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High paid Democrat lobbyist convinces EPA to pollute pristine Texas aquafer

Oh yeah, it was also in an area parched by drought

When Uranium Energy Corp. sought permission to launch a large-scale mining project in Goliad County, Texas, it seemed as if the Environmental Protection Agency would stand in its way.

To get the ore out of the ground, the company needed a permit to pollute a pristine supply of underground drinking water in an area already parched by drought.

Further, EPA scientists feared that radioactive contaminants would flow from the mining site into water wells used by nearby homes. Uranium Energy said the pollution would remain contained, but resisted doing the advanced scientific testing and modeling the government asked for to prove it.

The plan appeared to be dead on arrival until late 2011, when Uranium Energy hired Heather Podesta, a lobbyist and prolific Democratic fundraiser whose pull with the Obama administration prompted The Washington Post to name her the Capitol’s latest “It girl.”

Podesta — the sister-in-law of John Podesta, who co-chaired President Obama’s transition team — appealed directly to the EPA’s second in command, Bob Perciasepe, pressing the agency’s highest-level administrators to get directly involved and bring the agency’s local staff in Texas back to the table to reconsider their position, according to emails obtained by ProPublica through the Freedom of Information Act.

By the end of 2012, the EPA reversed its position in Goliad, approving an exemption allowing Uranium Energy to pollute the aquifer, though in a somewhat smaller area than was originally proposed.

An EPA spokesperson said companies routinely lobby the agency on regulatory issues and that Podesta’s entreaties to Perciasepe, now the agency’s acting administrator while Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, awaits confirmation, played no part in the agency’s final decision.

“Bob’s involvement was literally a part of what he does on a weekly or daily basis,” the spokesperson said. “Lobbyists, etcetera, get in touch, he meets with them, he points them in the right direction.”

Factors other than Podesta’s efforts clearly weighed on the EPA as the Goliad case played out, including the agency’s fraught relationship with Texas officials and the Obama administration’s desire to demonstrate support for energy development.

Still, documents leave little doubt that Podesta, described by Corporate Board Member magazine as the number one person “you need to know in Obama’s Washington,” kept the Goliad County issue alive when the EPA’s scientific analysis seemed to doom it to failure.

Two thoughts.  

  1. Remember when you all foolishly thought Obama was a liberal?
  2. Why do governments even hire scientists when lobbyists can have then overruled?

Guatemala declares national coffee emergency

Okay, so you now have all of our attention

Guatemala’s president declared a national emergency Friday over the spread of coffee rust, saying the fungus that has hit other Central American countries is affecting 70 percent of this nation’s crop.

President Otto Molina Perez ordered the release of more than $14 million to aid coffee growers. He said the funds would help 60,000 small farmers buy pesticides and also finance instruction to teach them how to prevent the disease and stop it from spreading.

“If we don’t take the needed measures, in 2013-2014 our production could drop by 40 percent,” Molina said in making his country the third in the region to decree emergencies in recent weeks.

Coffee rust, which can kill plants by withering their leaves, also is affecting plantations in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. Mexico’s agriculture authorities said the fungus has been detected there but so far has not damaged plants.

Molina said the pesticides will start being applied to coffee plants in April and two more applications will be needed during the year.
Nils Leporowsky, president of the National Coffee Association of Guatemala, or Anacafe, said coffee is grown in 206 of the country’s 333 municipalities. 

“We have planted 667,000 acres (270,000 hectares) of coffee and of that 477,000 acres (193,000 hectares) have rust, affecting 70 percent of the total,” he added.

Leporowsky said coffee growing generates 500,000 direct jobs as well as 700,000 additional jobs in related businesses each year.”We have lost 100,000 direct jobs already and that will affect millions of people,” he said.

Experts say the fungus has been present in Central American since the 1970s but production hadn’t previously been affected so severely as what is feared this year.

Otto Cabrera, an adviser with Anacafe, said coffee rust arrived in Guatemala in the 1980s.

