Category Archives: Environment

The only public comment needed to reject Keystone XL


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Any project that increases greenhouse gasses above expectations at this moment in history, particularly a substantial increase, must be determined an imminent danger to the national interest if the people living in the nation are an interest in this determination.

The United States Department of State called for public comments on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The deadline is April 22, 2013 — Earth Day.  Since Keystone is an international project, Secretary of State John Kerry has authority to decide on starting or ending the proposed conduit for toxic oil from the Alberta, Canada tar sands, across the United States, to the Houston area for refining.  From there, the oil goes straight to China.

Tar sands oil produces 17% more carbon dioxide per barrel than the average barrel of oil.  With China’s intense demand for fuel, the volume of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere will increase at a dangerous rate even beyond the current hazardous rate of pollution.  .

I’m not the only person making the arguments that follow.  A long list of eminent scientists stand opposed to the project.  My comment is likely shorter than theirs and it’s from an ordinary, concerned citizen.  Take a look and, if you agree, modify it or send it as is to [email protected]. Send your U.S. senators and congressperson a copy as well.

Coping with the outcome of climate change is an extremely serious challenge right now.

Why make it even worse?


Comment on the National Interest Determination - Keystone XL Pipeline

The March 13, 2013 Keystone Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) specifies the influence of Alberta, Canada’s tar sands heavy crude oil on climate change.  Tar sands oil produces 17% more greenhouse gasses than the average barrel of oil. (1)  While the EIS assessed “Climate Change Effects on the Project,” the impact of increased greenhouse gasses on citizens of United States was not addressed.  This impact is the essence of any national interest determination that examines Keystone XL and similar projects.

The EIS concludes that since nearly the same volume of Alberta tar sands crude oil will be transported to refineries without the Keystone XL pipeline, denying project approval would have only a marginal impact on tar sands oil production and, by implication, greenhouse gas emissions. (2)

Based on the explicit admission of 17% greater greenhouse gasses per barrel from Keystone XL, the Secretary of State must deny approval of the pipeline even if every single assertion in the Environmental Impact Statement stands up to challenges by opponents.


Any project that increases greenhouse gasses above expectations at this moment in history, particularly a substantial increase, must be determined an imminent danger to the national interest if the people living in the nation are an interest in this determination.

The EIS conclusion that since other methods of transport are available therefore Keystone XL has only a marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions is tragically flawed logic.  How would we react if the Drug Enforcement Administration passed up an opportunity to shut down one of the nation’s largest meth labs because other sources of crystal meth would soon rise up to meet demand?

What impact will the 17% increase in greenhouse gasses have on the stability of the earth’s climate?  A 2 degree C increase in global temperature is the consensus limit before life in parts of the United States becomes intolerable due climate events. (3)(4)  Extreme climate events today will be tomorrow’s normal if that limit is exceeded. (5)(6)   The atmosphere can tolerate an additional 430 billion metric tons of carbon before breaching the 2 degree barrier.  Based on estimates that did not include Alberta tar sands oil, that limit will be reached in the summer of 2041. (7)

Complete extraction of Alberta tar sands oil will produce 198 billion metric tons of carbon above and beyond the original estimates — 46% of the total carbon left before the 2 degree tipping point is reached.  Just with today’s technology, 22 billion metric tons of carbon will be added to the total produced — around 5% of the remaining total.

The rate of climate change is accelerating. (8)   The 2 degree C target seems unrealistic providing an even stronger rationale to stop the toxic flow of Keystone XL.


Submitted by Michael Collins

(1) Department of State, Draft Supplemental EIS --Keystone XL Project, Executive Summary, March 2013, p. ES-15.
(2) Ibid. p. ES-15.
(3) Saeger, Richard, Persistent drought in North America: a climate modeling and paleoclimate perspective. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, July 2010.
(4) California Climate Change Center, Reports on the Third Assessment from the California Climate Change Center, July 31, 2012.
(5) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007.
(6) Barnosky, Anthony D et al., “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere,” Nature (June 7, 2012):  52–58.
(7) Myles, Allen R. et al., “Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne,” Nature 458 (April 30, 2009):  1163-1166.
(8) Peters, Glen P., et al., “The challenge to keep global warming below 2 °C,” Nature Climate Change 3 (2013), 4–6

The Genetically Engineered Food Protection Act

vilsackNot many people like the messes Congress makes but everybody should see how they’re made.

This article takes a close look at the legislation just passed by Congress and signed by President Obama allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to issue executive orders that bypass regulations, safety, and science for the purpose of speeding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered seeds (GE) and crops to market.  The way the law is written, Secretary Tom Vilsack can lift restrictions on GMOs for a set period and, it appears, do so without hindrance from the courts.

Are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), seeds, and crops  safe for human consumption?  How has the scientific testing of these seeds been conducted and what are the results?  Is there undue influence of the government and legislative process to fast track the delivery of GMOs to market?  Who benefits from that influence, if it is present, and how are the benefits derived?

