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New Ozone-Destroying Chemicals, Which Are Also Potent GHGs, Found in Atmosphere

Mar 10, 2014
(Guardian)

Dozens of mysterious ozone-destroying chemicals may be undermining the recovery of the giant ozone hole over Antarctica, researchers have revealed.

The chemicals, which are also extremely potent greenhouse gases, may be leaking from industrial plants or being used illegally, contravening the Montreal protocol which began banning the ozone destroyers in 1987. Scientists said the finding of the chemicals circulating in the atmosphere showed "ozone depletion is not yesterday's story."

Until now, a total of 13 CFCs and HCFCs were known to destroy ozone and are controlled by the Montreal protocol, widely regarded as the world's most successful environmental law. But scientists have now identified and measured four previously unknown compounds and warned of the existence of many more.

"There are definitely more out there," said Dr Johannes Laube, at the University of East Anglia. "We have already picked up dozens more. They might well add up to dangerous levels, especially if we keep finding more." Laube and his colleagues are in the process of fully analysing the dozens of new compounds, but the work completed on the four new chemicals shows them to be very powerful destroyers of ozone.

Laube is particularly concerned that the atmospheric concentrations of two of the new compounds, while low now, are actually accelerating. "They are completely unimpressed by the Montreal protocol," Laube told the Guardian. "There are quite a few loopholes in the protocol and we hope some of these are tightened. But the good news is that we have picked up these [four] early." The chemicals take decades to break down in the atmosphere, meaning their impact on ozone and climate change is long-lived.

"This research highlights that ozone depletion is not yesterday's story," said Prof Piers Forster, at the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study. "The Montreal protocol – the most successful international environmental legislation in history – phased out ozone-depleting substances from 1987 and the ozone layer should recover by 2050. Nevertheless this paper reminds us we need to be vigilant and continually monitor the atmosphere for even small amounts of these gases creeping up."

The new research, published the journal Nature Geoscience, analysed air samples captured since the mid-1970s in several ways. Air bubbles trapped in snowpack in Greenland, samples taken by scientists in Tasmania and others collected by aircraft flying 13 miles above Europe were all analysed. The team found three new CFCs and one HCFC, none of which had been identified before. "I was surprised no-one had picked these up before," said Laube. At least 74,000 tonnes of the four newly discovered chemicals have been emitted, the scientists estimate, although in the 1980s one million tonnes of other CFCs were pumped into the atmosphere every year.

U.S. Govt Creates Incentives to Rebuild Flood-Hit Coastal Homes, Over and Over

Mar 9, 2014
(Beth Daley, New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

SCITUATE - Over and over again, the Atlantic has taken aim at 48 Oceanside Drive. Almost four decades ago, it slammed the house clear off its foundation. Thirteen years later, seawater poured through the roof during a nor’easter. So often has the sea catapulted grapefruit-sized rocks through the vacation home's windows that a former owner installed bulletproof-glass.

At least nine times the property has sustained significant flood damage from coastal storms. And each time, the federal government helped owners rebuild with National Flood Insurance Program payouts. It has subsidized insurance premiums at the property and in 2005, granted one owner $40,000 to elevate the home.

Now, the current owner of the $1.2 million vacation house is applying for what construction experts say could be $80,000 or more from the federal government to raise the house again.

Forty-eight Oceanside Drive's tortured history with the sea – and the questionable incentives the government has given over decades there – has created a mammoth problem as Congress debates flood insurance reform: What should the U.S. do with properties the sea relentlessly tries to reclaim?

"We always knew it was unsustainable there," said Dr. David Cooney, 75, a Maryland oncologist who sold the house after the 1991 Perfect Storm severely damaged it.

The saga of 48 Oceanside Drive and the sea is repeated across the U.S. There are 534 properties in New England alone that are considered Severe Repetitive Loss properties, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the insurance program. Often, these NFIP-insured properties have had four significant flood claims – two within one decade. Nationwide there are about 12,000.

Scituate has 112 of them. Over the years, such properties have accounted for 689 losses. The total in claims: $21.3 million, according to FEMA.

All of this occurs without any inquiry into whether the homeowners are wealthy, poor, or in between: FEMA's flood insurance was designed to help all flood-prone properties regardless of economic status.

The insurance program, which began in 1968 after private insurers largely abandoned flood insurance because of the recurrent risks, was initially designed to pay for itself. But a series of punishing storms starting with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has meant premiums have not kept pace with payouts. Today, the program is about $24 billion in debt and taxpayers are now left holding the bill.

That shortfall is expected to widen in coming years as sea levels rise and storms are projected to become more intense from man-made climate change. Atlantic waters from north of Boston to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina are rising three to four times faster than globally, according to federal scientists. Billions of dollars worth of homes are on the front line.

Homeowners, like those at 48 Oceanside Drive, have every right to take advantage of legal government programs to protect property. The question is whether, in a time of rising tides and soaring deficits, the flood insurance program creates incentives that contravene both public policy and common sense.

Such concerns led Congress in 2012 to phase out subsidies and boost premiums to reflect the true risks of living in flood-prone homes.

