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Program to Curb 'Black Carbon' Pollution on Obama's Chopping Block

EPA 's budget eliminates a $60 million program to curb soot, as UN scientists report that tackling such pollutants is key to fighting climate change

By Elizabeth McGowan

Feb 25, 2011
Truck with smoke coming out of tailpipe

WASHINGTON—Environmental organizations weren't feeling any love on Valentine's Day when the White House announced that it would slash funding for retrofitting dirty diesel engines in the 2012 budget.

Now they're hopeful an enlightening report about the climatic benefits of curbing soot and ground-level ozone emissions will force President Obama to experience a change of heart.

Remarkably, slicing these pollutants on a worldwide basis by 2030 could halve the projected increase in global temperatures in the first half of the century, according to a report issued by the (UNEP) this week.

The study, "" points out that regulators would be wise to focus on soot and ground-level ozone in tandem with reining in carbon dioxide emissions.

After Years of Resisting, Alberta Admits Need for Strict Oil Sands Monitoring

Government and oil sands industry finally agree with environmentalists on need to rigorously measure the full impact of oil sands development

By Mathew Klie-Cribb

Feb 25, 2011
Syncrude's Mildred Lake plant

FT. MCMURRAY, ALBERTA—For years, Alberta's government has been under fire for weak monitoring of oil sands development on rivers and lakes. Now it's finally answering its critics, by commissioning a special review that aims to reassure the world that its booming industry is being developed with the utmost scrutiny.

Over the next several months, a panel of experts from health, science, regulatory and public administration backgrounds will look at how the government can rebuild a state-of-the-art monitoring system and regain the public trust, which has eroded not only in Canada, but globally.

In early February, the new group met for the first time to review current monitoring capacity, starting with "aquatics," the most criticized area, and branching out to air quality and wider environmental impacts.

The panel has until June 2011 to report back.

In Thawing Arctic, Fragile Food Web at Risk of Unraveling (Part II)

A fishing ban against Arctic cod may forestall trouble for the bottom of the food web. Higher up, seals are already disappearing from lack of snow and ice

By Bruce Barcott,

Feb 24, 2011
Scientist with seal

The Arctic Ocean is so cold that only a handful of fish and marine mammals can survive there. Subsurface temperatures range from 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm summer day to 28.76 degrees, the freezing point of seawater.

In those extreme conditions, one fish species in the center of the Arctic food web is uniquely equipped to thrive: the Arctic cod.

A slender and smaller cousin of the Pacific and Atlantic cod, the Arctic cod is often seen near the underside of the ice, feeding on pteropods, copepods, krill, worms, and small fish. It uses cracks and seams in the ice much as tropical fish use a coral reef: as a refuge from predators.

Its survival in these heat-sapping waters depends on two things: blood and fat.

Coal-Reliant Kentucky Takes First Steps to Solve Energy Dilemma

Kentucky's EPA-bashing is overshadowing its efforts to pursue cleaner energy, in the face of its almost complete reliance on coal

By Maria Gallucci

Feb 24, 2011
Kentucky coal plant

Kentucky is heading toward its energy future paddling in opposite directions. Some lawmakers want to boost the use of alternative energies, especially biomass, to diversify its fuel mix. But coal remains the backbone of its manufacturing-driven economy, and others are determined to keep it that way.

The political dynamic playing out in Kentucky offers a local window into the larger national energy dilemma. The state is seeking the benefits of a clean economy, but coal is still the source of 92 percent of its electricity and brings in $3.5 billion in export revenue.

Currently, state legislators are deliberating three bills to spur economic growth and rein in soaring electricity rates. One would foster clean energy development. The others would shelter the coal industry from Obama administration regulations on greenhouse gases that opponents say would kill industrial jobs.

While it's true that Kentucky cheap coal has long attracted manufacturing industry — which currently employs 213,000 people in the automotive, steel and aluminum sectors — new figures suggest times are changing.

In Thawing Arctic, Fragile Food Web at Risk of Unraveling (Part I)

The loss of a single species from climate change impacts could set off a reaction throughout the entire Arctic marine and coastal food web

By Bruce Barcott,

Feb 23, 2011
Meling ice

On a Saturday morning in late November in Kotzebue, Alaska, a village 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle, two Inupiat men nursed cups of coffee at the Bayside Inn. They stared out a window at Kotzebue Sound, an arm of the Chukchi Sea at the southern edge of the Arctic Ocean. Outside it was 35 degrees and raining. "Too warm," said one of the men.

His companion let a long silence pass. Then he nodded. "Too much rain," he said.  Indeed.

In Kotzebue, November temperatures normally hover in the single digits. But these aren't normal times. This is the time of "the changes" — a term used by Caleb Pungowiyi, former president of the and one of Kotzebue's most respected elders, when talking about the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic.