There is a claimed scientific consensus that GMOs are safe for food production but there are detractors and the general public is wary.  Most of us have or are eating food from genetically engineered seeds and crops.  In the U.S., 88% of the maize and soybeans are from genetically modified seeds.  These seeds are called “green seeds” to ride the environmental band wagon.  They’ll solve world hunger too, according to some biotech advocates.  A review of studies on crop yields, however, shows that the impact of GMO’s the actual yield of crops is not significant.

There can be little doubt that the legislation neuters the principles of open law making and government and scientific requirements for distribution of GMOs and GE seeds and crops, legislation tucked away in the budget act just passed.

There is no doubt that a leader in corporate food technology, Monsanto, is well represented in the Obama administration.  In 2010, the president appointed Mark Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President and lobbyist, as the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety division.  That’s real influence.

The beneficiaries of this legislation are clear.  Whenever they come up with a very special Franken-gene, Monsanto, Lilly, etc., are off the hook and ready to roll without obstacles.  They just need a special order rubber stamped document  from the Secretary of Agriculture.  If he’s too busy, they’ll write it for him.

The following analysis of the specific legislation is important.  A review of the actual language shows how the turn of a phrase in a back room can make the U.S. government a partner in the furtherance of GMOs or any other product or service from an industry or group with the money and power to get things done.

The passage below is from the March 20, 2013 budget bill, the focus of controversy.  If you read the language marked in bold print as one statement, you get a sentence (of sorts) that says the Secretary of Agriculture “shall” issue regulations to override impediments (e.g., court rulings) to the distribution and marketing of GMO’s and genetically engineered crops.  The details of the linguistic slight of hand are explained after the passage.


In the Senate of the United States,

March 20, 2013.

Resolved, That the bill from the House of Representatives (H.R. 933) entitled ‘‘An Act making appropriations for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other departments and agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and for other purposes.’’, do pass with the following


Strike all after the enacting clause, and insert in lieu thereof:

SHORT TITLE  SECTION 1. This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013’’.


8 SEC. 735.
In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.  Pages 78, 79


TRANSLATION:  If the Secretary of Agriculture has lifted regulations on “measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects” (genetically modified seeds/organisms - GMO) and those have been struck down (“invalidated or vacated” likely by a court due to public hazard, safety issues, etc.) the Secretary shall (not may, can, or should) immediately deregulate and allow use of GMOs.  This will be consistent with 411(a) and 412 (c) of the Plant Protection Act below.  Section 412 (b), scientific justification made transparent, is not required as part of the deregulation.  This is a temporary mandate (“shall”) for the Secretary.  It has to be temporary since Congress and the president cant’ get away with permanently barring court action to protect the public or permanently denying scientific input.

The phrase “measures designated to mitigate of minimize potential adverse environmental effects” is, it seems, tied to the term “biological control mechanisms” in the Plant Protection Act below.  This link is to a USDA decision to approve a Monsanto “biological control mechanisms” - genetically engineered corn.  (USDA approval of Monsanto corn:


REFERENCED REGULATIONS ABOVE “411 (a) and 412 (c)”:  These sections of the Plant Protection Act are referenced in the amendment on the Secretary’s powers.  Section 411 (a) specifies who can import “any plant pest” unless authorized to do so “in accordance with” regulations.  But the first phrase, “Except s provided i subsection (c)” [411] lets the Secretary off the hook for any existing regulations by granting him the power to simply declare an exception and allow “any plant pest” in the country.  The legislation just passed takes science out of the equation as indicated by the exclusion of section 412 (b) concerning scientific input.   Note that subsection (b) requires  that regulations are “based on sound science and are transparent and accessible.”  The Secretary of Agriculture “shall”, by the new law just passed, abrogate the scientific requirement tied to regulation in this instance.


(a) Prohibition of Unauthorized Movement of Plant Pests.-Except as  provided in subsection (c), no person shall import, enter, export, or  move in interstate commerce any plant pest, unless the importation,  entry, exportation, or movement is authorized under general or specific  permit and is in accordance with such regulations as the Secretary may  issue to prevent the introduction of plant pests into the United States or the dissemination of plant pests within the United States.[Referenced in Senate bill]

(c) Authorization of Movement of Plant Pests by Regulation.-(1) Exception to permit requirement.-The Secretary may issue regulations to allow the importation, entry, exportation, or movement in interstate commerce of specified plant. [Added 3/29]



    (a) In General.-The Secretary may prohibit or restrict the  importation, entry, exportation, or movement in interstate commerce of  any plant, plant product, biological control organism noxious weed,  article, or means of conveyance, if the Secretary determines that the prohibition or restriction is necessary to prevent the introduction into  the United States or the dissemination of a plant pest or noxious weed  within the United States.

  (b) Policy.-The Secretary shall ensure that processes used in  developing regulations under this section governing consideration of import requests are based on sound science and are transparent and accessible.

  (c) Regulations.-The Secretary may issue regulations to implement  subsection (a), including regulations requiring that any plant, plant  product, biological control organism, noxious weed, article, or means of  conveyance imported, entered, to be exported, or moved in interstate commerce-[Referenced in Senate bill]

 What are they up to?

