Conservation & Environment

Duke plans to retire Asheville coal plant, replace with natural gas

Posted by on May 20, 2015 @ 2:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Duke Energy Progress announced plans May 19, 2015 to shutter and eventually demolish its 51-year-old, coal-fired plant at Lake Julian, opting instead to rely on natural gas to meet a growing demand for electricity.

If granted state approval, the natural gas facility could be online by 2020 and would be built on Duke property near the existing plant. That facility currently is able to produce 376 megawatts of power. The new plant could generate 650 megawatts.

Solar arrays also would be added to the site and would sit over land now home to coal ash ponds once those areas are properly remediated, Duke officials said.

The solar capacity will be determined when officials can calculate how much flat land is available.

The project carries an estimated $1.1 billion cost, with $750 million going toward the new plant and solar arrays and $320 million to a transmission substation and related infrastructure in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

A new 40-mile transmission line would connect the natural gas plant to that substation, converting high-voltage energy to low-voltage energy.

The company will not be asking for economic incentives or tax breaks, said Lloyd Yates, Duke Energy executive vice president of market solutions and president of the Carolinas region.

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Divers Remove 90,000 Tires from Ocean Floor in Florida

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 1:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Divers in helmets have begun walking the ocean floor off Fort Lauderdale to clear an environmental catastrophe that’s rested among the coral reefs for more than 40 years.

An estimated 700,000 tires were dropped into the ocean off Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in the early 1970s in a failed attempt to create an artificial reef. At the time, before anyone had figured out how to recycle tires or burn them for electricity, tire dumps were appearing all over the United States.

The Osborne Tire Reef was intended to be an environmentally friendly way to dispose of steel-belted radials. The bundles of tires would attract fish – which are drawn to vertical structures – and provide a foundation for the growth of corals. On a single day in 1972, with the Goodyear Blimp overhead and the minesweeper USS Thrush in attendance, more than 100 boats full of tires were dumped into the water.

But not much coral grew on them, and the bundles broke apart, allowing tires to drift onto the natural reefs and kill coral. What remains today is an eerie, virtually lifeless vista of tires stretching across 35 acres.



Oil CEO Wanted University Quake Scientists Dismissed

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 8:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Oil CEO Wanted University Quake Scientists Dismissed

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.

Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, is a major donor to the university, which is the home of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. He has vigorously disputed the notion that he tried to pressure the survey’s scientists. “I’m very approachable, and don’t think I’m intimidating,” Hamm was quoted as saying. “I don’t try to push anybody around.”

Yet an e-mail obtained from the university by Bloomberg News via a public records request says Hamm used a blunt approach during a 90-minute meeting last year with the dean whose department includes the geological survey.

“Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed,” wrote Larry Grillot, the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in a July 16, 2014, e-mail to colleagues at the university. Hamm also expressed an interest in joining a search committee charged with finding a new director for the geological survey.

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Anti-Arctic drilling activists hold #ShellNo protest in Seattle

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 12:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

An estimated 500 climate activists took to kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and even a solar-powered party barge to tell Shell to get the hell out of Seattle. Rallying cry: #sHellNo!

The oil giant brought a huge drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, to the city’s port over objections from the mayor, city council, and a whole lot of pissed-off Seattleites. Shell plans to use the port as a staging ground for oil drilling operations in the Arctic over the next two years. The kayaktivists made their objections clear — and made for a colorful spectacle against the blue-gray background of Puget Sound.

If the company’s disastrous Arctic drilling attempts of 2012 are any indication, we can expect a big, fat mess. Even if Shell somehow manages not to spill huge quantities of oil in the rough, icy waters of the Chukchi Sea, then that oil will just get burned, worsening the climate crisis.

Shell is coming to town over strong objections from the mayor, the entire city council, and many of Seattle’s famously liberal residents.

Photos and more…

Shell accused of strategy risking catastrophic climate change…


Another Blue Ridge Parkway Vista Clearing

Posted by on May 16, 2015 @ 9:04 am in Conservation | 4 comments

Another Blue Ridge Parkway Vista Clearing

During the week of April 28, 2015, highly skilled sawyers from across the Blue Ridge Parkway met in Blowing Rock, NC and conducted intensive vista restoration work at Milepost 300 near Grandfather Mountain.