“The fungus directly affects coffee leaves, initially with yellow spots that later turn orange and reaches around the foliage of coffee, then makes the leaves fall,” he said. “The plant loses its foliage. It’s not able to breathe, so it ceases producing and it eventually dies.”

Cabrera said climate change has brought a rise in average temperatures of about 2 degrees Celsius in Central American areas where the fungus was present, encouraging its growth and increasing the threat of severe damage.

The World is Running out of Topsoil

From Time Magazine

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished. Even the well-maintained farming land in Europe, which may look idyllic, is being lost at unsustainable rates.

via

David Suzuki on the Alberta Oil Sands

T. Boone Pickens: Let’s transform energy — with natural gas

The US consumes 25% of the world’s oil — but as energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens points out onstage, the country has no energy policy to prepare for the inevitable. Is alternative energy our bridge to an oil-free future? After losing $150 million investing in wind energy, Pickens suggests it isn’t, not yet. What might get us there? Natural gas.

Geoffrey West: The surprising math of cities and corporations

Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple, mathematical laws govern the properties of cities — that wealth, crime rate, walking speed and many other aspects of a city can be deduced from a single number: the city’s population. In this mind-bending talk from TEDGlobal he shows how it works and how similar laws hold for organisms and corporations.

North

Svalbard is an archipelago high within the Arctic Circle. The largest of its islands is called Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains.” In 1920 a treaty known as the Svalbard Act was signed by several nations recognizing Norwegian sovereignty over the islands, and declaring the whole region a demilitarized zone. This is a short film about how Svalbard, over the course of recent history, became increasingly linked to developments in climate science, and climate change.

Rethinking Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (and how to do municipal politics)

A good article on Luc Fernandez, Montreal city councillor and mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal

Luc Ferrandez’s last bicycle was a Kona, a sturdy model with thick tires, ideal for hauling heavy loads. During his 2009 campaign as the Projet Montréal candidate for the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, he would hook it to a trailer piled with a laptop, a projector, a collapsible screen, and (this being Montreal) a couple of bottles of rosé. After setting up his equipment next to a café terrace, he would distribute paper cups and launch a PowerPoint slide show of streets and squares in Copenhagen, Paris, and Madrid, as well as historical photos of local boulevards, all unencumbered by traffic. He figures it was these partys de trottoir, or sidewalk parties—during which he made the case that Montreal could be as clean, green, and safe as any place in Europe—that won him the mayoralty of the city’s most populous district. His mountain bike, alas, didn’t survive the campaign.

“I was having a discussion with a citizen,” recalls Ferrandez. “I left my bike against a wall, unlocked. When I came back an hour later, it was gone.” These days, his main mode of transportation is an Opus, which has the upright handlebars and broad saddle of a bike you would expect to find leaning against a canal-side railing in Amsterdam.

I like his philosophy

“I accept that some people think I’m the devil!” Ferrandez shouted over his shoulder, making a right onto rue de Brébeuf. “For them, the Plateau doesn’t exist. It is just a place to be driven through. I don’t give a shit about these people. They’ve abandoned the idea that humans can live together.”

Ferrandez’s vision of what the borough is, and could be, seems almost exalted. “The Plateau is an Italian cathedral. It’s a forest. It’s something to protect, something sacred. I don’t want it to become a place where people come to live in a condo with triple-glazed windows for a couple of years. This has to be a place where people can be comfortable walking to the bakery, walking to school, walking to the park—where they want to stay to raise a family.”