They’re doing this because they can and because the move benefits the huge  biotech agribusiness companies.  However, it looks a lot like they want to do this soon; when there’s a need to bypass regulation.  Why would they want to do that now or the near future?  Maybe there’s some hot product the corporate food industry wants to get to market in a hurry, so important they cant fool around with courts and studies of scientific safety.

There is too much exposure and bad publicity associated with this to make the move a typical example of legislative dominance.  There’s something up.  We’ll find out soon enough given the ubiquitous presence of corn and soy throughout the manufactured foods we eat everyday.


This article may be reposted with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

Edited 3/29


Killer Keystone XL Spiked by the People in Washington, DC

In front of the White House

(Washington, DC 1/17)  The nation’s capital hosted over 40,000 citizens assembled to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  The crowd urged President Obama to bring to reality his lofty words on climate change in the inaugural address just days ago.  By stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the president would deal a blow to the rogue energy companies who, by their actions, are ready to sacrifice everything to transport oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands, across the United States, for refinement in Houston, Texas and shipment to China.

The broader concern of the gathered citizens and march sponsors,, and the Sierra Club, represents the existential issue of our time.  We need to get very real, very soon on the manifest threat to the earth’s climate posed by fossil fuels and the threat to the human species embodied by insane ventures like the Canadian tar sands project.  The verdict of science is clear.  As leading climate scientist James E. Hansen said, the full exploitation of tar sands oil and use by China, or any nation, is “game over for the climate.”

Citizens gathered at the Washington Monument, where speakers outlined the last chance scenario for reversing climate change.  While nowhere near the entire solution, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline offers the biggest win in the war for survival.  Bill McKibben, founder of, opened the program with the demand that President Obama live up to his campaign rhetoric and stop the pipeline from crossing the Canadian border.  That action would devastate the corporate partnership of Enbridge, TransCanada, and the other vultures seeking to profit at the expense of everyone else.  Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, argued that the coal and oil industries are on the run.  He cited energy use estimates for Texas, Colorado, and other states that show 30% of energy needs will be met by alternative fuels.  Brune chained himself to the White House fencing February 14 in the Sierra Club’s first sanctioned act of civil disobedience in 120 years.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told the crowd that this is our time to stop the tragedy of allowing the filthiest energy source in the world to cross our borders.  There were representatives from the Latino and Africa American communities plus officials from Canada’s First Nations peoples in Alberta and British Columbia.  Chief Jackie Thomas and Crystal Lamemon spoke eloquently about the need for cross cultural, multinational alliances.  The struggles of native peoples in Alberta near the tar sands mining and the British Columbia transit path were graphically detailed.

The 40,000 gathered then marched from the monument to the White House, where they gathered and sent their message to the president — do not approve this pipeline.  The most common chant from the crowd was, Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama.

Dangers Posed by the Full Exploitation of Canadian Tar Sands and Other High Risk Fossil Fuel Resources

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen [asphalt], contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”  James E. Hansen, PhD, head of NASA Institute for Space Studies

The least controversial estimate of human tolerance for increases in carbon dioxide was set at 565 billion additional GtCO2 (Gigatons of carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere.  Once that limit is exceeded, the climate will be sufficiently damaged to produce a regular parade of climate catastrophes.  The crises will be more frequent and intense due to storms, floods, droughts, and the loss of arable farm land, famine, and disease.  These calamities will accelerate human suffering and death.  The shortages in food and the disruptions to economies are the essential ingredients for riots, civil war, regional, and world wars.

The general consensus is that there remains oil, coal and other fuel deposits that if burned would emit 2,795 GtCO2 into the atmosphere.  That’s five times the outside limit leading to global disaster.

These are not controversial claims.  In fact, the limit of 500 million tons of additional CO2 in the atmosphere may be too high.  Without any question whatsoever, we face a reckoning with the chemistry and physics of climate change.  For a more in depth review, see these reports. (reference?)

There are climate change deniers that challenge reality.  Their work doesn’t make it into scientific journals because the deniers are not doing science; thus they lack evidence to justify their claims.  They are part of a well-funded public relations campaign to raise doubts about the clear and present danger facing people everywhere.  These pseudo scientists publish in an online Potemkin Village of energy-industry-sponsored association journals that, for all appearances, look just like real scientific journals.  Bigh quality graphics and environmentally friendly trade names cannot cover the poverty of evidence and arguments served up in this toxic brew of disinformation.

The relentless effort to put lipstick on the pig of climate change denial is aided by the major media organizations which claim there are two sides to every story.  Really?  Following this logic, we would have seen stories like, “Hurricane Katrina - Tragic disaster or chance to form lasting relationships?” or “Famine in Africa - Lost lives or population control?”

Obama’s Decision

This president was first elected with the promise of ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars  and reviving a collapsed economy with a true unemployment rate of over 20% (when you actually count those unemployed).  Many expected that the crooks that collapsed the economy through their reckless scheming would face legal action or, at the very least,  stop receiving bonuses with our tax dollars for their greed and stupidity.  We all know how well that worked out.

Obama’s reelection had more to do with his hapless opponent, Mitt Romney, who made mistake after mistake.  The election looked closer than expected and then we saw the mega storm, Sandy just before Election Day. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed of the president arguing that Obama was, the more likely of the two candidates to take “immediate action” on climate change.  Obama is, indeed, no Mitt Romney.  But since the election, the president’s effort on climate change is another matter.

