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Here is my latest on DeSmogBlog, an analysis of the extreme weather events in the country, and how the media is reporting and ignoring the story.


Large portions of the country are on fire.  Record droughts currently encompass massive swaths of America.  The areas not experiencing droughts have been inundated with flooding.  Winter weather in many areas was almost non-existent.  A few years ago, an Academy Award-winning film called “An Inconvenient Truth” warned wary Americans that all of these events would become the new normal under the affects of climate change.  But these are no longer warnings – this is the reality that we’ve lived with this year.

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This is part 2 of my "What To Expect When You're Electing" series for DeSmogBlog.  


At this point in the race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, a title that will become official after the Republican convention in a few months.  Because Romney previously served as a governor, we have the benefit of looking at what he’s actually done when placed in charge, not just committee votes or proposed legislation.  And just like his record on other issues, Romney’s environmental record is one that has constantly changed to fit the political landscape.  He has somehow managed to take both sides of virtually every major environmental issue, with his recent positions being more in line with that of that extremist, climate change denying branch of the Republican Party.

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This is part 1 of my series on DeSmogBlog where I take a look at how environmental issues will help shape this year's election.

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This is my latest piece on DeSmogBlog:


In late 2009, climate change skeptics thought they had found the Holy Grail in terms of climate denial – a collection of more than 3,000 hacked emails that they took out of context to “prove” that scientists were lying about anthropogenic climate change.  This so-called scandal became known as “Climategate.”  And even though the full context of the emails revealed that the scientists involved undoubtedly agreed that climate change was real and that the science proved so, climate skeptics today still use those false, chopped up emails to sell their story to the American public.  Reputations were destroyed, the truth was kept hidden, and the public was left confused and annoyed as a result of the entire fiasco.


With Climategate still weighing heavily on the minds of climate scientists – and other scientists as well – its no surprise that these professionals would want their private communications to remain exactly that, for fear that anything they’ve said could be taken grossly out of context, or completely re-worded to fit a biased agenda.  If information is pertinent and relevant to public discourse, they have been more than happy to oblige requests, but anything beyond that is clearly a violation of their privacy.



So why then is BP trying to obtain every piece of email correspondence from scientists who researched the Gulf of Mexico oil geyser?  That’s a question that numerous scientists have been trying to figure out in recent weeks.  The oil giant has subpoenaed emails from scientists who studied the oil and its impact on coastal and marine environments to use in the numerous civil and federal lawsuits against the company.  What makes this a problem is that scientists have already turned over the relevant data to the company and the federal government, but BP wants access to the private correspondence between the scientists as well, hoping for another “Climategate-type” email chain that can be used to discredit the scientists.


Christopher Reddy and Richard Camilli, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who worked on the oil disaster, took to the pages of The Boston Globe this week to tell the story of what is happening to them at the hands of BP:


Deliberation is an integral part of the scientific method that has existed for more than 2,000 years; e-mail is the 21st century medium by which these deliberations now often occur. During this process, researchers challenge each other and hone ideas. In reviewing our private documents, BP will probably find e-mail correspondence showing that during the course of our analysis, we hit dead-ends; that we remained skeptical and pushed one another to analyze data from various perspectives; that we discovered weaknesses in our methods (if only to find ways to make them stronger); or that we modified our course, especially when we received new information that provided additional insight and caused us to re-examine hypotheses and methods.


In these candid discussions among researchers, constructive criticism and devil’s advocacy are welcomed. Such interchange does not cast doubt on the strengths of our conclusions; rather, it constitutes the typically unvarnished, yet rigorous, deliberative process by which scientists test and refine their conclusions to reduce uncertainty and increase accuracy. To ensure the research’s quality, scientific peers conduct an independent and comprehensive review of the work before it is published.


…Although there is a confidentiality agreement that BP is subject to, the burden is left entirely to us, a single academic research organization, to police the use of our intellectual property by one of the largest corporations in the world.