Why bigger cities are greener

Richard Florida looks at density and ecology in bigger cities

The size and density of cities confers considerable economic advantages. Denser cities are seed-beds of innovation and productivity improvement, as Jane Jacobs long ago argued. Pioneering studies of "urban metabolism" by Geoffrey West and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute find that as metro areas get larger their metabolic rate essentially speeds up, making them more productive and inventive

The environment benefits from density and size as well. Larger, denser cities are cleaner and more energy efficient than smaller cities, suburbs, and even small towns. Ecologists have found that by concentrating their populations in smaller areas, cities and metros decrease human encroachment on natural habitats.  Denser settlement patterns yield energy savings; apartment buildings, for example, are more efficient to heat and cool than detached suburban houses. Urban households emit less carbon dioxide than their suburban and rural counterparts. In his book Green Metropolis, David Owen lauds the dense, concentrated built environment of Manhattan – where most people live in apartments and use mass transit — as the greenest place in America. When it comes to greenness, size matters; as urban regions grow their populations, the rate of growth in their emissions actually declines.

The politics of the fisheries

A great column about how politics and not science dictates fishery policies

As cod collapsed we discovered crab, a valuable and harvester-friendly resource that should have sustained us for decades. Now, we are in danger of having fished that out as well. It’s in decline.

People say the state of the crab biomass in the rich area known as 3K was badly managed by Ottawa because of government response to industry pressure. Smaller cuts that should have been made all along were resisted and delayed.

Now the mistakes have caught up with the industry and harvesters and processors are sweating out this year’s 25 per cent reduction.

And it’s not just the feds who bob and weave when it comes to tough fisheries decisions. Former fisheries union president Richard Cashin did a study for the Newfoundland government in 2005 on a controversial proposal called Raw Material Sharing, a.k.a. the infamous RMS.

In his report, Cashin took a whack at former provincial fisheries Minister John Efford. Efford, he said, violated the policy of processing licence freezes ("a complete disregard for … and abdication of responsible public policy," Cashin called it), and doled out crab licenses like there was no tomorrow. More than 20 new crab processing licences in a five-year period!

Again, it was just politics.

But the price that we paid is that we are now left with enough crab plants to process the entire world’s supply. Processors scramble to keep plants running for a few weeks, plant workers scramble to get enough hours to qualify for EI.

How do you fix it?

The most pervasive argument asserts the fishery needs to be stripped of politics. In the U.S., the fishery is governed by a piece of federal law called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s a non-political body that sets benchmarks and guidelines and goals for fisheries management and sticks to them. There is little or no political interference.

In Canada, the argument is that we also need something similar: a new Fisheries Act. An act that takes the federal minister completely out of the picture and allows the fishery to operate and flourish at arm’s length.

Maybe the province also needs to take the politics out and remove the provincial minister from decision-making.

Perhaps then people can address the problems, make the tough decisions and save what’s left of an industry that has been studied and politicized to near-extinction. Our outports, our young.

And, oh yes, the cod would all be better off.

The Colorado River Runs Dry

The United States and Mexico are trying to fix that

Until 1998 the Colorado regularly flowed south along the Arizona-California border into a Mexican delta, irrigating farmlands and enriching a wealth of wildlife and flora before emptying into the Gulf of California.

But decades of population growth, climate change and damming in the American Southwest have now desiccated the river in its lowest reaches, turning a once-lush Mexican delta into a desert. The river’s demise began with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, a deal by seven western states to divide up its water. Eventually, Mexico was allotted just 10 percent of the flow.

Officials from Mexico and the United States are now talking about ways to increase the flow into the delta. With luck, someday it may reach the sea again.

It is paradoxical that the Colorado stopped running consistently through the delta at the end of the 20th century, which — according to tree-ring records — was one of the basin’s wettest centuries in 1,200 years. Now dozens of animal species are endangered; the culture of the native Cocopah (the People of the River) has been devastated; the fishing industry, once sustained by shrimp and other creatures that depend on a mixture of seawater and freshwater, has withered. In place of delta tourism, the economy of the upper Gulf of California hinges on drug smuggling operations that run opposite to the dying river.

Mexico City trashes it’s garbage problem

Interesting article on how Mexico City has become so successful in reducing waste that it is closing it’s largest landfill.