Where’s the national or international crash project to conserve energy, clean up current CO2  sources, and develop alternatives? Did we all miss something?

Where was the rousing rhetoric from the inaugural address over the past four years?  Where was the public education required to bury the climate change deniers once and for all?  Don’t the people have the right to know the truth?

It is safe to assume that the president’s concern for the environment is enhanced to semi-believable only in the face of his opposition, the climate change deniers and those in the financial and corporate elite who bankroll that operation.  Obama, at best, is dispassionate about the perils of climate change and, at worst, cynical.  There is no evidence over the past four years that the president sees any urgency to act.

Some reasons why the president may approve the pipeline

Obama wanted to nominate Susan Rice for Secretary of State.  Ms. Rice was holding an array of stocks and investments in the Alberta tar sands digging and pipeline related companies.  Surely, Obama was informed of this fact.  As Secretary of State, Rice would have held the final recommendation on the project since it is an international effort.

Obama has no core belief system.  He was antiwar but then decided to take years to appear to shut down Iraq.  He got NATO to wage a war of aggression in Libya.  The administration has fostered a civil war in Syria that has so far failed only because the Libyan formula for regime change wasn’t allowed by the United Nations.  He’s for civil rights but has drones killing people, including U.S. citizens, around the world.  He’s pro labor but failed to do anything for union rights.

Why should it be any different on the environment?  It hasn’t so far.

Obama doesn’t want to take the political hit for losing the jobs that Keystone XL might provide.  He has done little to confront the massive unemployment rate and this might get him in some trouble.

At the start of this debate, Obama said that the tar sands oil would be exported to China somehow even if he blocked the U.S. transit route.  Why not get some jobs for citizens if it’s going to happen anyway, Obama led us to believe.

There are a number of reasons and indicators that Obama will nix the deal.

President Obama received open letters supporting pipeline approval from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with signature totals of 145 and 53 respectively.  That’s a less than that 33% of House members and a little over 50% of the Senate.  These are not overwhelming numbers for public letters.  That represents the opportunity to stick it to his most rabid opponents in the House and Senate and solidify the public majority for environmental progress.

When the tar-sands-friendly Susan Rice was nixed for Secretary of State, the president nominated then Senator John Kerry.  Kerry was not nominated based on a pro-environment record but, as the secretary, he has the final say on approving the Keystone XL pipeline since it originates in Canada and transits the U.S.  (One would think that EPA would make the decision but, after all, this is Washington, D.C.)

Kerry has a generally pro-environment position and seeks to appear that way when he’s not.  With his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the secretary of state wrote This Moment on Earth, an argument for pro-environment policies and an appreciation for activists and innovators working for clean energy.  Kerry is no candidate for membership in the Earth Liberation Front but he’s a lot closer to environmental awareness than the volatile Susan Rice and his new boss.

Obama may move out of his grandiosity enough to realize that he can’t tap dance around the issue of climate change any longer and hope to survive his presidency with the support of a large, ardent faction of environmentally aware citizens.  This is a litmus test, a gut-check that will determine how millions will see the president.  He survived past wavering on vital issues due to the atrocious nature and policies of his opposition.   This time, the decision is all his.  There will be no crazy Senators threatening a filibuster or delaying legislation.  The buck stops right in the middle of the president’s desk.

Sadly, there shouldn’t even be a decision to make at this point.  This decision should have been preempted by an announcement sometime after his first election.  Obama could have outlined the threat climate change poses to people everywhere.  He could have buried the deniers with the force of science and strong arguments.  And he could have let everyone know that failure to take climate change seriously was suicide for those alive in 15 to 20 years and an act of assault and battery against others who will suffer due to the willful, nihilistic, deranged notion that we can continue with business as usual in our treatment of the environment and our policy-making process.

It’s not a matter of Earth in the balance.  The earth will survive, no matter what we do.  The real issue is making every effort humanly possible to save the environment in order to maintain a livable habitat for human beings.  If we’re fortunate enough to have more time, then there is no excuse for delay on the obvious decision on this and other urgent efforts.

The Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected today.  The overwhelming, indisputable truth about the dangers of climate change must be revealed with great urgency.  The game playing and lying need to stop right now.  Anything less is beyond comprehension and beneath contempt.


Special thanks to Pam Burbul for the photographs and to Jillian for her help comments.

This article may be reposted with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

The Money Party




Respect urged for Japan's tsunami flotsam landing on U.S. coastlines

A floating black 55-gallon drum was found by a cleaning crew on a beach at the northwest tip of Washington state recently. What’s interesting about the flotsam is that it is the first known bit of debris from the March 11, 2011 tsumnami that hit Japan to land on a U.S. beach.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham, oceanographic consultants say that people should be on alert for more floating debris and that they should treat it with respect beacuse it could be valuable to Japanese who were affected by the tsunami.

“All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect,” Ebbesmeyer told an audience in Port Angeles, Washington. Anything that’s found by beach combers should be left in place and authorities called, especially any items that could be identified by victims of the Japanese tsunami.