But even as the law took hold, new federal flood plain maps raised insurance rates for hundreds of thousands of U.S. homeowners. The double-hit created a political backlash with many politicians, including those in New England who initially voted for the new law, supporting its delay or rollback.

The Senate is expected to pass a House-approved bill this week that would still raise premiums, but not as steeply as the 2012 law. While second homes and properties that are repeatedly hit would experience greater increases, their owners would still be eligible for sizable grants to elevate and fortify homes and there remains no limit on the number of times a property can collect.

"It's like a boat with a hole in the side of it, the (National Flood Insurance Program) needs bailing out,’’ said Seth Kaplan, vice president for policy and climate advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based legal non-profit. "It only stays afloat as long as the government is willing to put taxpayer money into it."

Enbridge Line 9 Pipeline Reversal Approved by Canadian Energy Board

Mar 7, 2014
(The Canadian Press)

The National Energy Board has approved energy giant Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of a pipeline that has been running between southern Ontario and Montreal for years.

The green light for the Calgary-based company is subject to certain conditions and requirements. 

A statement from the National Energy Board says "the board’s conditions require Enbridge to undertake activities regarding pipeline integrity, emergency response, and continued consultation."

Enbridge will also have to submit a plan to manage cracking features in the pipeline, and manage water crossings.

Iowa Got Nearly 30% of Energy From Wind Last Year

Mar 6, 2014
(Des Moines Register)

Iowa received about 27 percent of its energy from wind generation last year, placing it first in the nation, ahead of South Dakota at 26 percent, a report released Wednesday shows.

The American Wind Energy Association said Iowa generated enough wind energy last year to power 1.4 million homes, second only to Texas, which generated enough wind energy to power 3.3 million homes.

Iowa has 5,117 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity, with 1,055 megawatts under construction.

Alberta Regulator Quietly Halts Steam Bitumen Mining Due to Safety Concerns

Mar 6, 2014
(The Tyee)

The Alberta energy regulator has suspended the fastest-growing source of bitumen production around Fort McMurray due to concerns about fracturing the region's cap rock.

Last January, the regulator quietly issued a bulletin announcing the freeze on development in the Wabiskaw-McMurray deposit of the Athabasca Oil Sands Area while it completes “a thorough technical review of the factors that affect reservoir containment of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) projects.”

The suspension affects the development of steam operations in one hundred townships where bitumen developers plan to inject hot steam 100 to 150 metres into the ground to melt shallow formations of bitumen.

Enbridge and U.S. Partner to Spend $7B to Nearly Double Capacity of Cross-Border Pipeline

Mar 5, 2014
(Financial Post )

Enbridge Inc. said it will spend $7 billion to nearly double capacity on a major Canada-to-U.S. oil pipeline without triggering a review by the U.S. State Department, skirting potential delays that have sidelined rival export projects.

Calgary-based Enbridge said late Monday it has support from customers to build a new pipeline between Hardisty, Alta. and Superior, Wisc. to replace a 46-year-old conduit that is running at nearly half its design capacity. It said the new line would start up by the second half of 2017, boosting shipments of fast-growing Canadian crude production to the U.S. and trimming the company’s maintenance bill by $1.1-billion.

Capturing Methane Pollution From Gas Drilling Proves Cheap to Fix

Mar 4, 2014
(ClimateWire)

Nearly half the methane released into the atmosphere from the U.S. oil and gas industry could be eliminated using existing technologies at an affordable cost, according to a study released today.

The report, by the analyst group ICF International, was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental group spearheading an effort to measure and decrease emissions of methane from natural gas

Hundreds of Keystone XL Protesters Arrested at White House (Photos)

Mar 2, 2014
(ThinkProgress)

Youth activists held a rally on Sunday outside of the White House demanding President Obama stop construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands south across the country from Alberta, Canada to Texas.

About 1,000 were expect to turn out for the protest, many of them university students. An estimated 300 people locked themselves to the White House fence before being arrested by security.

Click here to see photos posted on Twitter

More photos here by Politico

Los Angeles City Council Approves Ban on Fracking

Feb 28, 2014
(Los Angeles Times)

Amid an outcry from worried residents and environmental activists, Los Angeles is poised to ban hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and other technologies used to increase production from oil and gas wells.

The City Council voted unanimously Friday to start drafting rules that would bar such practices until city politicians are sure Angelenos and their water are safe.

The council asked the city attorney and other staffers to prepare an ordinance that would change the city zoning code.

Under the proposal, so-called fracking, acidizing and other kinds of “well stimulation” would be prohibited until the council was assured that state and federal regulations adequately protected people from their effects.

Keystone XL Review Didn’t Breach Rules, State Dept IG Says - Full Report

Feb 27, 2014
(Bloomberg )

The U.S. State Department’s inspector general said the agency's selection of a contractor to write an environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline didn’t violate federal conflict of interest rules, a finding that removes another hurdle for the long-delayed project.

Environmental groups including Friends of the Earth had alleged that the contractor, Environmental Resources (TRP) Management, didn't disclose financial ties to TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based pipeline company that is proposing to build Keystone.

A months-long review didn't back-up the claims.

Read the full report: