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Ontario Puts Wind Projects on Hold

The Canadian province of Ontario is putting a moratorium on off-shore wind farms until it has a better idea of their potential environmental impact, Reuters reported Friday.

The province said Friday it would not approve any proposed projects and that it would suspend current wind applications under its program to buy power from alternative energy sources.

The moratorium does not apply to on-shore projects.

“We will be working with our U.S. neighbors to ensure that any offshore wind projects are protective of the environment,” John Wilkinson, Ontario’s minister of the environment, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

“Offshore wind on freshwater lakes is a recent concept that requires a cautious approach until the science of environmental impact is clear. In contrast, the science concerning land based wind is extensive.”

The government’s so-called feed-in tariff program makes use of energy generated from solar, wind, water and biomass.

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Government Speeds Up Wind Farm Process

The U.S. federal government announced Wednesday that it plans to pump $50 million into expediting the development of offshore wind farms.

With President Barack Obama’s goal of using 80 percent clean energy in the U.S. by 2035 looming on the horizon, the Department of Energy hopes to issue wind farm leases off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey by the end of 2011.

Those states will be put on a fast-track for approval, the Interior Department said.

The nation’s first wind farm, Massachussetts’ Cape Wind project, was finally given the seal of approval last October after a drawn-out impasse: a review process that ended up taking eight years when environmentalists and local residents argued that a wind farm would hurt wildlife and detract from the scenery.

While the four areas pointed out Monday are all near major tourist hot spots, Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar promised that windmills would be 10 to 20 offshore so as not to interfere with the scenery, AP reports.

The wind project sites in the north Atlantic will be identified in March, while sites in the south Atlantic will be picked out this spring.

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Drought in Amazon Gave Off More CO2 than U.S. in a Year

An extensive drought in the Amazon rain forest last year spurred massive carbon dioxide emissions, British and Brazilian scientists said Thursday. They fear the devastating event may become a common occurrence, turning the world’s largest rain forest from an absorber of heat-trapping gases into a source of the harmful emissions.

Simon Lewis, an ecologist at the University of Leeds, and his team of researchers said in a study published Thursday that 2010′s crippling dry spell was worse than a “once-in-a-century” 2005 drought and may have caused more emissions than the United States does in a year.

Forests abundant in vegetation help diminish carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by soaking it up as they grow, but they release the heat-trapping gas when they die and biodegrade.

The 2010 drought was severe enough to leave major Amazonian rivers dry, stranding thousands who depend on boat transport. It followed the region’s dry spell in 2005, a drought so severe that scientists had dubbed it a “once-in-a-century” event at the time.

But last year’s drought was even more intense than the one five years before, scientists discovered. It caused rainfall shortages that affected a 1.16 million square-mile expanse of the Amazon, compared with the 734,000 square miles exposed to drought in 2005.

The 2010 dry spell also caused higher tree mortality and had three major epicenters, as opposed to the 2005 drought, which was mainly concentrated in one area in the southwestern Amazon.

The Amazon typically soaks up around 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon per year. According to the study, the forest will release 5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2010 and 2011 for a total impact of about 8 billion metric tons. That’s below the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions in 2009, which were approximately 5.4 billion metric tons.

“If events like this happen more often, the Amazon rain forest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up,” Lewis said.

The study was published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

Posted in Drought & Shortages, Global Warming, Natural Disasters0 Comments

Superstorm Poses Threat to California, Scientists Say

A potential “superstorm” could dump up to 10 feet of rain on California in a catastrophic flood, scientists and emergency planners predict.

Federal and California officials on Friday discussed the plausible consequences of such a storm, using advanced flood mapping and atmospheric projections with data from California’s historic storms.

A research team of over 100 scientists said in a scenario released by the U.S. Geological Survey this week that California faces the risk of massive floods caused by an “atmospheric river” (AR) of moisture flowing into the state.

The report estimates that the flooding would last up to 40 days, affecting almost one-fourth of California’s homes and causing up to $300 billion in damage.

The scientists, engineers, lifeline operators, emergency planners and insurance experts working on the project named the event “ARkStorm,” after an intense atmospheric river moving water at the same rate as 50 Mississippi rivers discharging water into the Gulf of Mexico, ABC News reported.