“If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable,” Ebbesmeyer said. “Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones.” Ebbesmeyer also warned that the debris could be contaminated by radiation.

The flotsam could include fishing boats, houses, car parts and possibly human remains, Ebbesmeyer said. Some floating masses could be a hazard to boats and ships, and some shipping lanes have been rerouted around the debris, according to Ebbesmeyer.

Up to one-quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to make landfall on U.S. beaches from Alaska to California. Traveling in a current, flotsam moves at speeds from 7 to 20 miles per hour, Ebbesmeyer said. reported in October that a Russian training ship had encountered a “1,000-mile-long mass of tsunami debris” in September near Midway Island, a U.S. territory about 1,700 miles from Hawaii.


Read more:

First debris from Japanese earthquake/tsunami reaches Olympic Peninsula


Presentation by Oceanographers Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham given at Peninsula College 

Japan Earthquake Update (12 March 2011 2110 CET)

by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 12:07pm

Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA that the explosion at Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant occurred outside the primary containment vessel (PCV), not inside. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), has confirmed that the integrity of the primary containment vessel remains intact.

As a countermeasure to limit damage to the reactor core, TEPCO proposed that sea water mixed with boron be injected into the primary containment vessel. This measure was approved by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the injection procedure began at 20:20 local Japan time.

Japan has reported that four workers at Fukushima Daiichi were injured by the explosion.

NISA have confirmed the presence of caesium-137 and iodine-131 in the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1. NISA reported an initial increase in levels of radioactivity around the plant earlier today, but these levels have been observed to lessen in recent hours.

Containment remains intact at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2 and 3.

Evacuations around both affected nuclear plants have begun. In the 20-kilometre radius around Fukushima Daiichi an estimated 170000 people have been evacuated. In the 10-kilometre radius around Fukushima Daini an estimated 30000 people have been evacuated. Full evacuation measures have not been completed.

The Japanese authorities have classified the event at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 as a level 4 ‘Accident with Local Consequences’ on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The INES scale is used to promptly and consistently communicate to the public the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation) to 7 (major accident).

Japan has also confirmed the safety of all its nuclear research reactors.

The IAEA continues to liaise with the Japanese authorities and is monitoring the situation as it evolves.

Japan awaits word on possible nuclear reactor leak

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has issued an emergency decree regarding the possibility of leaking radiation from the damaged Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCo) multi-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The 3,000 residents near the Fukushima No. 1 plant were told to evacuate, according to the Kyoto News Service.

TEPCo officials said rising pressure inside one of its reactors had elevated the risk of a radiation leak. The U.S. Air Force in Japan flew coolant to a nuclear power plant that suffered severe damage from the quake, according to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but it wasn’t immediately clear if it was the Fukushima plant. Nuclear fuel must be continuously cooled for 24 to 48 hours even after being shut down, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Kan told citizens there were no confirmed reports of leaked nuclear radiation. “I ask the public to continue to stay fully vigilant and to keep abreast of TV and radio reports, and I ask everyone to act calmly,” Kan said in a released statement.

”We have a situation where one of the reactors cannot be cooled down,” said Yukio Edano, a government spokesman, at a late Friday press briefing. ”No radiation has leaked outside the reactor. The incident poses no danger to the environment at the moment.”

Eleven of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors shut down automatically following the quake.

The Tohoku district was the epicenter for the 8.8 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan beginning at at 2:46 pm. One of three Onagawa nuclear power plants near Sengai, less thn 50 miles from the epicenter, broke out in a fire, but was later extinguished.

Kyodo News said at least 200 bodies had been found near the epicenter and that 88,000 people are reported as missing. The massive tsunami that followed the quake washed away numerous homes, autos and planes and submerged entire towns.

Dangerous High-Level Nuclear Waste with Nowhere to Go

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is meeting January 26-28 in Atlanta, Georgia

By Celia Sampol, DC Bureau 

Many nuclear power advocates appeared in front of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in Augusta, Georgia, on Friday [Jan. 7, 2011] in support of a permanent repository for nuclear waste and supported the concept of reprocessing nuclear waste.

Environmentalists opposed reprocessing because there is no permanent waste repository and reprocessing creates more waste. They believe reprocessing wastes taxpayer dollars on special interests.

BRAC went to Augusta because the Department of Energy’s massive nuclear facility, the Savannah River Site, and the Southern Company’s two huge new nuclear power plants under construction are nearby.

During a day-long meeting, the 15-person Commission, launched by President Barack Obama last January, heard from an array of speakers. Most of them criticized the Obama administration’s decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, which was designed as a permanent repository for 70,000 tons of spent fuel from the 104 commercial reactors located in the United States. “It was a short-sighted decision with devastating consequences,” said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He added that South Carolina has paid more than $1.3 billion to “build a hole that we are not going to use” so “we either want our money back or we want to use that hole.”

Graham also said that more nuclear power plants could “create new jobs in America that pay very well.” But “to those who wish to have a Nuclear Renaissance, we will not be able to get there until we come up with a waste disposal plan.” The Senator said he supports reprocessing because he believes it “make sense” and “could be achieved in a reasonable period of time.” He did not address the issue of disposal of nuclear waste created by reprocessing.

