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Obama Budget Calls for Clean Energy Funding

U.S. President Barack Obama is calling for additional federal funding for clean energy research as part of his 2012 budget.

The proposed plan, which was released Monday and is pending approval from Congress, also seeks to eliminate longstanding subsidies for fossil fuels.

Obama aims to increase funding for the Energy Department by 12 percent. The plan would offer $853 million for the development of small nuclear reactors, which are much less expensive than traditional nuclear facilities but may take years of research before earning approval, AFP reports.

The budget would also slash tax incentives for oil companies and reduce government support for drilling, potentially saving $4 billion per year.

It would trim 13 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget down to $9 billion by cutting funding for the agency’s efforts to provide clean water and fight invasive species like Asian carp, AFP said.

Posted in Global Warming, Policies0 Comments

$46M Spent on Calif. Climate Change Prop

Over $46 million was spent on a California ballot measure aimed at postponing the state’s landmark global warming law, according to fundraising and spending reports filed Monday.

Proposition 23, which failed to pass on the November ballot, would have temporarily suspended the state’s 2006 greenhouse gas regulations until the unemployment rate, now at 12.5 percent, remained at 5.5 percent for a year.

Opponents pumped more than $36 million into the campaign against the measure, while supporters headed by out-of-state oil companies spent about $10.5 million.

The ballot measure, which failed by a margin of 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent, sought to freeze the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, a law that will curb heat-trapping industrial emissions beginning in 2012 and start reducing dependency on fossil fuels in 2020.

Oil companies championed the proposition, claiming that the law would do further damage to California’s already-crippled economy by driving businesses out of the state. They said it should be postponed until the state regained financial security.

Steve Mavilglio, a spokesman for the opponents to Proposition 23, said the measure was defeated because of state and national groups that believe green jobs will help California’s economy rebound.

“California’s business community rallied to save the fastest-growing business sector in the state,” Maviglio told AP. “It also became a flashpoint nationally for the future of clean energy.”

The state’s unemployment rate has held at 5.5 percent for a year just three times in three decades, AP reports.

Posted in Laws & Regulations, Policies0 Comments

Climate Change Adviser Leaving Obama’s Staff

Carol Browner, a key climate policy adviser to President Barack Obama, plans to leave the White House soon, administration officials announced Monday.

The staff change is the latest in a string of departures from the Obama administration following the Republican takeover of the House in November.

Browner, the current coordinator of energy and climate policy, will remain in her post as long as necessary to guarantee a smooth transition, Reuters reports. It was not immediately clear whether she would be replaced at all.

“On the question of what will happen to the position, the president’s commitment to these issues will of course continue but any transition of the office will be announced soon,” an administration official said.

Climate change was one of the major issues on Obama’s agenda, but the ambitious cap-and-trade program he promised in his 2008 campaign has stalled.

Browner headed the Clinton-era EPA and was instrumental in the Obama administration’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last spring.

Posted in Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

EPA Faces Pesticides, Endangered Species Lawsuit

Environmental conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of lax pesticide regulations that caused the poisonings of over 200 endangered and threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America said in the filing that the EPA has failed to consult officials with the Fish and Wildlife service regarding pesticide use.

“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides can have on some of America’s rarest species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals are not sprayed in endangered species habitats.”

The litigation claims that the pesticides pose a critical threat to 214 species around the country that need protection, including the California condor.

Plaintiffs also named the western snowy plover, northern spotted owl, San Joaquin kit fox, giant garter snake, light-footed clapper rail, California tiger salamander and several Northern California butterflies, rats, snakes, fish, rodents and insect species as vulnerable to lead poisoning and other chemicals in pesticides.

The EPA currently performs a number of tests on pesticides but rarely discusses findings with the Fish and Wildlife Association.

“The ecological risk assessment does not consider the cumulative or synergistic effects posed by multiple pesticides on wildlife or the environment, nor does it address delayed effects of pesticides, referred to as ‘lag effects,”‘ the suit filed in San Francisco federal court alleges.

“Since 1993, there have been only a few completed consultations with the (Fish and Wildlife) Service regarding pesticide impacts to listed species, other than those imposed by court orders,” it added.

18,000 pesticides are registered with the EPA for approved use in the United States.

Posted in Animals, Chemicals, Policies, Toxic Substances0 Comments

William Daley to Be Tapped for Chief of Staff Post, Sources Say

William Daley, a banking executive and former commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, will replace Rahm Emmanuel as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, sources said Thursday.

Daley hails from Chicago, where his brother, Richard M. Daley, is the mayor. Emmanuel resigned to run for that post.

CNN reported Thursday that two White House officials speaking on condition of anonymity announced that Obama has chosen Daley to replace interim chief of staff Pete Rouse. Rouse said he did not want to remain in the position and recommended Daley as his successor.

Obama is expected to make the news official later Thursday, AP said.

Posted in Policies, Politics & Politicians, U.S. Federal Government Agencies0 Comments

Cuomo Nominates Joe Martens for DEC Commissioner

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Joe Martens to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Martens, who has served as president of the non-profit group the Open Space Institute since 1998, has played a key role in acquiring land for conservation, sustainable development and sustainable farming in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.

