Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Volkswagen Scandal Reaches All the Way to the Top

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This is not a surprise.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2016 at 5:16 pm

When Subpoenas Threaten Climate Science

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And despite the title, the threat is to science generally, though this specific case is climate science. Ken Kimmel, president of the Union of Concerned Scientist, writes in the NY Times:

Last week, my organization — the Union of Concerned Scientists — received a subpoena signed by Lamar S. Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The subpoena orders me to hand over correspondence between my staff members and state attorneys general, and between my staff members and environmental organizations and funders. This demand impinges on our group’s constitutional rights, and it would set a terrible precedent affecting many other advocacy groups were we to comply with it.

The subpoena concerns our efforts to inform state attorneys general of our research into Exxon Mobil. Our research details, among other things, how much Exxon Mobil knew about the dangers posed to the planet from carbon emissions from its products at the same time it was spending millions to misinform the public about the science of climate change.

Mr. Smith makes no claim that our organization violated any law or regulation; he simply demands to see our correspondence. This is a deeply troubling request. It is, in effect, a bullying tactic that threatens the work that advocacy groups like mine do under the protection of the First Amendment when we “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Are we to expect a subpoena every time we have a conversation with a public official if some committee chairman dislikes or disagrees with us?

Mr. Smith’s demand also interferes with continuing law enforcement proceedings by New York and Massachusetts state attorneys general who — acting under their own state laws — have commenced investigations into Exxon Mobil’s potentially fraudulent actions. (Mr. Smith has sent similar subpoenas to the other environmental organizations and funders as well as the offices of the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts.)

The controversy began last summer, when our organization published a report documenting deception about climate science by Exxon Mobil, other leading fossil fuel companies and industry trade groups. Since that time, two teams of investigative reporters have uncovered further corroborating evidence that for decades, Exxon Mobil’s own scientists warned the company of the dangers of carbon emissions at the same time the company was aggressively promoting a very different message in public and to its investors about climate science. As a result of these revelations, the state attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts commenced their investigations into Exxon Mobil.

Mr. Smith, joined by members of Congress, claims that our organization, the other groups and the state attorneys general have engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Exxon Mobil of its First Amendment right to debate the science of climate change and to chill the work of scientists. This is simply nonsense. Exxon Mobil’s scientists are not being targeted for investigation, and no one is intimidating them to keep them from performing their work. Instead, the investigations center on whether Exxon Mobil misled the public and its own investors when it publicly disparaged, played down or even dismissed outright the growing evidence (from its own scientists and others) that burning fossil fuels causes irrevocable harm to the planet.

Disseminating false information to help sell a product finds no protection in the First Amendment. Imagine if it did: Tobacco companies could get away with saying cigarettes are safe; car companies could deny manufacturing defects that endanger drivers; and pharmaceutical companies could mislead consumers about the efficacy of drugs — all by cloaking themselves in the First Amendment. Fortunately, courts have repeatedly rejected such arguments.

Beyond its lack of a factual or legal basis, Mr. Smith’s subpoena sets a dangerous precedent because it violates our constitutional rights. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2016 at 5:10 pm

Not snark: David Brooks wrote an interesting column.

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See what you think.

The previous post was written before I read Brooks’s column, but they seem to be on the same wave length.

BTW, it seems perfectly clear that David Brooks, like so many, has been following the James Fallows series on American Futures in his travels across America.

New Life Found That Lives Off Electricity

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Evolution will eventually find a way to exploit any niche at all.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2016 at 3:26 pm

Federal Report Appears to Undercut EPA Assurances on Water Safety In Pennsylvania

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

Since 2009 the people of Dimock, Pennsylvania, have insisted that, as natural gas companies drilled into their hillsides, shaking and fracturing their ground, their water had become undrinkable. It turned a milky brown, with percolating bubbles of explosive methane gas. People said it made them sick.

Their stories — told first through an investigation into the safety of gas drilling by ProPublica — turned Dimock into an epicenter of what would evolve into a national debate about natural gas energy and the dangers of the process of “fracking,” or shattering layers of bedrock in order to release trapped natural gas.

But the last word about the quality of Dimock’s water came from assurances in a 2012 statement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the federal department charged with safeguarding the Americans’ drinking water. The agency declared that the water coming out of Dimock’s taps did not require emergency action, such as a federal cleanup. The agency’s stance was widely interpreted to mean the water was safe.

Now another federal agency charged with protecting public health has analyzed the same set of water samples, and determined that is not the case.

The finding, released May 24 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns that a list of contaminants the EPA had previously identified were indeed dangerous for people to consume. The report found that the wells of 27 Dimock homes contain, to varying degrees, high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and copper sufficient to pose ahealth risk. It also warned of a mysterious compound called 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether, a substance for which the agency could not even evaluate the risk, and noted that in earlier water samples non-natural pollutants including acetone, toluene and chloroform were detected . Those contaminants are known to be dangerous, but they registered at such low concentrations that their health effects could not easily be evaluated. The water in 17 homes also contained enough flammable gas so as to risk an explosion.