Graham praised the Obama administration’s support for the multi-billion dollar Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program at SRS. The goal of this project, authorized in 1999 during the Clinton administration, is to dispose of 36 metric tons of surplus U.S. military weapons grade plutonium by irradiating it and turning it into fuel that can be used in nuclear reactors to produce electricity. Once the plutonium has been irradiated, it can no longer be used in a nuclear weapon without elaborate further reprocessing. This new technology is unproven. Currently commercial reactors in the United States are not designed to use MOX fuel.

“I would say something good about the Obama administration: Secretary Chu has been one of the best Secretaries of Energy I ever have to deal with. The administration, generally speaking, has had a good vision for the development of commercial nuclear power; they have put on the table loan guarantees more robust than under the Bush administration. Secretary Chu has also convinced me that another form of reprocessing, better than what the French, the British and the Japanese do, may be achieved in the next decade,” Graham said. (SRS received one of the largest amounts of Recovery Act funds in the country.) He believes the risk of proliferation from reprocessing is “overstated.”

Speaking on behalf of the Central Savannah River Area Chambers of Commerce, Brian Tucker said, “The federal government’s decision to abandon Yucca Mountain has sent a very bad message” to the local community and has made “SRS a de facto permanent repository.” He also supports the MOX program and believes that “blending down weapons-grade uranium into low enriched uranium suitable for fuel in commercial power reactors” and using it in Tennessee Valley Authority reactors to provide electricity is the “kind of well-executed, innovative, problem-solving technology that we believe can be brought to bear in helping to resolve the pressing issues being addressed by this Commission.”

Manuel Bettencourt, from the SRS Citizens Advisory Board, agreed with the Chamber of Commerce and stressed the fact that SRS has significant resources that could assist in research and development of ways to reprocess nuclear waste. The concept of reprocessing nuclear waste was also supported by Clint Wolfe, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, who explained that coal and gas emissions threaten the world’s water and air while nuclear energy “has the potential to provide a clean alternative” and remains “safe.”

In opposition to reprocessing, environmentalist Tom Clements, the Southeast Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from South Carolina on the Green Party ticket last year, told the Commission, “There is really no rush concerning high-level waste. There is time to make the right decision.” According to Clements, “the path forward in a medium term is to secure on-site storage, it’s not recycling or reprocessing. …We are all concerned about future jobs but reprocessing is not a good idea.” Clements raised concerns about proliferation, because reprocessing has been used to create plutonium, the core material for nuclear weapons, and noted that reprocessing will bring more high-level radioactive nuclear waste to South Carolina.

The activist said that the Department of Energy (DOE) is now proposing “a so-called energy park” at SRS and wants to create four experimental nuclear power plants capable of burning radioactive waste for fuel. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the consortium of private government contractors that operates SRS under contract with the DOE, defends the energy park and says that it could be the potential alternative to Yucca Mountain.

Clements said, “The environmental groups have not been involved in the discussion” of the energy park and “there was no discussion with the public.” He said, “Their (DOE) mission is clean up; they need to get back to that mission.” He added that the mission of the MOX plant was never to use the fuel for purposes like producing electricity. “I think it’s more about money going to special interests than anything else,” he said. “It’s going to be a grand battle” if government decides to push forward with reprocessing. “We don’t want South Carolina to become the new Yucca Mountain.”

Charles Utley, from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told the Commission that they should work toward a nuclear-free future for the nation. He said solar and wind power “have a great potential as clean energy sources” that will help ease dependence on foreign oil.

After the testimonies, the public made brief comments. A long line of witnesses pleaded against nuclear power. A student in environmental engineering came to the podium with her one-year-old sister and asked the Blue Ribbon Commission to take into account her sister’s future when making its deliberations.

At the end of the meeting, co-Chairman Brent Scowcroft noted, “There is a feeling in the country that the government keeps changing the rules with Yucca Mountain” and one of the problems the Commission faces is “how to set a system in which people can have confidence it won’t be changed with the next election cycle.”

The Commission’s next hearings will be in New Mexico January 26 through 28, where members will tour the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and hold public meetings in Carlsbad and Albuquerque. The Blue Ribbon Commission is to publish a draft report in mid-2011 and a final report in 2012.

Master degree graduate in European Journalism, Celia Sampol has worked for five years as a reporter for the European press agency Europolitics in Brussels, Belgium. She has also collaborated with various famous French newspapers as Le Monde, Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace or Acteurs Publics. She moved to DC last September to pursue a career in political and environmental investigative reporting.

Who Owns Wild Rice?

by Jeff Nygaard, Nygaard Notes 

Whenever we look at the world from an indigenous perspective the issues of ownership and wealth come up almost immediately.  In a series from this past October called “Midwest Mining Rush Threatens Water,” the Public Education Center (PEC) reported that “In the upper Midwest, mining companies estimate there is the largest deposit of copper, nickel and precious stones in North America encased in nearly 5 billion tons of low-grade rock.”  The PEC explains that “Because the region suffers some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, there is enormous pressure to let the mining companies come.”  Let them come, that is, and engage in sulfide mining that, according to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, “contaminates lakes, rivers, and groundwater,” in the process causing damage to “human health, fish, wildlife, and entire ecosystems.”

