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Kabul: 8 Die in Grocery Store Attack

A Kabul, Afghanistan explosion in a supermarket frequented by foreigners left at least eight people dead Friday.

Afghan authorities said three foreigners and a child were among the dead and that six others were injured.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the bombing was against U.S.-based security contractor, AP said Friday.

An eyewitness said that the blast leveled the first floor of the Finest Supermarket in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, the New York Times reports.

The grocery is just 100 yards from the British embassy, and is popular among diplomats and foreigners.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military0 Comments

Egypt Prepares for “Angry Friday”

Egypt this morning was poised for massive protests calling for the ouster of the 30-year President Hosni Mubarak.

The anti-government demonstrations today, dubbed “Angry Friday,” were organized largely with the help of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. They follow three days of bloody protests in the capital of Cairo and other Egyptian cities like Suez, where demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and stones at police and set the town’s firehouse ablaze, according to UPI.

Bracing for more tumult, the Egyptian government blocked Internet and cellphone service early Friday to prevent anti-government activists from communicating with one another.

Protesters were told that the government was dispatching “thugs” calling themselves “Ikhwan al-Haq,” or “Brotherhood of Truth,” to patrol the streets of Cairo with knives and swords and attack or kill demonstrators if necessary, UPI reports.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry arrested hundreds of demonstrators, including a number of prominent opposition figures. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is backing the protests, told The Associated Press that at least five of its leaders and five former members of parliament had been detained.

Mubarak’s regime posted a special operations counterterrorism force in strategic positions around Cairo, including Tahrir Square.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

Russian Waterworks Uses Giant Snails as Air Pollution Sensors

A Russian waterworks facility is using six giant African snails to monitor air pollution from its sewage incinerator.

The Achatina snails, which can grow up to 20 cm in height, have been fitted with heart monitors and motion sensors so that researchers can keep an eye on the effects of air pollution. Their readings will be compared with a control group, AFP reports.

The waterworks chose the snails as air pollution sensors because they have lungs and breathe air, the Vodokanal state utilities company said.

Dmitry Artamonov, the head of the Saint Petersburg office of Greenpeace environmental campaigning group, criticized the move as a publicity stunt.

“Burning sludge emits toxic dioxins,” AFP quoted Artamonov as saying. “I don’t know if snails get cancer, but even if they do, it won’t happen straight away, and we will not hear about it from Vodokanal.”

The sewage treatment facility, which is located on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, is one of the biggest in Russia.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution Prevention, Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates0 Comments

Taliban Sets Ablaze 16 NATO Vehicles in Pakistan

Taliban militants in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday attacked a NATO convoy transporting fuel supplies to troops in Afghanistan, officials said.

The attackers set 16 oil tankers on fire before dawn outside the town of Dera Murad Jamali, some 250 miles southeast of Quetta, AFP reports.

Local administration chief Abdul Fatah Khajjak told AFP that the militants rode in a car and opened fire on the vehicles. A driver’s assistant was wounded in the shooting.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the attack was “in retaliation to drone attacks in tribal areas,” according to AFP.

The U.S. doubled such attacks in the last year, killing more than 650 people with about 100 drone strikes, AFP said.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military0 Comments

Tunis: President Dismisses Gov’t Amid Riots

After thousands of demonstrators marched through the Tunisian capital of Tunis to demand the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Friday, the autocratic leader has decided to dismiss his government.

The iron-fisted president, who has been in power for 23 years, also said he would call early legislative elections in six months, The Associated Press reports.

The people of Tunisia have enjoyed relative prosperity since Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in 1987: Tunis, the North African city on the Mediterranean known for its beaches and ancient ruins, is a thriving tourist attraction. Until recently, Tunisians have tolerated the autocratic government in exchange for political stability and peace.

But simmering frustrations over high unemployment and reports of government corruption have erupted in violence in recent weeks. 23 people have been killed in the demonstrations, which began in mid-December – and that’s just the official death toll, opposition figures say. It’s likely that dozens more have been killed.

In an attempt to placate demonstrators, Ben Ali went on television Thursday, promising freedom of the press and political transparency. He also said he would resign when his term ends in 2014, and ordered price cuts on foodstuffs.

After his speech, thousands held a rally in support of the ruler on the main drag of Avenue Bourguiba, chanting, “Long live Ben Ali!”, AP reports. Some say the event was staged by the powerful ruling RCD party.

Regardless, the speech did not seem to appease the majority of demonstrators, who turned out for a massive riot Friday. Ben Ali’s regime fired rounds of tear gas at thousands of protesters in the center of the capital.

Ben Ali has declared a state of emergency as violence continues to escalate, AP said.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Laws & Regulations, Military0 Comments

Biomass Gets a Boost: EPA Eases Up on Regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scaling back on greenhouse gas permitting requirements for facilities that burn biomass.

The EPA said it would take a three-year deferral to determine whether the biomass materials – which include farm waste, sawmill scraps and forest thinnings – should be considered a green resource.

