008-2009 season.

In Texas, drought means conserving every last drop—John Mcfarland, AP, SLT 7/25/09

Stringent watering regulations, patrols and encouraged neighbor reporting on a 24-hour hotline are some of the tactics currently in use in Dallas, in “the nation’s most drought-stricken state”.  350 miles of south-central Texas has been hardest hit.  Lakes, rivers and wells have dropped substantially, including the water supplies for Liberty Hill northwest of Austin.  230 public water systems are under mandatory restrictions, from San Antonio to Dallas, Austin to Houston.  60 have asked for voluntary cutbacks.

USDA statistics show 77 of 254 Texas counties are in extreme or exceptional drought, the worst categories.  No other state across the US has such extreme ratings, and a Texas A&M climatologist said he expects the intense conditions for at least another month.  The San Antonio-Austin region began seeing severe drought conditions in 2007.  Comparisons have been made to an extreme 1950s-era drought.  While the region usually sees about 12 days of 100 plus degree weather, this year has already seen 36.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan on the Colorado River near Austin supply drinking water to over a million people and are the source of a great deal of aquatic recreation.  The Lower Colorado river Authority has said feeder streams have all but dried up.  Travis is down 54%, with all but one of 12 boating ramps closed for lack of water access.  Old cars that were sunk in the waters now pose boating hazards.

San Antonio is surviving the driest 23 months on record since data first was recorded in 1885.  The Edwards Aquifer, its water source, sits at a precarious 640 feet deep.  Any lower and the harshest restrictions ever will be issued.  An El Nino system identified as developing in the Pacific Ocean may portend increased rainfall in Texas in the fall.

Recession drives Arch Coal’s earnings into the red—Mike Gorrell, SLT 7/24/09

The St. Louis-based company, Utah’s largest coal producer, saw a drop in annual sales from 34.4 million tons last year to 27.4 million tons this year.  The company reported a net loss of $15.1 million for the second quarter this year.  21.3 million tons of the second quarter’s coal was mined from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.  Skyline, Sufco and Dugout Canyon mines in Utah and the West Elk mine in Colorado produced only 3.5 million tons in the second quarter, down from 5.7 million tons a year ago.  2008 production numbers have not yet been released, but the Utah Geological Survey predicted the three Utah mines would produce 12 million tons, close to half the state’s combined production.  Steven Leer, CEO of Arch Coal, Inc., said the company hopes the fading recession will lead to more steel and power production.  The Sufco mine was awarded an environmental certificate of appreciation by USDA for support of wildlife programs in Sevier County-based national forest lands.

Endangered Green River fish will have enough water year-round—Mike Stark, AP, SLT 7/24/09

The new policy set to be signed Sept. 21 will prioritize four endangered species over any new requests for water below Flaming Gorge dam:  the humpback chub, the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker and the bonytail.  Current regulations already offer summer and fall protection for the fish between the dam and the confluence of the Duchesne and Green rivers in Carbon County.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged in 1992 that flows from the dam were insufficient at times and likely endangering the four species.  The flow and temperature recommendations put in place then have been complemented by an updated data set that has informed the new year-round regulations.  According to a hydrologist for Fish and Wildlife, the policy creates “senior rights” for the fish that would be especially important in low-flow water years.   A public meeting will be hosted in Vernal to address the proposed changes.

Ancient mammal tracks found at Dinosaur Monument—Mike Stark, AP, Deseret News 7/24/09

Hundreds of ancient tracks left by small mammals have been found on a remote canyon wall in Dinosaur National Monument.  The tracks could date back 190 million years.  Park officials characterized the time when the tracks were laid down as one that marked the region with large sand dunes that rarely preserved signs of animal life.

The tracks were discovered July 8 by Dan Chure, the Monument’s resident paleontologist, and fellow paleontologist George Engelmann of the University of Nebraska while searching for Jurassic period artifacts and evidence.  Tracks are typically the size of a dime or smaller.  Some preserved as many as four toes.  Chure speculated that the mammals were possibly the size of a rat and endured between dunes where water and a few plants could be found.

Chure suspects the animals were nocturnal to escape the brutal daytime desert environment, and the tracks could have been preserved by a thin layer of moisture that crusted the host dune.  Chure noted no other site he knew of where so many prints had been found.  Larger tracks, possibly from small dinosaurs, were interspersed with the mammal tracks.  Englemann added that the era would have been at the beginning of the large dinosaur period.

Though the area where the tracks were found is open to the public, the exact location will not be disclosed.  The site will be mapped, the tracks counted and a cast that can be displayed at the visitor’s center will be made.  Chure said the new-found tracks predate bones at the site by 40-50 million years.