One thing that would be damaged by the proposed mining operations would be the wild rice that grows in the area.  As the White Earth Land Recovery Project explains, wild rice is a “sacred food” that “is a central part of Anishinaabeg culture and tradition.”  Minnesota Public Radio reports that “High levels of sulfates released from Minnesota’s mining industry are suspected of diminishing Minnesota’s native wild rice beds.”  That’s part of the reason Minnesota currently has rules that limit sulfates in wild rice waters.

The advocacy group Water Legacy reminds us that “It is prudent to ask the political question, whether we really want to sacrifice our water for jobs.”  And water may not be the only thing that would be sacrificed if the mining companies are allowed to come.

In the corporate media in Minnesota this case has been reported as a dispute about “regulation,” the enforcement of rules, the role of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and so forth.  But the disputed ideas underneath all of those issues are fundamental ideas about ownership and control.  On the one side is the dominant capitalist culture, in which land is “owned” and the owner can do with it whatever he or she likes.  So a mining company can operate a mine on land that it “owns” if it can abide by the necessary regulations. (Here we are, talking about regulations again.)

On the other side are the traditions and culture of the indigenous people of the area, and the foods with which they have been in relationship from time immemorial.  The indigenous people who rely so heavily on wild rice do not claim to “own” it.  No one can “own” what is wild, after all.  But they do claim that no one has the right to destroy this resource that is sacred to the people, that is a central part of an ancient and living culture.

The indigenous claim on the wild rice—or, rather, the indigenous relationship with wild rice—implies a right to stop the mining companies (or anyone else) from killing it.  But this only makes sense if we throw out the idea of “ownership” entirely.  Because if “ownership” were to settle this issue, then it would be theoretically possible for native people to “own” the rice and to kill it themselves, should they so desire.  That is, they would have the “right” to do what they wish with “their” rice.  But not everyone sees things this way, a fact which is hinted at by use of the word “sacred” in describing the rice.

(Somewhat ironically, the dominant culture likes to talk about something called The Enlightenment, one of the ideas of which was the idea of “natural rights,” which we know as “inalienable” rights, and which the U.S. Declaration of Independence says come from the “Creator.”  Such rights are “self-evident,” and cannot be taken away by governments.  I think this is another way of saying “sacred,” perhaps.  But I digress…)

The Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain, a Canadian anti-privatization group, explains that the question here is “the question of how indigenous peoples are to conserve their culture, language, spirituality and ecology without being forced to ‘own’ it according to the property laws of the dominant culture.”

Culture, language, spirituality and ecology are invisible—if not inconceivable—in the market.  So we argue about rules and regulations when the issues go much deeper, out of the view of most of us.

The test behind our water pollution program failures

by Peter Maier, PhD, PE

Sewage contains carbonaceous (fecal) waste and nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, which both are used by two different types of bacteria. Treatment plants are actually bacteria feedlot operations to break down this waste, while containing them under controlled conditions. Since the two types are different and have different requirements, it is essential to know how much and what type of waste has to be broken down, thus what type of holding areas are needed and how much oxygen would be required for this process. This oxygen demand can be measured with the BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) test.

Another important design criteria is the amount of sewage (flow rates) expected. This in turn will depend on in what type of sewer collection system this sewage is collected. Older cities will mostly have combined sewer systems, whereby both sanitary sewage and storm water is collected and which of course do require much larger hydraulic capacity as compared to separate sewer system, where only sewage is collected. To handle extreme high flows, combined systems also have CSOs (Combined Sewer Overflows), where during such periods both sewage and storm water is directly discharged into open water. Separate systems have the disadvantage that storm water in many cities is not as clean as was expected and that this storm water has become a major untreated pollution source.

The selection of sewage treatment therefore not only depends on how much carbonaceous and nitrogenous waste is in sewage, but also on the flow rates in what type of sewage collection system this sewage is collected.

The BOD test, developed in England around 1920, measures the oxygen use by heterotrophic bacteria using carbonaceous  (fecal) waste, exerting a C-BOD and autotrophic bacteria using nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste exerting a N-BOD.  Biochemical tests are slow, so it will take at least 30 days before all the waste is broken down into CO2, NO3 and water, while the test still does not show how much oxygen is used by the heterotrophic and how much by autotrophic bacteria. However, since very fresh raw sewage hardly contains autotrophic bacteria, the test during the first 6 to 8 days only measured the oxygen use by heterotrophic bacteria and since the oxygen used by autotrophic bacteria also can be measured by the faster TKN (Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen) test, it was possible to calculate the total BOD already after 5 days, by using the following formula:   Total BOD = 1.5 x BOD5 + 4.6 x TKN.

Average sewage (according the literature) will measure BOD5 = 200 mg/l and TKN = 40 mg/l, hence Total BOD = 300 + 184 = 484 mg/l.  Unfortunately, when EPA implemented the CWA, it used only the BOD5 value and since ‘secondary treatment’ was supposed to be 85% treatment, the BOD5 of secondary treated sewage should be less then (85% of 200) 30 mg /l.

