Michigan to replace thousands of Flint water lines in settlement

March 29, 2017 by  
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A judge approved a settlement with the state of Michigan today that will come as welcome news to thousands of residents: at least 18,000 homes in Flint will have their toxic water pipes replaced over the next three years. The state has committed $87 million to identify and replace any service lines containing lead or galvanized steel by 2020. The settlement marks the end of a lawsuit filed last year by Concerned Pastors for Social Action , the Natural Resources Defense Council , the American Civil Liberties Union and a resident of Flint, targeted at both city and state officials. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has praised the agreement. The $87 million used to replace the pipes will come from a variety of sources. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which was passed by Congress last year, will provide up to $20 million in funds, with the state matching another $20 million. The state must also hold an extra $10 million in reserve, in case the repairs end up being more expensive than anticipated. The state will also cover the $895,000 the plaintiffs ran up in litigation costs. Related: 1,700 Flint residents sue the EPA over tainted water In the meantime , residents will have to either pick up bottled water from designated locations in the city, or they’ll have to install water filters on their taps. Though the filters have been shown to render the city’s water safe for human consumption, many residents are nervous and distrustful of anything that comes out of their taps (and with good reason). The lawsuit had asked that bottled water be delivered door to door throughout the city until pipe replacement was complete, but the judge shot down that request. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay and Paul Hudson

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Michigan to replace thousands of Flint water lines in settlement

Trump ignores clean energy jobs in first address to Congress

March 1, 2017 by  
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In his first address to Congress Tuesday night, President Donald Trump failed to mention the clean energy jobs boom taking place across the United States. Instead of talking up the more than three million domestic jobs that have been created in solar, wind and other renewables, Trump touted the “tens of thousands of jobs” that construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines would create — adding that he directed the pipelines be made with American steel. Trump also boasted about ending an Obama-era coal mining rule that protects waterways from coal mining waste, telling Democratic and Republican lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill that the regulation “threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.” Trump also failed to mention climate change in his speech, an issue that the president has been ambivalent about at best, in denial about at worst. In perhaps an encouraging sign for the majority of Americans who support the US staying in the Paris climate deal , including Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the president didn’t talk about withdrawing from the landmark agreement to curb carbon emissions, instead discussing his withdrawing the US from the “job-killing” Trans-Pacific Partnership. Related: Trump will give architects just five days to submit proposals for a Mexican border wall Earlier in the day, Trump signed an executive order aimed at rolling back an Obama-era environmental regulation to protect American waterways. New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is also expected to undo major environmental rules on clean water, climate change and air pollution. So it is no surprise that many in the environmental community found it a bit hypocritical when during Trump’s address he pledged to “promote clean air and clear water.” Boosting the defense budget (at the expense of domestic programs) was a major talking point during the address. Trump said that he is sending Congress a budget that “rebuilds the military, eliminates the Defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” That isn’t good news for the environment as Trump is expected to ask Congress to  cut the EPA’s budget 24 percent, or nearly $2 billion. Related: New EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s emails reveal troubling oil-industry ties An area that could be a positive sign for the environmental community and clean energy industry is Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan . Saying that the time has come for a “new program of national rebuilding,” Trump said that he will be asking Congress to approve the massive infrastructure investment. Could new public works projects include green infrastructure? That remains to be seen, although Trump has said previously that he is a big fan of high-speed rail . At the end of his speech, Trump set a vision for what the country could achieve by the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. He looked back at the country’s 100th anniversary in 1876 when American inventors showed off their new technology such as Thomas Edison’s electric pen and an early attempt at electric light. But while Trump seems adamant about reviving 20th century energy sources such as coal, there is another electric revolution led by the revolutionaries of our time, including Elon Musk and his vision for electric vehicles, rooftop solar and battery storage. Will Trump embrace the clean energy future or be stuck in the dirty energy past? That is still an open question after his first address to Congress. + Transcript: President Trump’s First Address to Congress Images via KTBS

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Self-sustaining island eco-lodge in Florida has its own desalination system