The Pacific moisture-filled air current would overwhelm California’s flood protection system, inundate the Central Valley, and trigger hundreds of landslides.

In a conference held by the United States Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency, officials convened to outline new strategies to limit the flood’s devastation.

“Our storms really are as bad as hurricanes in the amount of rain that they can bring,” USGS Director Marcia McNutt said, according to ABC. “Without that type of labeling, we haven’t recognized that our storms are that bad and we risk underestimating emergency response (to storms).”

Climate scientists have long linked rising temperatures to intense weather events like the potential ARkStorm. As the earth’s atmosphere gets hotter, it stores more energy, setting off more extreme weather events with greater frequency.

Scientists say they are able to monitor the ARs with satellite imagery that has improved in the last few years, the New York Times reports.

They estimate that the AR that set off an intense storm over California last month moved water at 20 times the rate of the Mississippi River discharging water into the Gulf.

“Floods are as much a part of our lives in California as earthquakes are,” said Lucy Jones, the chief scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, according to the New York Times. “We are probably not going to be able to handle the biggest ones,” she added.

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Effects, Global Warming, Precipitation & Water Cycle, Water, Ecosystems & Agriculture0 Comments

Rockhampton, Australia Completely Cut Off by Flooding

Road access to Rockhampton, Australia was completely cut off Monday amid catastrophic flooding that has affected 200,000 people in the northeastern region of Queensland.

Defense Minister Warren Snowdon sent the military to deliver emergency supplies to the city by helicopter after the last road went underwater Monday, UPI said.

The flood, which covers an area the size of Germany and France combined, has killed at least 10 and destroyed thousands of homes.

The steady rain that fell for days beginning before Christmas caused rivers to swell and swamp at least 22 cities and towns, AP reports.

Officials have expressed concern that the deluge would trigger more flooding later this week from Dalby north to Kingaroy and east to Maryborough and the Sunshine Coast, UPI said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said damages would run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Posted in Climate Science & Weather, Natural Disasters, Precipitation & Water Cycle0 Comments

Groups Oppose EPA Analysis of Coal Ash Prior to Regulations

Three environmental groups are challenging figures in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on coal ash, a potentially harmful byproduct of coal-burning in industrial facilities and power plants.

The dispute comes as the EPA prepares first-ever regulations for the disposal of coal ash in the wake of the catastrophic Tennessee Valley spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the sludge into the Emory River two years ago.

The agency is considering two proposals. The first would give the toxic residue a “hazardous” label and impose new federal regulations for construction of containment facilities. The second option, heavily favored by industry supporters, would classify the substance as “non-hazardous” and encourage facilities to recycle their coal ash into building materials like cement and drywall.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center released an analysis of the EPA’s findings Wednesday claiming that the agency has exaggerated the value of coal ash recycling. The EPA stated in its report that the practice is worth $23 billion in health benefits, pollution avoidance, and lowered energy costs. The groups estimate the annual worth of coal ash recycling to be $1.15 billion while posing serious risks for the environment and human health.

“The concern we have is so loudly exaggerating the economic benefit of coal ash recycling,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, according to Bloomberg. “The noise that creates has sort of drowned out the concern over health and safety of properly disposing this kind of material.”

The groups voiced their support of the stricter program, which they say would protect communities near power plant-operated coal ash containment ponds.

They also noted in a statement Wednesday that there are as many as 50 unregulated coal ash dumps around the country similar to the one that broke down in the Tennessee Valley two years ago.

EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency would review the report along with over 400,000 public comments submitted to officials.

Posted in Coal, Hazardous Waste, Industrial Pollution, Industrial Waste, Minerals & Mining, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Global Trade: U.S. Challenges China’s Clean Energy Subsidies

The U.S. on Wednesday filed a case against China before the World Trade Organization, claiming that Beijing has unfairly provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of subsidies to Chinese wind power companies.

The accusation follows a petition filed by the United Steelworkers in September, which claimed that China buoys its clean energy sector with subsidies, allowing Chinese businesses to sell wind and solar equipment at a lower rate on the international market.

