New Mexico environmental regulators under Republican governor Susana Martinez are overseeing attempts to roll back a suite of groundwater regulations. While the administration’s argument for loosening rules on dairies, mines and oil and gas marches to the drumbeat of jobs, jobs, jobs, all they have to do is look in their own backyards to see the cost and grief water polluters run amuck eventually inflict on communities, and taxpayers.
Here's an example: the Chino copper mine near Silver City, New Mexico is one of the longest-operating mines in the West. The mine’s current owner, Freeport-McMoRan, just started mining there again in 2011 and the company is on the hook to restore thousands of acres of heavy metal-contaminated groundwater.
Yet just recently, a newly proposed state rule to limit groundwater contamination from copper mines, known as the “copper pit rule”, was inexplicably gutted in Santa Fe after a long stakeholder process. Water watchdog groups Amigos Bravos and the Gila River Information Project (GRIP) that participated in drafting the proposal to protect groundwater were baffled after their comments were essentially ignored in the final proposed rule.Read More ...
The Mining Law of 1872 is famously generous to miners when it comes to granting them rights to the riches on public lands. But in northern Idaho, a scuffle between miners and the Forest Service hinges on a related, but lesser-known law: the Mining Claims Rights Restoration Act of 1955. And unlike the 1872 law, this law gives the public lands agency the upper hand in dealing with mining on public lands.
The conflict in Idaho began in 2010, when a few folks staked mining claims -- up to 160 acres each -- at various places along a 30 mile stretch of the North Fork of the Clearwater River. These small scale, personal claims grant the miners the right to sift through the sands and gravels -- or “placers” -- of the riverbed for gold and other valuable minerals. Commonly this involves an oft-criticized technique called "suction dredging," in which miners use hoses to suck up river-bottom sediments.
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What first got the Forest Service riled up, though, wasn't the mining techniques. It was signs posted by some of the placer claimants, who were treating their claims like private property. It turned out that the original claim owners had subdivided and sold off some of the claims, and now there were 36 claims on the same stretch of river. The miners' posted signs "warned" fisherman and campers to stay off the miners' "private property" -- even though the claims were on public land, and the public is free to use the claims as they would any other public land, as long as they don't directly interfere with mining. Local recreation organizations complained to the Forest Service, who decided to investigate and see what could be done.
So you finally went out and got a “smart” phone, figured out how to check your email, ask it inane questions and get even more inane answers and got the “app” that turns your phone’s screen into a beer mug that “empties” when you tip it. Maybe you’ve even discovered one of the applications that will find the nearest Thai food.
If you’re anything like me, this is the moment when you ask yourself why you spent a wad of cash on this damned thing. Can’t it do anything, um, useful? Like find the nearest active drill rig? Or nuclear facility?
Of course it can! You just have to find the right apps, a potentially mind-numbing process. Unless, that is, you read the Goat’s handy-dandy ongoing guide to geeky iPhone apps -- only free ones, of course -- where we numb our minds so you don’t have to! Here’s our top apps for today. Be sure to add your favorites in the comment section, and we’ll give them a whirl, too.
There is no shortage of Wyoming wind jokes. Google Wyoming wind, and you’ll likely stumble across an image of a “Wyoming windsock”: a length of iron chain on a post, with a sign explaining that, if said chain is cocked at a 75 degree angle, you ought to “beware of low-flying trains.”
This is perhaps sound advice for California these days, since Wyoming is now marketing its considerable wind power resources to the Golden State with the strength and stubbornness of one of those gales that sometimes knock semis off of I-80 as though they were no more substantial than paper cups.
On one hand, this makes perfect sense. With nearly 40 million people, California uses A LOT of power, about 259 terawatt-hours a year, “more than the states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho, and Wyoming combined,” according to ReWire. It also has an ambitious target of deriving 33 percent of that electricity from renewable sources by 2020, when it will represent the vast majority of the West’s renewable electricity market, especially since other states with similar targets are pretty much already on track to reach them, eliminating the policy incentive to invest in more. That means everyone and their mother who wants to build a renewable power plant wants in on the California market, regardless of where they’re planning to build. And Wyoming, of course, is a net exporter of energy, so it’s not going to find a big market for wind power at home, especially with no renewable portfolio requirement of its own.
There’s just one problem (okay, lots of problems actually, but we’re going to focus on this one). As HCN contributor Steve Ernst reported last summer, California would like to get most of its renewable power close to home, preferably from within its own borders, and its rules for what projects meet its renewable energy standards reflect that.
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I’ve covered a lot of public meetings as a reporter, but I’ve never been to one quite like the one at Paonia, Colo.’s town hall on Jan. 15. More than 200 residents packed the stuffy council chambers, sitting on the floor and spilling out into the hall. They were there to hear the Bureau of Land Management respond to questions about the proposed Valentine’s Day lease sale of about 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley for natural gas development.
It’s a contentious issue here in the valley, which is home to coal mines, wineries, organic and conventional farms and ranches -- and High Country News. Since announcing the lease sale in December 2011, the BLM has received more than 3,500 comments and 150 protest letters – a pretty high number, the exhausted-looking manager of the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office, Barbara Sharrow, said at the meeting. Locals have also attempted a White House petition (which didn’t get enough signatures to merit a response), met with elected officials here and in Washington D.C., and had lively discussions on Paonia’s Facebook group (a lovely quirk of living in a small town) about the leasing. As a result of the outcry, the BLM delayed the lease sale and scaled back its initial proposal, removing about 1/3 of the parcels to protect water supplies, steep slopes and a local mountain biking spot.