With decades of growth in some areas, large trees now obstruct some scenic views and potentially impact the visitor experience. “Research consistently finds that ‘scenic views’ is the number-one parkway attraction,” says Richard Wells, FRIENDS treasurer. “The overlooks that were once clear and afforded visitors with panoramic views have long since become overgrown.”

The Parkway was meticulously designed to showcase these grand views, and this project provides the opportunity to restore views back to the vision of the original Parkway landscape architects. “The Parkway’s overlooks and vistas are a signature design feature of this park and a key component in our visitors’ ability to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area,” says Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods. “We appreciate FRIENDS leadership role in helping to restore and maintain vistas and overlooks park wide.”

Based on the success of previous vista restoration projects, FRIENDS is making plans for similar projects in the coming years. “The North Carolina project near Grandfather Mountain demonstrates to other parkway communities what a dramatic impact overlook clearings can have,” Wells says. “FRIENDS envisions working in partnership with many of these communities to undertake future vista restoration projects.”


Forbidden Data: Wyoming just criminalized citizen science

Posted by on May 16, 2015 @ 2:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Forbidden Data: Wyoming just criminalized citizen science

Imagine visiting Yellowstone this summer. You wake up before dawn to take a picture of the sunrise over the mists emanating from Yellowstone hot springs. A thunderhead towers above the rising sun, and the picture turns out beautifully. You submit the photo to a contest sponsored by the National Weather Service. Under a statute signed into law by the Wyoming governor this spring, you have just committed a crime and could face up to one year in prison.

Wyoming doesn’t, of course, care about pictures of geysers or photo competitions. But photos are a type of data, and the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government. The reason? The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, strains of which can cause serious health problems, even death.

A small organization called Western Watersheds Project has found the bacteria in a number of streams crossing federal land in concentrations that violate water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Rather than engaging in an honest public debate about the cause or extent of the problem, Wyoming prefers to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. And under the new law, the state threatens anyone who would challenge that belief by producing information to the contrary with a term in jail.

Why the desire for ignorance rather than informed discussion? The reason is pure politics. The source of E. coli is clear. It comes from cows spending too much time in and next to streams. Acknowledging that fact could result in rules requiring ranchers who graze their cows on public lands to better manage their herds. The ranching community in Wyoming wields considerable political power and has no interest in such obligations, so the state is trying to stop the flow of information rather than forthrightly address the problem.

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Duke Energy fined $102 million for polluting rivers with coal ash

Posted by on May 15, 2015 @ 7:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electrical utility, pleaded guilty in federal court May 14, 2015 to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting four major rivers for several years with toxic coal ash from five power plants in North Carolina.

The $50.5-billion company was fined $102 million and placed on five years of probation for environmental crimes. All company compliance related to coal ash in five states will be overseen by a court-appointed monitor and reported to federal parole officers.

U.S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard approved the plea agreement following a 90-minute court session in which a Duke Energy lawyer repeated the words “guilty, your honor” more than 20 times.

The nine misdemeanor charges were filed against three Duke Energy subsidiaries, and the lawyer responded for each charge against each subsidiary. Howard found the utility guilty on all nine counts.

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Forest Service Begins to Pave Way for Massive Urban Sprawl Next to Grand Canyon

Posted by on May 15, 2015 @ 12:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Forest Service Begins to Pave Way for Massive Urban Sprawl Next to Grand Canyon

The U.S. Forest Service began paving the way for a sprawling urban development near the southern edge of the Grand Canyon that would include more than 2,100 housing units and 3 million square feet of retail space along with hotels, a spa and conference center. The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has called the project one of the greatest threats to Grand Canyon in the 96-year-history of the park.

The proposal, by the Stilo Development Group, would transform the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Ariz.—which sits near the southern entrance to the national park—from a small, quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of high-end homes, strip malls, and resorts only a mile from the Grand Canyon National Park boundary.

Stilo has partnered with the town of Tusayan in order to obtain the federal permit needed to expand road and utility access through public lands within the Kaibab National Forest so development can proceed. The agency began moving forward with the process to approve that special-use permit.

“The Forest Service is putting Grand Canyon National Park in the crosshairs by considering Tusayan’s dangerous, damaging plan for a mega-resort,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association. “This proposal is not in the public interest and is one of the greatest threats Grand Canyon National Park has seen in its history. The Forest Service can and should have rejected it out of hand.”

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The GOP Senator In Charge of Homeland Security Disagrees With The Pentagon On Climate Change

Posted by on May 14, 2015 @ 9:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says he disagrees with the Pentagon’s assessment that climate change is a national security concern.