Mexico City will close one of the world’s largest garbage dumps by Dec. 31 and will instead turn the garbage from millions of people into reusable materials and energy, MayorMarcelo Ebrard announced Monday.

Some 700 trucks that carry garbage to the Bordo Poniente will no longer be admitted as of Monday, and all operations will cease by the end of the year, Ebrard said.

Trucks will still enter the recycling separation plant and a composting plant already on the premises.

The city that once dumped 12,600 tons of garbage daily already has cut the amount in half this year through recycling and composting, said government undersecretary Juan Jose Garcia Ochoa.

The concrete giant Cemex SAB has agree to buy 3,000 tons daily to turn into energy, Garcia said. The city is seeking other landfills to dump the remaining garbage in smaller amounts while it institutes a new recycling program in the new year.

Built on a dry lake bed partly to handle the rubble from the devastating 1985 earthquake, Bordo Poniente has taken in more than 76 million tons of trash.

Closing the dump will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the city government.

Ebrard said the city is implementing strict measures to stop illegal dumping at the site and to process materials into compost. It will also embark next year on a major project to harness the methane gas produced at the dump into energy, he said.

Ebrard said the city also plans to open a new plant to recycle construction waste into building material.

The Mexican capital itself has about 8.8 million residents, but its metropolitan area holds more than 20 million.

The city has been working for years to turn one of the planet’s biggest and messiest waste management systems into the greenest, at least in Latin America.

Three years ago, the city recycled only 6 percent of its garbage. Today, that number is close to 60 percent, having grown substantially in the last year, Garcia said.

The good news is that Saskatoon is on it’s way to making some of the same things come true, the bad news is that we can’t seem to get curb side recycling off the ground so it’s a long ways off.

Gone

Change in Atlantic fishing stocks

As the Guardian puts it.

This image shows the biomass of popularly-eaten fish in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1900 and in 2000. Popularly eaten fish include: bluefin tuna, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, mackerel, pollock, salmon, sea trout, striped bass, sturgeon, turbot. Many of which are now vulnerable or endangered.

As you can see, fish stocks are not just depleted, they are gone (I posted on how it happened back in 2003).  Visualizations like this are useful because…

These early accounts and data on the past abundance of fish help reveal the magnitude of today’s fish stock declines which are otherwise abstract or invisible.

They also help counter the phenomenon of "shifting environment baselines". This is when each generation views the environment they remember from their youth as "natural" and normal. Today that means our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That’s considered the environmental baseline.

The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.

So this is a kind of collective social amnesia that allows over-exploitation to creep up and increase decade-by-decade without anyone truly questioning it. Today’s fishing quotas and policies for example are attempting to reset fish stocks to the levels of ten or twenty years ago. But as you can see from the visualization, we were already plenty screwed back then.

via

The cost of not using nuclear

Angelo Persichilli has a great article in today’s Toronto Star about the future of nuclear energy in this country.

While I don’t trust those who tell me that nuclear energy is completely safe, likewise I don’t trust those who say we have an alternative that can sustain our demands to run our businesses, our economy and — here’s the bottom line — the quality of life that we’re used to.

I suspect that giving up nuclear energy at present wouldn’t just be an economic decision, it would require a change in all our lives.

We used coal to power our economic growth two centuries ago, then oil in the last century. We realized that the first was polluting the environment and the second will soon be in short supply.

We already complain about the skyrocketing cost of energy, but it’s going to be worse in the future when emerging economies like India and China reach their full potential.

Solar energy is not fully developed, we don’t like wind energy because those big towers ruin the scenery and we turn against governments when the cost of energy is too high.

I understand that it’s easy to criticize governments for sticking with nuclear power, but no one wants to tell voters that without nuclear energy we’d have to change our way of life.

We’d have to use fewer cars and more public transportation. We’d need to turn down our furnaces and air conditioners, tell our children that the switch at the entrance of their room can be also used to turn the lights off, reduce our use of jet aircraft to conserve fuel and get rid of some home appliances.

That’s the real debate: Are we ready to make those sacrifices?