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At the end of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a long-stalled Clean Air Act standard to limit air pollution from cement kilns, which spew massive quantities of toxic mercury into the air -- though the agency is drawing the ire of environmental groups for delaying implementation until 2015. One reason the public and regulators were able to identify cement producers as emissions heavy-hitters, second only to coal-fired power plants in their mercury emissions, is the EPA’s annual Toxics Release Inventory.
The TRI, as it is referred to, requires certain industries to report release or disposal of particular toxic chemicals (the EPA requires reporting of over 650). This store of publicly available toxic emissions data, which was established by a 1985 law that barely squeaked through Congress, is a huge help to anyone wanting to keep a watch on industrial pollution. For example, in 2011 National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity used the inventory for its Poisoned Places investigation into neglected communities with noxious air (with implications for the West here).
The reporting can also help regulators sniff out patterns in toxic releases they might not been aware of. In 2005, Patty Jacobs, an enterprising permit writer for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, dug into the toxics inventory and uncovered some startling data. She found the Ash Grove cement plant in eastern Oregon was not only spewing more mercury than any other U.S. cement plant, it was also emitting well over twice as much of the neurotoxin as the state’s lone coal-fired power plant. HCN covered that story, and the EPA kiln emissions loophole in a 2011 piece, "Mountains of mercury."
The night of July 1, 2011 “was a usual night, not too busy and not overly slow” at ExxonMobil’s pipeline control facility in Houston, Texas. A controller at the Houston facility was operating pipeline controls at his new workstation, known as "console 2." This controller had recently been trained on this console, and had been operating it singlehandedly for only a month. Little did he know that, over 1,500 miles away, massive flooding was about to blow a leak in one of the pipelines under his watch.
The story of that July night, and of the controller's experience, comes from a report released in early January by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The report investigates in detail the cause of what happened later that July 1 evening, when the Silver Tip pipeline near Laurel, Mont., ruptured in the middle of the violently flooding Yellowstone River, releasing 1,500 barrels of oil over the course of nearly an hour. The investigation is also part of an effort to take a critical look at existing pipeline regulations. The Yellowstone spill has prompted a nationwide survey of the nation’s pipelines, and has also stirred up talk about changing pipeline regulations.
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You want to cut carbon to the levels recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change? Then you’ll need 100,000 Megawatts of new renewable power integrated into the electrical grid. And in order to get that, you’ll need a lot -- try 25,000 miles -- of new high voltage transmission lines.
That was the message Gary Graham, of Western Resource Advocates, was pushing at a recent conference on clean energy and transmission in Denver, Colo. Graham wasn’t alone. One speaker and panelist after another, from former Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter to the National Resource Defense Council’s Carl Zichella, repeated the message in various forms: We must expand, upgrade and rethink our current electrical grid in order to put solar and wind on par with coal and natural gas in our energy mix.
While the entire national grid needs attention, our distinct piece of that grid -- the Western Interconnect -- is perhaps the most challenging. Its 100,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines were mostly built to ship power from big coal and hydroelectric plants (generators) to population centers (loads). Now, the capacity in those power lines is, for the most part, already reserved. And the lines don't necessarily stretch into the areas where big wind and solar potential exists.
Environmentalists got what they’ve been waiting for Monday, when President Obama reinvented himself as a committed liberal in his second inauguration speech. He referred to climate change by its proper name, rather than dancing a little rhetorical jig around it, and even summoned the Almighty. God, he said, “commanded” the planet to our care. He flatly rejected climate denial, and said the U.S. “must lead” the renewable energy revolution. After the speech, V.P. Joe Biden, hobnobbed with environmentalists and told them to “keep the faith.” He intends to get a whole lot done by 2016, he said.
Of course, a strong speech by the President isn’t likely to provoke a sudden change of heart in Congress, that ever-able obstructer of climate policy. In fact, it could drive their heels further into the ground. So what’s actually possible in Obama’s second term? A more detailed agenda is expected from the White House soon. In the meantime, we shall speculate:Read More ...
Dual flush toilets are, in my opinion, a great water-saving invention. Yet one of my biggest pet peeves is a type of dual flush toilet that I often see in public bathrooms. In this particular design, to use less water, you push the flush handle up; to use more water, you push it down.
Yet most people's typical flushing action, molded by lifelong experience with standard toilet designs, is to push the handle down.
Thus, the majority of flushers, regardless of their environmental sensibilities, will likely miss the fine print or sign above the toilet and use the maximum amount of water by default, even though there is an option to use less water.
I gave this example because it illustrates how important design can be in influencing behavior. Here's another: at a reception, giving attendees conical paper beverage cups means that instead of leaving their cups lying about on surfaces, they'll carry them around or, when finished, dispose of them in a waste basket, since a cone-shaped cup can't be left on a table or windowsill.
A new study out in the journal PLOS ONE offers a glimpse into how the field of psychology could help support designers and engineers trying to influence environmental behavior. In the study, researchers at the University of British Columbia compared student waste disposal actions in two cafeterias. Both cafeterias possessed recycle, compost, and waste bins, but one cafeteria was in a LEED-certified green building, the other in a normal building.