Interior proposes Yellowstone snowmobile cap—Matthew Brown, AP, SLT 7/23/09

Under the proposed changes, 318 snowmobiles and 78 multi-passenger coaches would be allowed daily in the park over the next two winters, down from 720 snowmobiles last winter, though actual use was less.  An upcoming 45-day public comment period will inform the final policy choice.  Under the Clinton administration, a full ban was proposed.

Under new standards, pollutant level could rise—Maria Villasenor, SLT 7/23/09

Of concern is whether two boiler heaters at the Holly Corporation oil refinery near West Bountiful will be emitting more pollutants.  The Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) and Holly both say no, though new standards are set to be approved by DAQ that would allow greater emissions to be made.  Some confusion is due to the fact that the two heaters have been replaced, and could emit less than the old heaters.  The heaters burn natural gas and gas byproducts from on-site refining.  Unfortunately, the EPA offered no performance tests and established no emissions limits on the old boilers.

A public comment period through Sept. 9 has been set up by the EPA regarding changes at the Holly refinery, and a public hearing is in the works.  A 2008 agreement established between the Holly refinery in Woods Cross and EPA holds Holly responsible for $17 million in upgrades, sparked by an EPA evaluation of Holly’s plants across the nation.  Daily and yearly combined emissions at the plant will not be raised.

The new burners were expected by the EPA to reduce nitrogen-oxides emissions, but upon testing, the emissions were greater than anticipated.  Still, Holly’s environmental manager said the emissions were less than that of the old burners.  Nevertheless, the proposal being heard by the EPA would allow a 39.9 ton increase of nitrogen-oxides emissions.  Improvements at the refinery are expected to continue through 2012.  Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, in response to a review of the permitting document, said he hoped “the changes aren’t an attempt to finagle a future increase in emissions, since studies “clearly suggest the levels of air pollution we already have are a medical concern,” according to Villasenor.

View the proposed changes at the Holly refinery and comment:

Boulder sees 3 bear break-ins in 4 days—Laura Snider, The Camera, The Denver Post 7/27/09

Boulder County, Colorado saw three incidents where bears entered homes through open window panes over the past four days.  The bears forced off the window screens and climbed in.  One of the break-ins was the second intrusion into the home in a week.  Another was met with three shotgun rounds by the homeowner.  Colorado Division of Wildlife deputies finished off the wounded bear.  Residents were home in each of the incidents.

“The sheriff’s office recommends that mountain residents remove all food from around their houses, including pet food; keep garbage cans inside until the trash is scheduled to be picked up; tightly cover compost; clean barbecue grills; and close all doors and windows within eight feet of the ground.”


Debate over proposed GSL project is democracy in action—Robert Adler, James I. Farr Chair and professor, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, SLT 7/25/09

Pollutants linked to diabetes and obesityBrian Moench, Salt Lake physician and co-founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, SLT 7/25/09

Green gearheads?  Go ahead and rev it up!—Ray Ring, Writers on the Range, SLT 7/25/09

Park pollutant:  Reduce threat from ammonium—Tribune Editorial, SLT 7/24/09

Waiting for the low carbon revolution—Andrew Pendleton, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based think-tank, The Green Room, BBC News 7/21/09

What is the Global Climate Network?—David Hoza, ESR editor 7/27/09

GCN Website:

The Global Climate Network (GCN) is a consortium of institutes and think tanks formed officially in July 2008 from Brazil, China, Germany, India, Nigeria, Australia, the US and UK.  Led by the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, the GCN addresses such issues as:  “How can the dangerous deadlock at the heart of international climate change negotiations be broken?  What policies are needed at the national level in the world’s leading economies to clear the way for a new climate change accord?  How can legislators ensure that policies are fair and that the costs of addressing climate change do not fall to those least able to pay?”

According to the Center for American Progress, a US think tank and member of GCN, the first document produced by the GCN was a paper presented in mid-December 2008 at the UN climate change meeting in Poznan, Poland titled “Closing the Mitigation Gap”.  Tilman Santarius of member partner the Wuppertal Institute of Germany said the paper addressed the issue of “how to frame a shared vision to avoid climate change which is also equitable and fair.

The network’s mission is “to conduct and publish joint research and analysis which addresses political and policy constraints to international action on climate change.”  Their approach is primarily to “reframe the debate in order to promote action on climate change as a means of enhancing economic and social wellbeing and improving quality of life.”  In the network’s “About” page, they say the network “will help construct a narrative for action on climate change that is concerned with human and economic as well as environmental wellbeing.”  This perspective has received elaborate attention in Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s 2007 work Breakthrough.

The Global Climate Network believes that its research, along with each think tank’s authority and credibility with their home government’s decision makers, lends unequivocal potential to the Network’s ability to provide sound information and advice on climate change and adaptation policy worldwide.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Dr. Rajendra Pachauri is one of several patrons assisting in promotion of GCN’s work.


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