The EPA had asked the ATSDR to help evaluate the health risks of its water samples back in 2011. At the time, the ATSDR warned people not to drink their water, and promised a more complete evaluation. The report released last month is that complete evaluation — an assessment of water samples taken from 64 homes during a short period in 2012 when drilling in the surrounding community had come to a temporary halt.

The fact that the contaminants were detected in water had been shared with residents in 2012. But the qualitative assessment of whether those contaminants pose a danger is new.

The new conclusions appear to call into question the EPA’s assurances, and could well reignite a smoldering controversy over whether the agency had prematurely abandoned its research into the safety of fracking in Dimock and other sites across the country. ProPublica reported in 2012 that the agency had curtailed investigations it had begun into potential water contamination in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming.

The May 24 findings about Dimock also lead to an obvious question: How . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2016 at 1:44 pm

Guardian: American Cities “Cheat” on Lead Testing of Tap Water

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This strikes me as insane behavior. Not just unethical or dishonest or illegal, but insane: sacrificing the lives of children (because of the effect of lead on neural development: low-grade lead poisoning produces violent individuals: violence in the US dropped big-time 20 years after leaded gasoline was eliminated) for no reason other than you do not want to do your job, which is to determine lead levels in drinking water. It’s their damn job, and they don’t do it.

Kevin Drum blogs:

The Guardian claims that “at least 33” large American cities use testing methods deliberately designed to undercount the presence of lead in tap water:

Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

….Testing methods that can avoid detecting lead include asking testers to run faucets before the test period, known as “pre-flushing”; to remove faucet filters called “aerators”; and to slowly fill sample bottles. The EPA reiterated in February that these lead-reducing methods go against its guidelines, and the Flint charges show they may now be criminal acts.

….The EPA has warned since 2008 that pre-flushing is problematic and goes against the “intent” of regulations designed to detect lead….Further distortion is achieved through the removal of “aerators” — the small metal filters at the tip of faucets. These filters can collect lead particles and add to lead detected in tests.

I don’t know how serious this is. I suppose no one will know until these cities collect data properly and compare it to their old results. . .

Continue reading.

Chart at the link. The lede of the original Guardian article is worth reading:

At least 33 cities across 17 US states have used water testing “cheats” that potentially conceal dangerous levels of lead, a Guardian investigation launched in the wake of the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has found.

Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

The crisis that gripped Flint is an extreme case where a cost-cutting decision to divert the city’s water supply to a polluted river was compounded by a poor testing regime and delays by environmental officials to respond to the health emergency.

The Guardian’s investigation demonstrates that similar testing regimes were in place in cities including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee. . .

Later:

  • Some cities denied knowledge of the locations of lead pipes, failed to sample the required number of homes with lead plumbing or refused to release lead pipe maps, claiming it was a security risk.

What happened to this country? Maybe we weren’t great, but at least we seemed to be good. No more. It’s a system in rapid decline. The rule of law is giving way. Billionaires can carry on private vendettas. Police departments do as they please.

It’s not a good society.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2016 at 3:00 pm

The consequences of disposable fashion

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Another interesting article in Salon, this one by Sarah Sweeney:

Last January, I met with a friend who volunteered regularly at a clothing donation center. Kari learned the cheap clothing that many people donate – the Forever 21 skirt that cost less than your breakfast, the H&M blouses that never fit quite right, the Zara pants that pilled after one wash – all comes at a devastating cost to the environment. And while you’re clearing out your closet for donation bragging to your friends (and tax accountant) how much you sacrificed for those less fortunate, well, much of that disposable fashion still ends up in a landfill.

“One million tons of clothes are thrown away every year,” says wildculture.com, “with 50% of the total ending up in landfill.” The unsustainable impact of producing such mass quantities of clothing is ravaging the environment. For example, one pair of those cute jeans you only intend to wear a few times requires 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton just to manufacture them. And this trend is all quite recent; disposable fashion as it’s called only began ramping up in the mid-2000s.

Needless to say, learning this did not spark joy. The consequences of disposable fashion now struck me as so obvious, yet societal expectations encourage to buy buy buy! As a bleeding-heart environmentalist, I set out to spend a year without shopping.

The Mission

Spend one full year without purchasing new clothing, shoes, purses, accessories or jewelry.

I’m not much of a clotheshorse, but I’ve met many people who cannot go a single week without buying something new. Seriously, how much closet space do they have? It took all sorts of restraint to withhold my thoughts on how ridiculous I find these people. Biting my tongue in front of their wasteful over-fashioned trying-too-hard faces seemed to be another thing I gave up. Those who say things like “no pain, no gain” as their feet hemorrhage inside of 4-inch heels? No thanks! I set out to prove that retail didn’t own me; that I could spend a year without needing anything. I wanted to discover that quality really is superior to quantity and that I can put together new outfits with my existing wardrobe. That the “basics” are called as such because they go with everything. Oh and money. Saving lots of money.

The Fine Print . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 2:21 pm

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