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Decades After Spill, Exxon Valdez Case Back in Court

An Alaska environmentalist is seeking to persuade a federal judge to compel Exxon to pay an unpaid $92 million claim, plus another $23 million in interest

By Yereth Rosen, Reuters

Mar 6, 2011
oil spill cleanup Exxon Valdez
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA— More than two decades after the Exxon Valdez supertanker struck a reef and unleashed the nation's biggest tanker spill, a lingering legal dispute about the disaster was back in court on Friday.

At issue in a U.S. District Court hearing in Anchorage is an unpaid $92 million claim by the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Alaska for what they consider long-term environmental damage unexpected at the time of the grounding.

The claim was made five years ago under a special "reopener" provision of the governments' 1991 civil settlement with Exxon, in which the oil company paid $900 million.

That money was paid over a decade into a trust account that funds environmental restoration projects and scientific work.

But persisting environmental impacts prompted the federal and state governments to present the reopener bill to Exxon Mobil, Exxon Corp's successor.

As U.S. Moves Ahead with Nuclear Power, No Solution for Radioactive Waste

A pair of legal actions against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raises fresh questions over how and where to store the nation's growing nuclear waste

By Abby Luby

Mar 3, 2011
Three Mile Island nuclear station

President Obama has won wide bipartisan support for his determination to revive American nuclear power — a low-carbon energy solution that electric utilities and conservatives can support.

But a pair of legal actions last month could complicate matters for Washington by forcing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to address a longstanding and almost intractable problem: How and where to store the highly radioactive waste.

For many, the separate suits by state attorneys general and environmental groups raise fresh questions over why America is pouring billions into a nuclear renaissance with no long-term strategy for handling waste from the nation's existing facilities.

"The waste problem is the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry," said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a California-based nuclear watchdog.

Trial Begins for Activist Accused of Crashing Utah Drilling Auction

Tim DeChristopher, who bid $1.7 million for oil and gas leases he couldn't pay for, faces up to 10 years in prison in a trial expected to end Thursday

By Bibi van der Zee, Guardian

Feb 28, 2011
Tim DeChristopher speaking to the media

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on why he chose to cross legal boundaries. The seven-part video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

The trial has begun of a U.S. activist accused of sabotaging an oil and gas land auction by bidding $1.7 million for land parcels that he could not pay for. Tim DeChristopher, whose case has attracted support from high-profile environmentalists including actor Daryl Hannah and environmentalist Bill McKibben, faces up to 10 years' jail if found guilty.

At an auction in Utah on 19 December, 2008 — the last before the end of George Bush's term in office, and seen as a gift for the oil and gas industry — 130,000 acres of land near pristine areas of Utah such as Nine Mile Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument were due to be sold off.

After Years of Resisting, Alberta Admits Need for Strict Oil Sands Monitoring

Government and oil sands industry finally agree with environmentalists on need to rigorously measure the full impact of oil sands development

By Mathew Klie-Cribb

Feb 25, 2011
Syncrude's Mildred Lake plant

FT. MCMURRAY, ALBERTA—For years, Alberta's government has been under fire for weak monitoring of oil sands development on rivers and lakes. Now it's finally answering its critics, by commissioning a special review that aims to reassure the world that its booming industry is being developed with the utmost scrutiny.

Over the next several months, a panel of experts from health, science, regulatory and public administration backgrounds will look at how the government can rebuild a state-of-the-art monitoring system and regain the public trust, which has eroded not only in Canada, but globally.

In early February, the new group met for the first time to review current monitoring capacity, starting with "aquatics," the most criticized area, and branching out to air quality and wider environmental impacts.

The panel has until June 2011 to report back.

In Thawing Arctic, Fragile Food Web at Risk of Unraveling (Part II)

A fishing ban against Arctic cod may forestall trouble for the bottom of the food web. Higher up, seals are already disappearing from lack of snow and ice

By Bruce Barcott, OnEarth

Feb 24, 2011
Scientist with seal

The Arctic Ocean is so cold that only a handful of fish and marine mammals can survive there. Subsurface temperatures range from 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm summer day to 28.76 degrees, the freezing point of seawater.

In those extreme conditions, one fish species in the center of the Arctic food web is uniquely equipped to thrive: the Arctic cod.

A slender and smaller cousin of the Pacific and Atlantic cod, the Arctic cod is often seen near the underside of the ice, feeding on pteropods, copepods, krill, worms, and small fish. It uses cracks and seams in the ice much as tropical fish use a coral reef: as a refuge from predators.

Its survival in these heat-sapping waters depends on two things: blood and fat.