The WTO request alleges that the funding is in violation of global trade rules.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Wednesday that the Obama Administration is targeting China’s wind power production grants, because they seem to require that Chinese manufacturers use only domestically-made parts.

“Import substitution subsidies are particularly harmful and inherently trade distorting, which is why they are expressly prohibited under WTO rules,” Kirk said in a statement. “These subsidies effectively operate as a barrier to U.S. exports to China.”

The case comes weeks before Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit President Barack Obama.

U.S.-China relations are already tense: the two superpowers are arguing over a number of trade issues, including China’s currency policy and Chinese barriers against U.S. beef imports.

During trade talks last week, the U.S. persuaded China to loosen restrictions on foreign contributions to the booming Chinese wind power industry. Foreign suppliers will no longer require previous experience in the Chinese clean energy sector.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard expressed the union’s satisfaction with the Obama administration’s decision to submit the WTO request.

“Today’s announcement by the administration comes as an early note of holiday cheer for those workers in the alternative and renewable energy sector,” said Gerard in a statement. “The goal is not litigation; it’s to end their practices.”

Posted in Energy Industry, Energy Policy & Advocacy, International Relations & Treaties, Solar, Wind0 Comments

United Nations Building Evacuated Due to Suspicious Odor

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly were forced to evacuate the U.N. building Tuesday because of a “suspicious” odor, Reuters reported.

Security officials first told the press that there was a gas leak in the Manhattan compound. But spokesman Farhan Haq said he could not confirm that was the case.

Haq said the evacuation was just a precautionary measure. “We are currently trying to identify the odor with local authorities,” he told reporters crowded outside the building.

The smell was later blamed on a sewage backup caused by high tides in the nearby East River.

“This is not a hazard, there were gases released by the sewage but it is not harmful,” Haq told reporters. “Public tours and General Assembly meetings should be able to resume by tomorrow.”

The U.N. compound is currently undergoing a $2 billion refurbishment. The Security Council has been meeting in the basement of the 39-story Secretariat building during renovations, and repairs have not begun for the adjoining General Assembly building, which is still being used.

Posted in Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, International Relations & Treaties, Organizations0 Comments

Wind Energy: The Promise of City Turbines

Opponents of wind power keep a store of questions on hand about the method’s relevancy as an alternative energy source. Won’t it disrupt migratory bird patterns? Is it really enough support our needs?

And then there’s that other question, the one that’s less practical but still a prevalent concern: Won’t it look bad?

Sometimes it seems like that’s wind power’s biggest adversary–its own unsightly aesthetic. Challengers protest that fleets of turbines in rural areas mar the beauty of the landscape. They are, to most folks anyway, an eyesore, a disruptor of idyllic scenery.

But maybe all that’s about to change. Cleanfield Energy, an Ontario-based renewable energy company, recently spoke of its plans to install wind turbines in urban areas all over the world.

While traditional wind farms in remote areas require the construction of towers and transmission lines to transport power back to the market, the company’s urban turbines can be placed on rooftops to directly power city buildings.

“The market potential for urban wind is quite massive,” CEO Tony Verrelli said in a press release.

Urban windmills, called Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs), have already been installed in the U.S., Canada, Slovenia, China and Ireland, and they are gaining popularity, the company says.

“We expect to be in a number of new markets in the months ahead,” Verrelli said.

Posted in Air, Atmosphere, & Weather, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Wind0 Comments

WikiLeaks Founder Released on Bail

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, was released from British custody on bail Thursday.

Assange, 39, appeared before the press and cheering supporters after a judge dismissed him on 200,000 pounds ($312,000) bail.

“It’s great to smell fresh air of London again,” the Australian founder of the controversial whistle-blowing website told the crowd, according to Reuters.

“I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations,” he added.

As a condition of bail, Assange is off to a 10-room country home in eastern England owned by a WikiLeaks supporter. The mansion, called Ellingham Hall, has a fast internet connection that will allow Assange to continue working on his website, The Associated Press reported.

Assange must keep to a curfew, report to police daily, and wear an electronic tag, Reuters said.

He will return to court for a full extradition hearing in early February.

Last month, WikiLeaks released a cache of 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables. U.S. authorities claimed the leak damaged international relations.

Posted in Organizations, People, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

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