February 21, 2017 by  
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For those looking to get away from the chaos of modern life, a stunning luxury eco-lodge is currently on the market. The solar-powered Melody Key Lodge is a timber home located on 5.24 acres of secluded island paradise, just 25 miles from Key West, Florida. But if you’re on a tight budget, you might not want to read on. The breathtaking lodge previously owned by an undisclosed rockstar comprises a three-story timber structure with three bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. The top open floor, which houses the gourmet kitchen, dining area, living and lounge space, offers beautiful 360-degree views of the ocean. Lucky guests will be able to choose between a dip in the pristine beaches or the adjacent freshwater pool. Related: For $2.3 million, this breathtaking self-sufficient Scottish island could be yours The home, which is listed for $6,900,000, is perfect for wealthy folks looking to go off grid . In addition to its integrated solar system and backup generator, there’s also a desalination water system. Add in all-you-can-eat seafood, and off-grid living has never been so luxurious. + Engel & Völkers Florida Keys Via Uncrate  

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Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

February 21, 2017 by  
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No discussion of a post-carbon future can be complete without raising the specter of nuclear power. Although it’s a contentious subject, any concerns about large-scale adoption have been largely rendered moot by the fact that the world’s uranium deposits are finite—and dwindling. Stanford researchers are convinced, however, that the solution may lie in seawater, which contains trace amounts of the radioactive metal. “Concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, a materials scientist who co-authored a paper on the subject in the journal Nature Energy . “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.” Wind and solar power are gaining traction, but some experts say that they’re still too intermittent to be truly reliable in the long term. “We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former U.S. secretary of energy who championed seawater extraction research before he left the Department of Energy for Stanford. A co-author of the paper, he noted that nuclear power currently accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 13 percent worldwide. A practical way of extracting uranium from seawater, he added, could go a long way to bolstering the energy security of countries that rely on nuclear power but lack uranium reserves of their own. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs,” he said. Related: Uranium extracted from the oceans could power cities for thousands of years Although many have attempted to harness the oceans’ uranium before, previous efforts have failed to yield sufficient quantities in a fiscally meaningful way. Till now, anyway. Uranium doesn’t bob freely on the waves, of course. In seawater, the element combines chemically with oxygen to form positively charged ions called uranyl. Building on years of prior research, the Stanford team refined a technique that involves dipping plastic fibers containing a uranyl-attracting compound called amidoxime in seawater. When the strands become saturated with the ions, the plastic is chemically treated to free the uranyl, which can be refined for use in reactors – much like you would do with ore. By tinkering with different variables, the researchers were able to create a fiber that captured nine times as much uranyl as previous attempts without becoming saturated. Sending electrical pulses down the fiber collected even more uranyl ions. “We have a lot of work to do still but these are big steps toward practicality,” Cui said. + Stanford University Via Engadget Top photo by apasciuto

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Climate change is draining the oceans of oxygen

February 16, 2017 by  
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A new study in the journal Nature has found that the amount of dissolved oxygen in the ocean is declining worldwide – and it’s a direct result of climate change. The paper was authored by researchers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, and found that the oceans of the world have lost more than two percent of their oxygen content between 1960 and 2010. However, the losses were not spread evenly across the globe – the Arctic Ocean, in particular, has suffered the sharpest decline. Why? Global warming . The major reason is that warm liquid holds onto dissolved gas less easily, but there are other factors at play as well. Ocean stratification is becoming a major issue – normally, oxygen enters the water at the surface and mixes down, but because warm water is less dense and doesn’t sink as rapidly, the oxygen-rich water closest to the surface simply floats instead. None of this is news to climate scientists. In fact, climate models have predicted this effect might happen for years. However, this is the first study to look at millions of ocean measurements and combine them into a single analysis, proving the effect is actually happening. Related: Ocean dead zone near African coast shows lowest oxygen levels ever recorded The oceans already naturally contain “oxygen minimum zones” which can’t support much marine life, usually occupying the middle depths of the ocean. Scientists fear this shift in oxygen levels may expand those areas, and potentially create “ dead zones ” in shallow areas, effectively reducing the habitat available for marine organisms. Worse yet, the situation may end up creating a feedback loop that could actually worsen climate change. These oceanic “dead zones” tend to be areas where microorganisms that produce greenhouse gasses like nitrous oxide thrive. The study is just one more piece of evidence showing that we need to take strong action to curb climate change immediately. Via The Washington Post Images via Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons

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Judge throws out request to halt Dakota Access Pipeline construction

February 14, 2017 by  
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a The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux just suffered a major defeat at the hands of a federal judge — the tribes’ request to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was rejected Monday afternoon. The tribe’s lawyers filed the motion arguing that Lake Oahe, which the pipeline would cross, contains sacred water which would be desecrated by the pipeline. This argument was dismissed by Energy Transfer Partners , saying that the company had “the utmost respect for the religious beliefs and traditions” of the tribe and that their efforts did not threaten the traditions of the community. The protesters, who fear the consequences of an oil spill near their main source of water, say they aren’t surprised by the ruling. In a report from the Guardian , many reaffirmed their commitment to the cause, with some stating they would continue to occupy the protest camps near the pipeline’s construction sites. Related: Army approves Dakota Access Pipeline route – and construction could begin immediately Religious beliefs and traditions weren’t only issues at stake in this ruling. The pipeline, which was originally halted by the Obama administration in December, was supposed to undergo a lengthy environmental review process before permits would be issued for the company to begin drilling. Instead, Donald Trump used his first weeks in office to throw out the review and simply push the approval process through. Though many indigenous protesters dispersed during the winter to avoid brutal storms, they are beginning to return as the weather improves. They are vowing to continue to fight the pipeline, both on the ground and in court. Via The Guardian Images via Tony Webster and Lars Plougmann

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If you eat seafood, you’re probably eating fleece microfibers

February 7, 2017 by  
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If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors (or simply like to feel warm and cozy throughout the day), you’re probably a fan of synthetic fleece jackets. But what you might not know is that every time one of these items runs through the wash, it releases thousands of microscopic plastic fibers into the water supply. These microfibers end up being eaten by fish and marine life – where they eventually end up back on our plates. A study last year from the University of California Santa Barbara , in collaboration with the clothing company Patagonia, shows that every time polyester fleece jackets are run through the wash without detergent, up to 2 grams of these fibers could be shed. It’s worse for top-load washing machines, which release seven times more fibers than the front-load variety. Unlike clothes dryers, which can capture loose fibers in lint traps, loose material in washing machines ends up simply being washed down the drain. Unfortunately, these microfibers are so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out. Instead, they end up being released into the environment, where they’re eaten by wildlife. Related:  Patagonia says synthetic fibers (including their own) are polluting the oceans Are these microscopic bits of plastic harmful when ingested? It’s not entirely clear. Some studies have show certain species can’t cope well with the microfibers: water fleas who inadvertently eat fleece fibers are more likely to die, and common crabs that have ingested the tiny bits of plastic eat less food overall. But further research is needed to show if humans who eat fleece-filled seafood suffer any ill effects. Unfortunately, short of avoiding fish altogether, it’s impossible to know whether you’re ingesting microfibers or not. For now, the only real solution is to either avoid washing your fleece when possible, or rig your washing machine with a filter to catch microfibers before they enter waterways. Sadly, that won’t do much unless everyone who wears synthetic fleece takes this advice to heart. Via NPR Images via Kelly and StockSnap  

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If you eat seafood, you’re probably eating fleece microfibers