The Pentagon released a report in October 2014 that assessed the national security implications of climate change. “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning,” wrote former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the forward to the report. “Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure.”

But Johnson said at an event in Sherwood, Wisconsin, on Nay 9 that he did not concur with the Pentagon’s analysis.

“I disagree with that assessment,” Johnson tells a questioner at the event. “We’re sitting here in Wisconsin. Twenty-some thousand years ago this was covered by about 5,000 feet of glaciers.”

“I do not deny climate change,” he continues. “The climate has always been changing.” He goes on to say that he thinks the United States “shouldn’t spend a dime addressing it because our limited resources are spent better elsewhere.”

Despite Johnson’s take on the issue, there has been growing concern in the national security community about the threats of climate change, including sea level rise and migration caused by droughts or food shortages.

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Dixie National Forest hosting events for EarthFest

Posted by on May 13, 2015 @ 8:18 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Dixie National Forest will participate in Kanab’s Amazing EarthFest by hosting geology, history and fire presentations.

Events will be held at the Red Canyon Visitor Center on May 15, 2015, beginning at 1 p.m. and continuing throughout the afternoon.

Geology and history presentations will focus on the colorful red canyon region of the Dixie National Forest. Wildland fire personnel, accompanied by Smokey Bear, will be available for a presentation and discussion on the role of fire in the landscape.

Forest employees and volunteers will also be available to assist visitors exploring the area, and to offer information about hikes and recreation opportunities.

For more information, contact Leslie Fonger at 435-676-9360 or email [email protected] Directions are available at Information on the event is at


How Garbage Spawned a Grizzly Problem at Glacier National Park

Posted by on May 11, 2015 @ 1:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Glacier National Park, which spans more than a million acres of pristine Montana wilderness, is home to a variety of predators, from cougars to wolves to grizzly bears. Most of the time they pose no danger to hikers, for whom the adage, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” holds more or less true. For more than half a century after the park was founded — on this day, May 11, in 1910 — the park’s native grizzly bear population left its human visitors alone.

That changed in 1967, when two young women, both 19, were mauled to death by grizzlies at separate campsites on the same night. The emboldened bears weren’t discouraged by noise or the sight of bonfires — and they didn’t stop attacking even when the campers played dead.

The attacks, immortalized in the bestselling book Night of the Grizzlies, were provoked in part by the hordes of park visitors who had left a trail of trash behind over the years, acclimating the grizzlies to their presence and making them associate humans with food.

Ten people have been killed by bears in the park’s 105-year history, compared with seven at Yellowstone National Park. The National Park Service points out that more people have died — at Yellowstone, at least — by drowning or from burns sustained when they fell into the park’s thermal pools.

“To put it in perspective, the probability of being killed by a bear in the park (7 incidents) is only slightly higher than the probability of being struck and killed by lightning (5 incidents).”

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National Kids to Parks Day is May 16, 2015

Posted by on May 11, 2015 @ 12:55 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

The National Park Trust and Buddy Bison, their lovable woolly mascot, invite you to join the nationwide day of play by discovering and exploring your local, state, and national parks and public lands on Kids to Parks Day.

Children, families, teachers, cities, towns, and parks are gearing up for this year’s Kids to Parks Day (KTP), a nation-wide day of outdoor play organized by National Park Trust (NPT) in cooperation with a host of local and national collaborators. This year’s KTP Day will be held on Saturday, May 16, 2015.

NPT is encouraging children across the country to explore their neighborhood parks and discover science, history, nature and adventure right around the corner or just across town.

Learn more…


The coming revolution in energy storage

Posted by on May 10, 2015 @ 4:33 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The coming revolution in energy storage

On April 30, 2015 the glitzy electric car company Tesla Motors, run by billionaire Elon Musk, ceased to be just a car company. As was widely expected, Tesla announced that it is offering a home battery product, which people can use to store energy from their solar panels or to backstop their homes against blackouts, and also larger scale versions that could perform similar roles for companies or even parts of the grid.

For homeowners, the Tesla Powerwall will have a power capacity of either 10 kilowatt hours or 7 kilowatt hours, at a cost of either $3,500 or $3,000. The company says these are the costs for suppliers and don’t include the cost of installation and a power inverter, so customers could pay considerably more than that. The battery, says Tesla, “increases the capacity for a household’s solar consumption, while also offering backup functionality during grid outages.”