"Some events like this happen occasionally," Pungowiyi told me as we sat looking out at the rain. "But for something to happen that's this warm, in November, for a number of days — these kinds of temperatures are not normal. We should be down in the teens and minus temperatures this time of year."

India's Steel Mill Approval Defies Pledge to Weigh Environmental Costs

The new $12 billion POSCO steel plant would take up 4,000 acres and displace 22,000 people. Still, India says future foreign investment depends on it

By Ranjit Devraj

Feb 23, 2011

NEW DELHI—India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, is fond of saying that the policy of his ministry is to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

But his critics aren't convinced. Currently, they're trying to figure out if the country's ecological needs even entered Ramesh's mind last month when he gave clearance to (POSCO) to build a controversial $12 billion steel mill in India's eastern Orissa state.

To be fair, it was a proposal Ramesh wasn't likely to refuse. The South Korean steel giant was bringing the biggest-ever foreign direct investment (FDI) into India. Word had gone round that it would be seen as a test case for the seriousness of this country's economic liberalization program.

In fact, South Korea's trade minister, Kim Jong-hoon, minced no words during a visit to India in late January when he said that future investments from his country would hinge on POSCO's fate.

Ramesh has himself said that projects like POSCO have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for a major developing country like India.

Can Michigan Avoid 'Fracking' Pollution Problems of Other States?

Michigan, one of the last states to join the gas drilling boom, is enacting strict rules against the industry to protect its water before it's too late

M. Lisa Weatherford,

Feb 22, 2011
Drilling rig

As one of the last states to join the natural gas hydraulic fracturing fray, Michigan might be one of the first to create a regulatory climate that pleases both regulators and water protection groups, avoiding drilling bans, moratoriums and — hopefully — water pollution disasters.

In May, Michigan sold a record $178 million in mineral rights leases providing access to very deep and very plentiful natural gas deposits in northern Michigan's Utica and Collingwood Shale formations.

But close on the heels of the sale, environmental groups called for state regulators to take a closer look at the controversial process that is used to extract the gas.

GOP Bill to Remove New Hampshire from Carbon Trading Pact Moves Forward

Environmentalists and business leaders say the bill would forfeit more than $60 million in energy savings and millions more in funding for clean energy

By Maria Gallucci

Feb 21, 2011
New Hampshire state house

Republicans in New Hampshire's legislature took their first step toward withdrawing the state from a regional carbon trading program this month, passing a bill out of committee that advocates say may have enough support to override a potential veto by Gov. John Lynch.

The move is representative of a nationwide trend by newly GOP-dominated state legislatures and governors' seats to repeal climate change and renewable energy policies.

The on Feb. 16 voted 13 to 5 along party lines to end New Hampshire's participation in the (RGGI), a carbon market between 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the first mandatory emissions trading plan in the country.

Supporters say the GOP-backed bill, , would help loosen the pinch on ratepayers' wallets. But opponents, including Republican leaders of clean energy firms, sharply disagree, saying it could end up forfeiting more than $60 million in energy savings and dry up millions more in funding for alternative energy and efficiency programs.

Under Climate Stress, California Wine Country Tries to Shrink Carbon Footprint

Fetzer Vineyards and others are switching to solar energy and biodiesel fuel, as a new breed of ethical consumer is forcing wineries to decarbonize

By Joseph Mayton

Feb 20, 2011

California's wine industry is under threat from global warming, and while the problem is too big for the wineries to handle on their own, some are trying to lead by example by doing things like installing solar panels and using less glass in their bottling plants.

"There are strong initiatives in the wine industry to reduce climate change impacts," said Ann Thrupp, the director of sustainability at in Northern California, in an interview.

Areas suitable for growing wine grapes in the United States, the fourth largest wine producer behind France, Italy and Spain, could shrink by as much as 81 percent by the end of the century due to rising temperatures, according to published in the National Academy of Sciences. The Northern California Napa and Sonoma valleys would be hit the hardest.

Climate change would trigger more extreme heat waves, harming premium wine grapes that need stable temperatures to flourish by causing them to overripen from too much sugar.

Pipeline Corrosion and Safety Issues Take Spotlight in Keystone XL Debate

Canadian regulators question the report, and TransCanada defends safety record, as a key U.S. senator endorses approval for the controversial pipeline

By Elizabeth McGowan

Feb 18, 2011

WASHINGTON—Environmental organizations are recommending that the U.S. State Department put a controversial and potentially dangerous Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline on hold until safety issues are fully understood and addressed via government oversight.

Pipelines transporting oil sands crude raise the risk of spills and damage to waterways, aquifers, ecosystems and communities because they are carrying a highly corrosive and acidic blend of diluted bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate, according to the report released this week.

And the researchers are standing by their conclusions about the dangers of pumping Canadian heavy crude across this country's mid-section, despite their research being challenged by an Alberta regulatory authority as being flawed and misleading.

The joined research forces with the , the and the to publish "."