The deferral came after members of Congress put pressure on the EPA to ease up on regulations, saying the stringent rules on industrial carbon emissions would get in the way of developing a new biomass industry that could act as a major job creator and a source of domestically produced fuel.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a news release. “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

The EPA said it would amend the regulation issued earlier this month that included biomass facilities in emissions regulations. The new rule will go into effect July 1.

More than two dozen members of Congress contend that that biomass can be considered carbon neutral if regulators count emissions as something that would result anyway when wood rots.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has launched an initiative to create jobs by putting people to work thinning national forests to reduce the threat of forest fires. To pay for those jobs, he’ll need nearby biomass-burning facilities that will purchase trees and branches from thinned woodlands.

Timberland owners, who have been struggling with declining lumber prices since the housing market tanked, say biomass should be considered a green fuel.

“It is now critical that we work together in the coming months on deliberate steps to support biomass energy production,” Dave Tenny, president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, said in a statement, according to AP.

Others say biomass isn’t as green as it seems. Meg Sheehan of the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign in Cambridge, Mass. claims that the EPA is ignoring the fact that biomass produces more greenhouse gas than coal.

“I find it very disturbing that the Obama administration and [USDA] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack are punting on making this decision until after the next presidential election,” AP quoted Sheehan as saying. “I think it shows extreme disregard for the health of the American people.”

Posted in Air Pollutants, Biofuels & Biomass, Global Warming & Climate Change, Trees & Forestry0 Comments

Oil Still Devastates La. Marshes, Tour Finds

Officials say oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster still heavily pollutes the marshes along Louisiana’s coastlines.

State and parish officials gave the press a boat tour of the oil-fouled swamps of Barataria Bay, calling for a stronger cleanup effort from BP and the Obama administration.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser called the state of the marshes “the biggest cover-up in the history of America,” The Associated Press reported Friday.

Robert Barham, the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and an outspoken critic of the cleanup effort, also participated in the tour.

AP writer Harry Weber reported that oil is pooling in some areas and boom barriers are often absent or overwhelmed by oil.

“Clearly there is oil here in the marsh but we are working as a team to find a best way to clean it up,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Lauer, who accompanied the press and officials on the tour.

The rapidly eroding marshes along the coast play a key role in protecting Louisiana from hurricanes.

The oil also endangers vulnerable reeds and grasses that feed microscopic marine life, with consequences that will reverberate up the food chain.

The BP oil spill, set off by a blowout on a Macondo rig on Apr. 20, leaked an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drilling for Oil, Ecosystems, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Well Drilling0 Comments

Electric Cars Would Cause Added CO2 Emissions in Certain Countries

Electric cars are commonly hailed as eco-friendly alternatives to harmful gasoline-burning vehicles, but a study by Oxford University’s Reed Doucette and Malcolm McCulloch suggests that the adoption of electric cars may actually accelerate global climate change.

The results of the modeling exercise, which were published in Energy Policy last Fall, indicate that developing countries would emit more, not less, CO2 if electric cars were to eclipse gas-based vehicles.

Researchers assessed the emissions of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and internal combustion engines (ICEs) in various countries. They found that countries with high CO2 intensities – like China and India – failed to see a decrease in heat-trapping gases from the adoption of BEVs.

China and India rely on dirty power supplies, so the generation of energy for BEVs would still be environmentally harmful, and could actually lead to higher CO2 emissions.

“Given the state of their power generation mixes in 2010, the case for widespread adoption of [electric vehicles] in both China and India solely on the basis of potential CO2 emissions reductions is not too compelling, especially when the generally higher capital cost of [electric vehicles] relative to [gasoline]-based vehicles is considered,” Doucette and Malcolm McCulloch concluded.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Electricity, Global Warming & Climate Change0 Comments

Houston Ship Channel Clogged with 15,000 Gallons of Beef Fat

The U.S. Coast Guard is working to clear the Houston Ship Channel of thousands of gallons of beef fat that leaked into the busy marine artery from a storage tank Tuesday.

Officials used pitchforks and fishnets to pierce and round up the oily substance.

“Hopefully they’ll finish clean-up efforts by tonight, or if not early in the morning,” said Coast Guard spokesman Richard Brahms, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An estimated 250,000 pounds of tallow spilled from a nearby on-shore storage tank owned by agricultural products company Jacob Stern & Sons Inc. Some 15,000 gallons of the fat streamed into the channel through a storm drain Tuesday, Brahms said.

“When it hit the water it instantly thickened,” Brahms said, as quoted by “It turned into a thick pattie, which is pretty much what we’re cleaning up now.”

Brahms said the cause of the tank leak is being investigated. Meanwhile, workers are corralling the tallow with boom to open up the channel for ship traffic by early Thursday.

Richard Arnhart, director of the LaPorte region of the Texas General Land Office, said the tallow could pose environmental risks if it washes ashore and smothers marine life. But for now, the fat is not impacting the environment floating on the water.

“Our biggest concern right now is to ensure that this gets cleaned up,” Arnhart said.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Dams & Infrastructure, Industrial Pollution, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 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

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