Ultimately this is not about BP. Our experience highlights that virtually all of scientists’ deliberative communications, including e-mails and attached documents, can be subject to legal proceedings without limitation. Incomplete thoughts and half-finished documents attached to e-mails can be taken out of context and impugned by people who have a motive for discrediting the findings In addition to obscuring true scientific findings, this situation casts a chill over the scientific process. In future crises, scientists may censor or avoid deliberations, and more importantly, be reluctant to volunteer valuable expertise and technology that emergency responders don’t possess. Open, scientific deliberation is critical to science. It needs to be protected in a way that maintains transparency in the scientific process, but also avoids unnecessary intrusions that stifle research vital to national security and economic interests.


They point out in their article that they are not a part of the lawsuits against the company, and that they are not a part of the government’s official research teams, making it incredibly suspect for the company to be able to demand their email records.


But there’s a good reason for BP to want access to every piece of correspondence they can get their hands on.  As Reddy and Camilli point out in their article, many of these emails contain half-finished works, dead-end hypotheses, and other information that can easily be taken out of context.  What this could do for the company is provide “reasonable doubt,” which would have a tremendous effect on the lawsuits against the company.  If they are able to manipulate the data they uncover in a way that casts even the most minimal doubt on the claims being made by scientists (those that would be relevant to the claims of plaintiffs along the Gulf Coast) that would greatly reduce the company’s liability to plaintiffs, as well as the federal government (who has imposed fines against the company for the environmental damage.)



Get the full story, along with the other ways in which BP is trying to undermine the science that has gone into studying the oil spill at DeSmogBlog.

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This is my latest piece on DeSmogBlog:

Bisphenol A, or BPA for short, has been in the spotlight for decades, with both the chemical industry and occasionally the federal government touting its safety, while independent, non-industry funded scientific studies show us how dangerous the chemical truly is. The latest news regarding BPA is no different, with new independent studies showing that the common chemical has the potential to increase the risk of breast cancer when exposure occurs in the womb.

   

    BPA is a common chemical used primarily in the production of plastics, such as baby bottles, canned goods (lining the inside of cans), soda bottles, and other common plastic goods that typically hold food or beverages (although it is found in countless other polycarbonate plastic products, including medical devices). It helps preserve the life of perishable goods, but comes at a dangerous cost to human health.

   

    The chemical easily leaches out of plastic, and is either consumed by humans, or it can be absorbed through the skin. Estimates show that in the U.S., humans consume about 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight everyday. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, at any given time, 93% of Americans have measurable amounts of BPA in their systems.

   

    The latest study, released earlier this month, shows that in utero exposure to BPA in rhesus monkeys led to abnormalities in mammary gland development.

From News Inferno:

     

    This new study involved fetal BPA exposure, revealing chemical alterations in rhesus monkey mammary gland development, said the San Francisco Gate (SF Gate). For the study, researchers fed pregnant rhesus macaques monkeys a piece of fruit that contained BPA every day during their third trimester of pregnancy.

   

    The monkeys’ BPA blood levels reached the average level that BPA has been observed in human blood in the U.S., according to Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University and a study author, said the SF Gate. The changes observed reinforce concerns that BPA could contribute to breast cancer, according to the team.

   

    The researchers studied the mammary glands of the female offspring of BPA-exposed monkeys and discovered changes in those glands that lead to dense tissue, said the SF Gate. Dense breast tissue is a risk factor for human breast caner, Hunt explained. Prior and new studies conducted by Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein, revealed that exposing rodents to small amounts of BPA could alter mammary gland development and lead to precancerous and cancerous lesions later in life.

     

Ana Soto, a co-author of the new study who has worked on previous BPA studies, said that this new information strongly suggests that “BPA is a breast carcinogen in humans” and that exposure must be curtailed.

   

    The breast cancer link is just the latest in the chain of health hazards associated with BPA. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2008 that exposure to BPA was linked to an increase in cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and liver enzyme abnormalities. And these effects were seen at relatively low-dose amounts of BPA, well below the amount actually consumed by Americans on a daily basis.

You can read the full story, along with an explanation of even more sources of BPA that you use daily and the dirty tricks the industry is using to hide BPA dangers from the public, right here.