Since autotrophic bacteria already are present in many sewage collection system and sewage treatment plants, there is no 5-day delay, as was found in 1920, so many sewage treatment plants in the seventies violated their discharge permits, while in fact the higher than 30 mg BOD5 /l reading was actually partly N-BOD5. In these cases, plants were violating their discharge permits, while in fact treating the sewage better than was required by their permits.

In 1984 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged this problem and allowed the C-BOD5 test, which is the same BOD5 test, except that a certain chemical is added that will only kill the autotrophic bacteria. It was estimated that 60 percent of the plants in the 1970s that were out of compliance were brought into compliance by adding this chemical to their test.

However, by allowing this, EPA not only lowered the final goal of the CWA from 100 percent treatment (elimination of all water pollution by 1985) to a measly 35 percent treatment, but also officially ignored nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste, besides exerting an oxygen demand, also is a fertilizer for algae, causing eutrophication often resulting in red tides and dead zones. This, while it still is impossible to evaluate the real treatment performance of a sewage treatment plant and establish what its effluent waste loading is on receiving water bodies.

Since we still also do not know how much carbonaceous and nitrogenous waste is in raw sewage, the chances are that sewage treatment plants are designed to treat the wrong waste, as most engineers still assume that the BOD5 in raw sewage represents its C-BOD5 value only, while in many cases (especially warmer climates) this is not the case.

The only correct way to use the BOD test is to use the C-BOD5 test in combination with the TKN test:  BOD = 1.5 x C- BOD5 + 4.6 x TKN.

This will provide the only correct data how much carbonaceous and how much nitrogenous food has to be broken down in these bacteria feedlot operations, called sewage treatment plants.

Consequences of incorrect use of the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) test:

  • Government regulations failed to achieve any of its goals as 60% of the pollution Congress intended to prevent, was ignored.
  • Since it still is impossible to evaluate the real treatment performances of sewage treatment plants, it is impossible to compare the different treatment processes and therefore makes any cost-benefit engineering analysis of different treatment processes worthless.
  • Since it also is impossible to know the real effluent waste loading on receiving waters, this data is misleading when used in TMDL (Total Daily Maximum Load) watershed programs.
  • Raw sewage can already be N-BOD5 and when design engineers still assume that it only represents C-BOD5, sewage treatment plants will be designed to treat the wrong waste.
  • Better sewage treatment was accomplished by adding secondary and now tertiary treatment processes, only after stricter treatment criteria were required.
  • When the oxidation ditch was developed in 1950, which contained all these additional treatment processes in one process, it was not recognized, because there was no correct test data available and engineers were solely focused in meeting effluent standards.
  • Improving the oxidation ditch process by adding final clarifiers was a mistake, as it caused hydraulic limitations. The original concept allows inexpensive solutions to the problems now experience with combined sewer collection system, eliminating CSOs.
  • The lack of correct test data and unwillingness to even discuss this, has created an atmosphere of denial, which promotes the status quo, sticking only to traditional systems, which were original only odor control facilities and also inhibits innovation.
  • The fear of exposing what happened with the CWA, now interferes with other environmental issues (air pollution, climate change, acidification of oceans, forest fires, etc) impacted by the huge increase of reactive nitrogen in our biosphere.

Maier received a doctoral degree in civil engineering from the University of Delft in Holland, and has professional engineering licenses in New York and Utah. He worked for the State of New York, a large engineering consulting firm in Holland and an equipment manufacturing firm in Utah. He was involved in the design and R&D of municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants in Europe, Brazil, Mexico and the United States. He can be reached at [email protected].


World going nuts over California almonds

Bakersfield, Calif. — California almond growers announced a record 1.65- billion-pound production of almonds for local consumption and export in a recent harvest.

Reflecting a large growth in almond orchards in the state over the past five years, farmers are shifting their productions of cheaper vegetables to the new “in farming” of growing, harvesting and exporting nuts. Currently, California has 810,000 acres of planted almond orchards, up 25 percent from 10 years ago, and now lays claim to producing 80 percent of the world’s supply. Spain trails California as the second largest producer. 

California growers have also cornered the U.S. market; the Almond Board of California claims “virtually 100 percent of domestic supply”in its 2010 Almond Almanac.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, almonds are now the largest export crop in California, beating out milk, cheese, wheat, apples and wine. Experts said this new high in almond exports is due to increased consumption and demand in developing nations, such as China, where imports of the nuts rose from 16 million pounds to more than 133 million pounds during the past five years. Experts are speculating that Africa and South America, largely untapped markets, will be the next focus of the nut-growing industry, which expects to make gains in various countries on those continents, too.

Image: Almonds on the tree. Photo courtesy mental.masala/flickr

Star power has helped in the industry’s growth as well. The Almond Board hired Chinese actress Gao Yuan Yuan to promote almonds for the Chinese New Year as part of its largest marketing campaign in China yet.

Gift-giving is traditional during the winter months in India, so the California almond industry seized the opportunity to hire Indian actress Karisma Kapoor to make promotional spots for their product. “We have no mature markets or consumers who have reached a point even close” to eating as many almonds as they can, said Richard Waycott, Almond Board CEO.

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