The anticipation leading up to this announcement has been intense — words like “zeitgeist” are being used — which itself is one reason why the moment for “energy storage,” as energy wonks put it to describe batteries and other technologies that save energy for later use, may finally be arriving. Prices for batteries have already been dropping, but if Tesla adds a “coolness factor” to the equation, people might even be willing to stretch their finances to buy one.

Tesla isn’t the only company in the battery game, and whatever happens with Tesla, this market is expected to grow. The major upshot of more and cheaper batteries and much more widespread energy storage could, in the long term, be a true energy revolution — as well as a much greener planet.

Here are just a few ways that storage can dramatically change — and green — the way we get power…


Congress considers treating wildfire like other natural disasters

Posted by on May 8, 2015 @ 1:22 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

As the West girds itself for what looks likely to be a fierce wildfire season, a bipartisan group of Western senators is pushing a bill to rethink the way the federal government pays to fight catastrophic fires. The idea is that the largest wildfires would be treated like natural disasters. As with big hurricanes or earthquakes, funding for them wouldn’t have to come from an agency’s regular budget.

For seven of the last 12 years, wildfires have been so costly that the Forest Service ran through its fire budget in late summer, long before the season was over and had to raid other programs to keep fighting fires. The problem is so well known it’s got its own nickname, “fire borrowing.”

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell warned a Senate committee this week that there’s a 90 percent chance his agency will have to do that again this year. The drought and low snowpack across much of the West contribute to the forecast for a bad fire season this year. Tidwell said that with global warming, fire seasons could be expected to be longer — 80 days longer than they were just 15 years ago — and fiercer. Saying that it’s “past time to find a solution,” he reiterated his support for the bipartisan funding bill sponsored by Sen. Wyden, D-Oregon.

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National Parks need a little love

Posted by on May 8, 2015 @ 6:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Roads and trails and buildings in our national parks are deteriorating, and adequate funding to fix that problem remains elusive.

With so many competing demands for federal dollars, the National Parks Service is often a lower priority, especially for repair projects. The result is that despite user fees the backlog of projects at national parks nationwide is $11.49 billion, according to the agency – a staggering sum in an era when Congress is more willing to cut spending than to find ways to invest in infrastructure. This includes work on roads that bring hikers and tourists into the parks.

This problem of crumbling roads, culverts, lodges and eroded trails is not new.

Deferred maintenance work in the park system is chronic and longstanding. It doesn’t take much searching to find news headlines since the early 1990s that referred to our parks system as being “loved to death.” That’s another way of saying that with a growing population the national parks — which encompass some of our nation’s most spectacular places — get so many visitors that they are being worn out.

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Confirming Fears, Scientists Detect Fracking Chemicals in Drinking Water

Posted by on May 7, 2015 @ 8:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A toxic chemical used in the controversial drilling practice known as fracking has been detected in the drinking-water supply of Pennsylvania homeowners, according to a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The chemical—2-Butoxyethanol or 2BE, known to have caused tumors in rodents—showed up as “white foam,” which one researcher “likened to dishwashing suds.”

The PNAS study, Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development, suggests that drilling fluid escaped the narrow, vertical borehole while crews were first drilling the gas well, and then moved laterally along intermediate depth fractures to the aquifer used as a potable water source.

“This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well,” said Penn State geoscientist Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors. Explaining further, she said: “This is the first documented and published demonstration of toxic compounds escaping from uncased boreholes in shale gas wells and moving long distances” into drinking water.

In other words, “the scientists believe that the pollution may come from a lack of integrity in the well which passes through the drinking aquifer and not the actual fracking process below.”



Drought kills 12 million trees in California’s national forests

Posted by on May 6, 2015 @ 5:50 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Rangers in the San Bernardino National Forest call them “red trees.”

Instead of the typical deep green color, large swaths of pine trees now don hues of death, their dehydrated needles turning brown and burnt-red because of the state’s worsening drought.

“Unlike back East, where you have fall colors, here it’s because the trees are dying,” said John Miller, a spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Years of extremely dry conditions are taking a heavy toll on forest lands across California and heightening the fire risk as summer approaches.

“The situation is incendiary,” William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Times recently. “The national forest is stressed out.”

A new study by the U.S. Forest Service tried to assess the scope of the problem. Researchers estimated that the drought has killed off at least 12.5 million trees in California’s national forests during the drought.

The scientists expect the die-off to continue. “It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore.

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