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This is my latest piece on DeSmogBlog:

Republicans on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee have decided that the military’s push for clean, renewable energy has gone far enough, and have proposed for next year’s budget that the Pentagon not spend a dime on renewable energy sources that cost more than traditional dirty energy.  This news comes on the heels of the Navy’s announcement of their new “Great Green Fleet,” which features an aircraft carrier and strike group that are all powered by renewable, cleaner energy sources.



The shift in policy came from the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by California Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon.  Republicans on the committee complain that the fuel being used for the “green fleet” and other military renewable energy projects is too costly, and contend that the military should never spend more on a renewable energy source that is more costly than traditional petroleum.



As WIRED reports:



In its report on next year’s Pentagon budget, the House Armed Services Committee banned the Defense Department from making or buying an alternative fuel that costs more than a “traditional fossil fuel.” It’s a standard that may be almost impossible to meet, energy experts believe; there’s almost no way the tiny, experimental biofuel industry can hope to compete on price with the massive, century-old fossil fuels business.



But if the measure becomes law, it would make it all-but-inconceivable for the Pentagon to buy the renewable fuels. It would likely scuttle one of the top priorities of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. And it might very well suffocate the gasping biofuel industry, which was looking to the Pentagon to help it survive.



…the Green Fleet’s 450,000 gallons of fuel made from chicken fat and other waste greases (plus a dollop of algae oil) didn’t come cheap. At $12 million — arguably the biggest biofuel purchase in military history — the algae-chicken goop costs about four times more than an old-school petroleum product.



But the armed services committee didn’t put limits on all alternative fuels — just the ones with environmental benefits. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 forbids federal agencies from buying alternative fuels that are more polluting than conventional ones. Last week, the congressmen ordered to exempt the Defense Department from those regulations.



House Republicans are absolutely right – this issue is squarely about money.  But it isn’t the money that the Committee is spending; it is the money they are receiving, specifically from the energy industry.  The 35 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee have, combined, over their careers, received millions of dollars from the energy sector.  Here are just a few examples, showing the totals that Republican members have received from the energy sector:



Chairman Howard McKeon – $200,200



Roscoe Bartlett – $156,500



Mac Thornberry – $656,854 (oil industry is his largest donor.)



Todd Akin – $156,500



J. Randy Forbes – $117,500



Jeff Miller – $144,250



Joe Wilson – $207,356



Allen West – $129,299



The list could go on and on, but these few examples show where the loyalty of the Armed Services Committee lie.

You can get thefull story at DeSmogBlog, which includes an explanation of how these Republicans are trying to externalize the cost of oil onto the American public.

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The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has once again put together a fantastic report regarding water contamination near coal ash disposal sites.

Last year, the EIP released several reports showing that drinking water near coal ash disposal sites in states across America contained dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxins, including arsenic. In total, last year’s report revealed 53 sites in the United States where coal ash had polluted drinking water supplies.

The new report has identified a total of 116 coal ash sites in America that are leaching deadly toxins into the environment.

The new EIP report resulted from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA, which revealed that 49 different coal-fired power plants acknowledged that their own testing showed that groundwater pollution around their disposal sites far exceeded the federally acceptable levels. Among the chemicals reported to exceed federal standards at the coal-fired plants’ disposal sites are:

     

    Arsenic (a potent carcinogen) at no fewer than 22 plants

   

    Manganese (a metal that can damage the nervous system in high concentrations) at 22

   

    Boron (a pollutant that can cause damage to the stomach, intestines, liver, kidney, and brain when ingested in large amounts) at 12

   

    Selenium (a toxic pollutant that causes adverse health effects at high exposures) at 13

   

    Cadmium (a toxic pollutant that can damage the kidneys, lungs, and bones) at 10.

     

From an EIP press release:

     

    The information was originally requested by the USEPA Office of Water to help the agency evaluate the potential toxicity of wastewater containing ash or scrubber sludge that may be discharged to rivers or lakes. Forty two of the 91 coal-fired plants surveyed by EPA either did not respond, had no groundwater monitoring data, reported that available monitoring did not indicate that any standards had been exceeded, or claimed confidentiality.

   

    Plants responding to EPA’s survey may be measuring some, but not all, contaminants subject to health-based standards, and lack of uniform monitoring standards for coal ash disposal sites means that methods of detection and measurement vary from state to state.

     

This new report comes on the heels of a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on an amendment to the Surface Transportation Act of 2012 that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash. That amendment was put forward by Representative David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia. To understand McKinley’s motives, here’s a snippet from last year’s “Year In Dirty Energy: Coal” report:

     

    Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia has proposed a bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating toxic coal ash. The EPA has not yet made a decision on whether or not to classify coal ash as toxic, but reports show that the substance poses significant risks to human health.

   

    But after looking into McKinley’s campaign coffers, it is no surprise that he is fighting tooth and nail to prevent coal ash from being labeled as toxic. He has received more than $83,000 from the mining industry – the single largest industry to donate to his campaign. But it isn’t just the mining industry that has put money behind McKinley – big oil got in on the game as well. Exxon Mobil put $8,000 in his pockets, and the Koch brothers threw in another $10,000. An interesting note about this freshman Congressman – 66% of his campaign contributions came from out of state. Not bad for a man who had never held a federal office before.

     

Unfortunately for the folks in West Virginia who voted for McKinley, they have at least five coal ash disposal sites that are contaminating local groundwater supplies with toxic chemicals. And if politicians like David McKinley have their way, these sites will soon be out of the regulatory reach of the EPA, opening the door for a lot more coal ash pollution problems.

The full story and more information regarding coal ash dangers can be found at DeSmogBlog.

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My good friend Rick Outzen published this piece recently, and I wanted to share it:

The Florida Legislature has finally figured out how to destroy public education -- under the guise of “school choice.” After all, everybody likes choice, unless it involves abortion, contraception or gay marriage.

The so-called “parent trigger” bill is the crowning blow to a decade-long effort to take “public” out of education and unload struggling schools, especially those that serve poor, black, Hispanic and special-needs students.

The proposed legislation supposedly gives parents more ability to direct what happens at their failing schools. But the options are limited to transferring their child out of the school, hiring a private corporation to run the school or closing the school and reopening it as a charter school. Nowhere is there an option to force school districts to reallocate funds to recruit better teachers or use innovative strategies.

Parent trigger laws are relatively new. California was the first to adopt one in 2010.  Mississippi, Texas and Connecticut have since passed similar laws. Now Florida legislators are following suit. After all, everybody wants to be like Mississippi, right?

In February, the Florida House passed its version of the parent trigger bill, HB 1191, on an 80-34 vote. And last week, the Senate Budget Committee approved its version, SB 1718. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Last year, our lawmakers told us that teachers should be paid based on students’ test scores. The premise being good teachers get the best tests results. So if good teachers are the key, why isn’t the legislature passing a bill mandating higher pay for teachers in the failing schools? That way, we’d recruit the “best” teachers for students struggling the most.

Instead, lawmakers want for-profit corporations, who don’t have to hire union teachers or pay middle-class wages, to take over struggling schools and make money off our most challenged students.

If the parent trigger bill becomes law, Florida’s education system will divide into “haves” and “have nots.” Forty years ago, the civil rights movement ended “separate-but-equal” public education. Now Florida lawmakers are plotting its return.

Get the full story here.
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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out promoting the Highway Transportation Bill.  But do they really care about infrastructure spending, or are they more interested in the oil industry giveaways that the Republicans have crammed into the bill?

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Have you ever wondered why, more than three years after leaving office, we haven’t seen very much of George W. Bush?  Typically, upon departure from office, presidents will hit the speaking circuit, write memoirs (that actually have to do with their time in office,) or hit the campaign trail with their favorite candidates.  The most we got from Bush was a poorly-written book that talked more about his failed baseball team than how he destroyed our country.

I’m confident that there aren’t very many people from either political party that miss Bush, nor are there many people who have even noticed his absence.  The reason we aren’t noticing is because his brand of dumbed-down, incoherent politics has found a new home with the modern incarnation of the GOP.

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