This debate reminds me of a movie I watched some time ago, in which the family of a rich businessman was furious with him when they learned in the media he was making his money in the arms trade.

He apologized, but said that if he was going to give up the business, they had to give up their mansion in the city and their cottage on the lake, the SUVs, the Ferrari and the Armani clothes.

He told them he was supposed to make another delivery the next morning and had to leave for the airport at 5 a.m.: “I’m not setting the alarm clock. It’s up to you. If you don’t set it, I’ll miss the plane.”

The alarm rang at 3 a.m.

City Report on Water Consumption

Growing up on a river, you never really think about water consumption outside of your water bill.  That started to change when we bought our house twelve years ago.  It has a boulevard out front but since we are on a corner lot, it also has a large one along the side of the house that is unbroken by a sidewalk.  The entire yard was a mess and by the time I got to the boulevard, it was a couple of years later.  We had fertilized it and watered but the problem was that the grass (basically a quack grass) was growing on clay which meant no top soil, shallow roots, and zero water absorption.  I bet 90% to 95% of the water ran off the boulevard and went straight down the drain.

Our house What I should have done was rotor till the entire boulevard, bring in top soil, organic matter and reseed but I didn’t have the money to do so and I am not sure you can do that to a city boulevard anyways.  I took another approach in that I stopped bagging my grass with the hope that it would stop some of the evaporation of the 5% of water that was being absorbed and eventually break down and decompose to provide some organic matter.  In addition to this I started to spread both some peat moss and compost down on the lawn.  Finally I started to aerate the lawn and boulevard which helped out a lot.  Over the next five years the well beaten path of people cutting through the lawn came back (we did over seed with a hearty mixtures from Early’s Farm and Garden) and the boulevard started to transition from rock hard to developing a spongy feel like there was actual soil underneath.  Now the lawn isn’t healthy enough to be organic and I do have a vacant weed infested lot behind be which causes all sorts of problems with noxious weeds which means that I tend to use a lot of weed and feed on the boulevard on the back half of our lot but we have made a lot of progress.  Last year for the first time I spread out a mixture of home brewed compost tea (recipe and instructions) after seeing how it has made a difference at Harvard (less mowing, less water, deeper roots and it absorbs wear and tear of students better).  The end result of all this has been our water consumption is way down the last several years.

Now it looks like a lot of work but it was actually less work than you think.  First of all, not picking up the grass after we mow saved a lot of time.  There are some times when a combination of rain and schedule that I do bag up our grass, plus, I do need some grass for the compost container once in a while but most of the time, it’s a big time saver and the rest of the work needs to be done anyways.  The big change has been to go to the compost tea and I am hoping that it will make a big difference over the next couple of years.

One thing that strikes me is that we don’t do a lot of talking in the city about reducing water consumption.  The average Canadian uses about 120,000 litres (26,396 gallons) of water per year which is why I was happy to see that in the full report that the Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee presented to the Administration and Finance Committee included five recommendations related to water conservation.  Here are their recommendations in summary

  1. amend existing bylaws to require water efficient fixtures (low-flow toilets and shower heads) for new and existing building construction and renovations in residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional sectors,
  2. implement a low-flow toilet rebate program similar to other Western Canadian municipalities,
  3. enact a bylaw implementing an outdoor water schedule,
  4. report back on a strategy to implement a water monitoring program, and
  5. promote and develop new programs and incentives for water conservation.

Number 3 is the most interesting option to me.  Okotoks’s schedule works like this

Due to the increase in water consumption in town, outdoor watering is now only permitted two days a week.  One hour of watering per week is adequate for established lawns.

Odd numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 1,3,5,7,9)
Thursdays &/or Sundays

Even numbered addresses may water lawns:  (Addresses ending in 0,2,4,6,8)
Wednesdays &/or Saturdays

Watering may only occur during the following hours:
6:00 am – 9:00 am
7:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Flowerbeds and vegetable gardens may be watered by hand at any time using a watering can or hose with a trigger spray nozzle.