He will replace Peter Iwanowitz, who has held the post since late October after Gov. David Paterson dismissed Alexander B. Grannis.

Grannis was fired over a leaked memo condemning the agency’s layoffs. He has since been hired as first deputy comptroller in the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Martens, who will need to wait for Senate approval to begin his work, previously served as deputy state secretary of energy and the environment from 1992-94 under Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council have praised Cuomo’s choice to appoint Martens. “Joe Martens’ experience, judgment, and temperament make him the right person at the right time to meet the challenges that DEC faces,” said Ashok Gupta of the NRDC, according to the New York Times. “He has the support and key relationships with the business and environmental community that will allow him to hit the ground running.”

Martens will take over as the DEC works to complete an analysis of the environmental impact of the controversial “hydro-fracking” process in New York State’s Marcellus Shale region.

Posted in Laws & Regulations, Natural Gas, Policies, Politics & Politicians, U.S. Federal Government Agencies, U.S. State & Local0 Comments

Light Bulbs: IKEA Pulls Plug on Inefficient Incandescents

IKEA announced Tuesday that it has stopped stocking incandescent light bulbs in U.S. stores, instead offering energy-efficient alternatives.

The Swedish-based home decor and furniture retailer began phasing out the bulbs in August and says it is the first seller to remove the lights from its shelves completely.

The announcement comes ahead of a federal legislation that will phase out the incandescents from 2012 to 2014. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will mandate light bulbs that are 30% more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs.

“Eliminating incandescents is just one simple way for IKEA customers to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases,” U.S. IKEA president Mike Ward said in a statement Tuesday.

The company plans to offer compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) along with LED, halogen and solar-powered lamps.

CFLs consume up to 80 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents, AP reports.

Posted in Electricity, Energy Efficiency, Policies0 Comments

7 Brazilian Birds Make U.S. Endangered List

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed seven imperiled Brazilian birds as protected under the Endangered Species Act, the New York Times reports.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the agency called Brazilian federal protection laws “inadequate” in preserving the threatened species, several of which are considered at risk of extinction.

Registering the birds on the U.S. endangered list will speed the flow of federal grants toward international conservation projects and aid negotiations to improve protection efforts, the Times said. The move will also draw attention to development projects proposed by the U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies that might destroy the birds’ habitat.

The majority of the birds live in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and Cerrado biome, which have been ravaged by deforestation for agricultural and resource extraction purposes. Only about 7 percent of the original Atlantic Forest remains intact today, the Times said.

“Protecting these species under the Endangered Species Act will give them a better chance of survival, and it will help attract worldwide attention to the urgent plight of these animals,” Justin Augustine, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “We hope the Obama administration continues to undo the significant backlog of foreign species that deserve protection but have yet to receive it.”

The newly proctected species include: the black-hooded antwren, Brazilian merganser, cherry-throated tanager, fringe-backed fire-eye, Kaempfer’s tody-tyrant, Margaretta’s hermit, and southeastern rufous-vented ground-cuckoo.

Posted in Birds, Ecosystems, Policies0 Comments

Chesapeake Bay to Go on Pollution Diet

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled a restoration plan for the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.

EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin called the agreement with six states and the District of Columbia “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation” and possibly “number one or number two” in the world, the Washington Post reported.

The comprehensive plan applies to the following areas in the bay’s watershed: Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. All the states and the District submitted individual plans this fall addressing how they hoped to slash pollution runoff into the bay by 2025. EPA compiled these proposals in its plan.

Pollution from farm, urban, and suburban runoff have stifled oxygen levels in the 200-mile-long estuary and harmed fish and oyster populations.

Garvin said EPA may have to “place additional controls on permanent sources of pollution” to counterbalance three potentially problematic areas: New York wastewater treatment, West Virginia’s agricultural sector, and Pennsylvania’s stormwater treatment.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution by imposing total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on areas in the estuary’s watershed.

Opponents of the new pollution measures say they will give farmers, developers, and local officials unneeded costs and difficulties. Environmentalists counter that the plan will bring economic benefits to the bay by boosting tourism and fishing.

“This is a very historic moment in the history, and the future, of the Chesapeake Bay,” Garvin told the press.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Rockefeller Asks Obama Administration for Mining Accident Update

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., has requested that the government update the families of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims on the ongoing federal investigation of the accident.

The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has not provided the families of the 29 miners with any information since September, Rockefeller said in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

“Three months is too long for these families to wait for information,” Rockefeller wrote, according to The Associated Press. “I request that MSHA meet with these families as soon as possible, and that you provide me with the expected date that this briefing will occur. Further, I would also request an update on the status of MSHA’s investigation, including when we can expect the investigation to be completed.”

The April 5 disaster occurred 1,000 feet underground in a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was the deadliest mining accident in the U.S. since 1970.

In addition to MSHA’s civil investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a criminal probe. Massey Energy denies responsibility for the accident, claiming the blast was caused by an unexpected overflow of natural gas. MSHA has largely rejected this explanation, AP reports.

The agency announced that it plans to meet with the families after the holidays.

“Our response to Senator Rockefeller’s letter will provide additional details, including an outline of our ongoing efforts to keep the victims’ families up to date on the status of the investigation,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

Posted in Coal, Minerals & Mining, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

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