Republicans axe rule that would have kept coal pollution out of waterways

February 3, 2017 by  
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This week, Republicans began the process of dismantling Barack Obama’s recent environmental regulations by rolling back the 2016 stream protection rule , which would have prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste into waterways. A little-known law called the Congressional Review Act allowed the House and Senate to overturn the rule before it was able to even take effect. Worse yet, according to the Act, similar legislation can’t be introduced in the future without Congressional approval. The rule was intended to minimize the environmental impact of surface mining , which can contaminate waterways and leave them toxic for nearby populations which depend on them for drinking water . The Interior Department estimated it would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest across the US. Related: Trump may gut the Endangered Species Act So why would the Republicans kill a rule that protects their constituents from toxic pollution? According to Congress, keeping coal debris away from water is causing the mining industry to go into massive decline. If that sounds like a flimsy justification, it is – as Vox explains , the decline of the coal industry is related to the rise in cheap natural gas in the US market, not environmental regulations. While this move may seem ominous for environmentalists, it’s important to keep the larger picture in perspective. This rule was mostly chosen by Republicans because it was an easy target and there was a simple way to overturn it. Other conservative goals, like abolishing the EPA or gutting the Endangered Species Act , will take significantly more time and effort to accomplish simply because they’re already well-established and entrenched in our government. Via The New York Times Images via Wikimedia Commons and Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

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Scientists discover 52-million-year-old tomatillo fossil

February 3, 2017 by  
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While not quite as charismatic as those of dinosaurs , vegetable fossils can provide game-changing insight into modern plants and their evolutionary process. A team of scientists led by paleobotanist Peter Wilf of Penn State University discovered fossils of tomatillos, that delicious relative of the tomato that is a key ingredient in salsa verde, in the Patagonia region of Argentina . Using atomic age dating techniques, the team determined that the newly discovered primordial tomatillos are about 52-million years old, at least 12 million years older than previously thought. Although the site where the fossils were found is now a cold and arid environment, the ancient tomatillos thrived in a very different climate. “The plants that generated these fossils were alive in a temperate rain forest next to a volcano,” said Richard Olmstead, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington. “When it finally snapped together [that] we were looking at a fossil tomatillo, it was quite shocking. It was disbelief. It was joy coupled with disbelief.” The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco. The recently discovered fossils are the most intact and earliest examples of nightshade to date. “It’s a tremendous find. It provides insight totally absent from the fossil record and our understanding of the family prior to this,” said Olmstead. Related: Scientist finds dinosaur tail trapped in amber – and it’s covered with feathers Wilf and his team have given the species name  infinemundi,  Latin for “at the end of the world,” to its tomatillo specimen in reference to both where it was discovered and the era in which it lived. “It’s a nod to the modern and ancient location,” said Wilf “It’s at the edge of Argentina, so the end of the world that way. And it’s at the end of this time in Earth history.” This ancient tomatillo would have lived on the edge of major geologic and climatic changes , including the rise of the Ande s Mountains and the retreat of tropical biomes. These disruptions would have set the stage for the great diversity that emerged from the nightshade family, which includes over 2,400 extant species today. Via NPR Images via Flickr  and Killy Ridols

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1,700 Flint residents sue the EPA over tainted water

February 1, 2017 by  
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More than 1,700 residents of Flint, Michigan are seeking class action status for a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming it mismanaged the water crisis in the city. The suit was filed in a U.S. District court in Michigan on Monday, and alleges that the agency failed to warn them of the dangers of the tainted water , and did nothing to pressure state or local authorities to address the issue. The plaintiffs are seeking a collective $722 million in damages. According to Reuters , part of the 30-page lawsuit reads, “This case involves a major failure on all levels of government to protect the health and safety of the public. Local, state and federal agencies and employees, working individually and at times in concert with each other, mismanaged this environmental catastrophe.” The EPA had not yet issued a comment on the court action at the time of publication. The water crisis resulted in thousands of children being exposed to water laced with lead , which is known to stunt cognitive development and cause a number of chronic health issues. Researchers believe there is no safe lower limit for lead exposure. Related: EPA regional head steps down after agency rules response to Flint water crisis “inadequate” While the city has switched back to a safe water source as of October 2015, it’s been a struggle for residents to access clean water in the meantime. The previous water system caused irreparable damage to the city’s pipes, and replacing them has been a very slow and expensive process. Though filters are available for residential taps, many are still limiting themselves to bottled water out of fear that contamination may still seep through. Via Reuters Images via Steve Johnson and Wikipedia

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