Under Climate Stress, California Wine Country Tries to Shrink Carbon Footprint

Fetzer Vineyards and others are switching to solar energy and biodiesel fuel, as a new breed of ethical consumer is forcing wineries to decarbonize

By Joseph Mayton

Feb 20, 2011

California's wine industry is under threat from global warming, and while the problem is too big for the wineries to handle on their own, some are trying to lead by example by doing things like installing solar panels and using less glass in their bottling plants.

"There are strong initiatives in the wine industry to reduce climate change impacts," said Ann Thrupp, the director of sustainability at Fetzer Vineyards in Northern California, in an interview.

Areas suitable for growing wine grapes in the United States, the fourth largest wine producer behind France, Italy and Spain, could shrink by as much as 81 percent by the end of the century due to rising temperatures, according to research published in the National Academy of Sciences. The Northern California Napa and Sonoma valleys would be hit the hardest.

Climate change would trigger more extreme heat waves, harming premium wine grapes that need stable temperatures to flourish by causing them to overripen from too much sugar.

Environmentalists Fear U.S. Will Open Up Grand Canyon to Uranium Mining

Gov't report on Friday will recommend whether mining in the sensitive Grand Canyon should be allowed to meet the world's growing nuclear power appetite

Felicity Carus, Guardian

Feb 17, 2011

The natural beauty and unique species of the Grand Canyon are "in the crosshairs" because of renewed interest in the region's uranium reserves. That is the warning from critics of the mines, ahead of the release of a government report on Friday on the potential impact of fresh mining.

Mining has been banned within the Grand Canyon national park since President Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908. But since 2003, foreign companies have submitted 2,215 claims to prospect on the edge of the canyon.

Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, temporarily withdrew one million acres of land from exploration in 2009 to allow time for an environmental assessment. Salazar must decide by July whether to ban "mineral entry" for two-thirds of the claims for the next 20 years.

'Reskinning' Gives World's Old Urban Buildings Energy-Saving Facelifts

The practice of 'reskinning' exteriors of aging infrastructure can help retrofit entire cities to be 'more efficient' and 'more beautiful,' advocates say

By Robert Gluck

Feb 16, 2011

The term "reskinning" may sound like a word straight out of a science fiction novel, but in actuality it means retrofitting the exteriors of aging buildings with energy-saving facelifts, and the practice is taking off — especially in Canada and Europe.

Ron Dembo, a former computer science professor at Yale University who founded the Toronto-based carbon software company Zerofootprint, coined the term in 2009. His inspiration came in part from being steeped in data on carbon pollution management.

Dembo said that the role of buildings in global warming is too big to ignore, especially in major cities, where they account for 60 to 80 percent of greenhouse gases. "Buildings were built inadequately and they leak heat or cold," he told SolveClimate News. "They have insufficient skins or exteriors."

Facing Inevitable Climate Losses, U.S. Corporations Begin to Adapt

Plans by Entergy and Starbucks show how adaptation is now key for firms with vulnerable supply chains, but experts lament that more of them aren't moving

By Lori Tripoli

Feb 14, 2011

As climate change worsens, some leading U.S. corporations are working to find ways to adapt to higher sea levels and other unavoidable effects fueled by warming that they say will deal a big blow to their bottom lines.

Most firms have kept their plans under wraps. But publicly known efforts reveal how adaptation is taking center stage for businesses with vulnerable supply chains, amid mostly feeble attempts by the world's largest carbon polluters to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"It creepingly has become apparent that even if mitigation were highly successful — which so far it's not — we'd still have lots of climate impacts," said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

"We have to adapt," he told SolveClimate News.

Energy giant Entergy Corporation would seem to agree. On Tuesday, the utility will announce an adaptation project with New Orleans-based nonprofit America's WETLAND Foundation and government officials from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The collaboration seeks to help a dozen communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast gauge their vulnerabilities to climate change, and establish plans to deal with the impacts.

China Readies $1 Billion to Fight Worst Wheat Drought in 60 Years

The world's biggest wheat producer resorts to emergency measures, as this year's harvest is under threat and the UN warns of already-soaring wheat prices

By Jonathan Watts, Guardian

Feb 13, 2011

China has announced a billion dollars in emergency water aid to ease its most severe drought in 60 years, as the United Nations warned of a threat to the harvest of the world's biggest wheat producer.

Beijing has also promised to use its grain reserves to reduce the pressure on global food prices, which have surged in the past year to record highs due to the floods in Australia and a protracted dry spell in Russia.

The desperate measures were evident at Baita reservoir in Shandong — one of several key agricultural provinces afflicted by four months without rain. With nearby crops turning yellow, a mechanical digger cut a crude, open-cast well into the dried-up bed of the reservoir. Muddy water from the 16-foot-deep pit was pumped up to the surface via a hose that snaked past a fishing boat stranded on the cracked earth.