Please respect the specified watering days and hours, as water is a limited resource. The fines for not obeying the water regulations range from $100—$2500.

Cambridge has a similar plan but will it work and be accepted here.  It’s a big shift in behavior for Saskatoon, especially when much of our water consumption goes right back into the South Saskatchewan River (once treated).  Mark and Oliver have grown up running through the sprinkler in the yard and Maggi takes a nap under the sprinkler on many days.  To lose that or have that restricted would be a big change.  It would also lead to conflicts among neighbors.  Someone is always complaining about one neighbor on our street because they think his vehicles take up too much street parking (which makes no sense to me).  Every summer someone from the city comes by because (probably the same neighbor that complains about the parking) is sure the maple firewood we have in the backyard is elm (and banned).  Watching a recent show on Melbourne, Australia which has more severe water restrictions than what Okotoks has (Melbourne has had a drought since 1997), people put up signs saying that their gardens are being watered by excess shower water.

Saving water in MelbourneWhile we aren’t in a situation of drought, the South Saskatchewan River is under some pressure and this where I get upset.  On one hand, I totally agree with the recommendations being made to Saskatoon City Council yet on the other hand, this isn’t a Saskatoon issue.  Most of the water being taken from the South Saskatchewan River is from irrigation projects in Alberta.

“We know virtually nothing about actual use or consumption of water,” she says. “No one does.” Her assertion catches There are nearly 12,000 licensed users of river water and 80 percent of the water allocated under these licences is withdrawn in Alberta’s sprawling irrigation districts. Users typically meter their intake pipes, but the standards for reporting are lax, and withdrawal numbers alone cannot tell us actual water use. Some water is taken up by growing plants, some evaporates or is lost from leaking canals, and much simply flows back to the river. Since none of this is measured, actual consumption is just an estimate based on assumptions.

The article goes on to state

When it comes to water, getting the big picture is never easy. The truth can simply vanish in the details. Since the future of the river is, in the broadest sense, a supply-demand equation, I set off to the university’s department of economics to find Joel Bruneau, co-editor of a comprehensive technical report called “Climate Change and Water Resources in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.” The ponytailed professor does his part to avert a hotter, drier future climate by getting around Saskatoon by bicycle year-round. But his report suggests the challenges are here and now.

“The whole story is irrigation,” says Bruneau before I am quite seated in his office. His studies show there is sufficient river water to cope with regional population growth and worst-scenario climate change, but not if we keep irrigating at the present rate.

In fact, irrigation is still expanding. Even though Alberta stopped issuing new water licenses in the South Saskatchewan River Basin in 2006, room to grow comes from “efficiencies” — converting leaky, evaporation-prone canals to low-loss pipeworks. Trading in water allocations, which further maximizes Alberta consumption, is on the rise. The net result of such “savings” is less water in the river for downstream users.

“They are already overallocated on the Oldman and Bow rivers and borrowing from the Red Deer to pay the ‘bill’ to Saskatchewan,” says Bruneau, who can foresee a day when Alberta will want to buy some of Saskatchewan’s share. For years a poor cousin to its western neighbor, Saskatchewan has seen its economic fortunes rise meteorically, and some farmers have called on government to directly match Alberta’s irrigation investment.

Bruneau doubts new irrigation projects would make economic sense now, if they ever did, but he dismisses the idea on more fundamental grounds. “We are taking a third of the river for irrigation already,” he says. “There’s no way we can double that. The water would become warm, covered with algae. The fish would die.”

So Saskatoon gets to pay the bill because Alberta farmer’s want to grow crops that are more profitable then would be allowed by normal farm conditions.   I remember seeing the dry river beds of California and the Colorado River and thinking, I am so lucky to have the South Saskatchewan River.  Let’s hope enough people agree and we come up with ways to guarantee that it is always going to be there.

The South Saskatchewan River