Plans for offshore wind farms have fallen flat for years in the U.S.
But a Rhode Island-based company is about to begin installation of what promises to be the first such venture in the nation.
Deepwater Wind expects delivery this week of foundations that will support five wind turbines off Block Island, a small tourist destination 12 miles from Rhode Island’s shore.
“This is something we’ve been working toward for seven years, so this is a pretty significant moment for us,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of the private company building the $225 million project. “It’s a proverbial steel-in-the-water moment. In our industry, we don’t have groundbreakings, we have water breakings.”
The steel foundations, built at a Louisiana company that specializes in the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore oil and gas industry, travelled by barge to the site of the wind energy farm three miles southeast of Block Island.
Deepwater Wind’s schedule calls for the five foundations to be anchored to the ocean floor over the next eight weeks, and the turbines, built in Europe by Alstom, to be mounted on them starting in late summer 2016.
If all continues to go well for Deepwater Wind, the 30-megawatt project will begin generating electricity several months later, powering 17,000 homes, including all of those on Block Island, which now relies on expensive diesel fuel to keep its lights on.
The project also includes a 20-mile underwater cable that will carry to mainland Rhode Island any power not consumed on Block Island.
The pioneer project in the nation’s smallest state is large in one respect: at 589 feet above sea level, the turbines will be among the tallest in the world. Otherwise, it is tiny compared to onshore wind farms, some of which number hundreds of turbines.
But if successful, Deepwater Wind may demonstrate that offshore wind can provide another valuable energy option in the U.S., as it has for years in Europe and Asia, where 8,760 MW of offshore wind power had been installed as of 2014.
“We’ve been struggling in the U.S. to deploy the first offshore wind project for some time now, and clearly our industry needs a win,” Grybowski said at Deepwater Wind’s offices in Providence. “We think this will open up much larger opportunities.”
In fact, Deepwater Wind is already looking ahead to bigger projects, having won the rights to develop a wind energy farm in federal waters off the Rhode Island coast. The Block Island project is in waters under Rhode Island’s jurisdiction.
The larger project off Rhode Island would cover 260 square miles of ocean, and include as many as 250 wind turbines with a total capacity of more than 1,000 MW. That’s enough generation to power a half-million homes in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York’s Long Island.
“Wind can be one of the principal new power sources in the coming decade, in the Northeast in particular,” Grybowski said. “I think that’s where it begins because we have a confluence of two really unique situations: really strong wind resources and a huge population clustered along the coast from Washington to Boston.”
In fact, the Global Wind Energy Council says offshore wind could meet U.S. energy demand four times over.
While the East Coast is littered with failed or struggling offshore wind energy projects, like Cape Wind, the controversial undertaking off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, Grybowski said new attempts will stand a better chance as costs come down and states learn from Rhode Island’s experience.
“The key is to find a location that has the fewest conflicts and makes the most sense,” he said, acknowledging that Deepwater Wind faced some opposition in Rhode Island, including businesses that sued unsuccessfully to stop the project. “This location has a lot of support.”
Still, a potential complication for additional offshore wind projects is the expiration last year of a federal tax credit for production from wind turbines, an incentive that the Block Island project qualified for while it was still available.
Some members of Congress are attempting to revive the tax break this year, but approval is far from certain.
“I think we’ll see more wind energy built, including offshore, with or without tax credits,” he said. “But the question is how much gets built and how quickly does it get built without tax credits.
A record amount of solar power was added to the world’s grids in 2014, pushing total cumulative capacity to 100 times the level it was in 2000.
Around 40GW of solar power was installed last year, meaning there is now a total of 178GW to meet world electricity demand, prompting renewable energy associations to claim that a tipping point has been reached that will allow rapid acceleration of the technology.
“For the first time ever in Europe, renewables produced more power than nuclear – and solar power was key in achieving this remarkable achievement,” said Michael Schmela, executive adviser to trade body SolarPower Europe, which compiled the statisticspublished on Tuesday.
Despite their giant blades, most wind turbines waste a lot of energy -- gusts around the rotor don't really generate electricity at all. GE thinks it can do better, however. Its experimental ecoROTR turbine touts a big, rotating aluminum nose that sends wind directly toward the blades, where it's more effective. The current design boosts the power output by a modest 3 percent, but that could matter a lot in a large wind farm. The big deal may be what comes next. EcoROTR allows for bigger rotors without having to use larger, harder-to-transport blades. If it ventures beyond the prototype stage, you could see more wind farms in remote locations that both produce more power and keep giant, noisy towers away from your neighborhood.
In a sign of how much the price of solar power has fallen, by next summer Dairyland Power Cooperative plans to have more solar power running for its customers than all of the panels already installed across the state of Wisconsin.
The La Crosse-based energy provider is seeking to build multiple utility-scale solar projects across its four-state region that includes western Wisconsin.
The cooperative is asking solar companies to submit bids this summer on potential projects that would generate up to 25 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply power to about 2,700 homes.
Wisconsin's largest solar project built to date is 2.2 megawatts, from solar panels erected at the headquarters campus of health information software company Epic Systems Corp. in Verona, in Dane County.
While some utilities are seeking to build only enough renewable power to meet state or federal mandates, Dairyland is moving forward with greener energy sources on its own, as part of a plan to diversify its energy portfolio, said John Carr, vice president of strategic planning.
The dramatic drop in the price of solar panels in recent years is making these projects more economical.
"I like to say that it is finally solar energy's 'day in the sun,'" Barbara Nick, Dairyland's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "Technology is improving, costs are decreasing and customer interest continues to grow."
Dairyland is planning to expand its wind power output as well, adding 250 megawatts of wind capacity over the next three years, Carr said.
That would help push Dairyland's overall renewable output to 20% of its total generation over the next decade, up from 12% today.
The solar projects would be built by midyear 2016 and would be in or near Dairyland's service territory, which includes western Wisconsin as well as portions of Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.
The most likely alternative would be a series of five or more solar installations scattered across the region, Carr said.
"In our evaluation there's value to more diverse geography and spreading them out," he said. "If you have a cloud come over one area, with a large solar installation you might lose that, where you might not if it's spread out across a larger region."
Dairyland's is the latest in a series of solar announcements by Wisconsin power companies. Madison-basedAlliant Energy Corp. has proposed a 2-megawatt solar project next to a planned natural gas power plant near Beloit, while Xcel Energy's Eau Claire utility recently announced a pilot "solar garden" initiative to add up to 3 megawatts of solar.
"We applaud Dairyland's strategic direction to invest in solar energy," said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.
"There's the potential to more than double Wisconsin's current solar capacity in one fell swoop here," he said. "It's good to see solar energy expanding at an increased clip here in Wisconsin. Hopefully we can catch up to our neighbors."
Nick also announced this week that Dairyland will no longer sell half of the power from its Genoa coal plant in La Crosse to Great River Energy. Dairyland last year stopped burning coal at its Alma coal plant, to help it comply with environmental regulations aimed at reducing air pollution from burning coal.
Dairyland supplies power to 25 distribution cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities, serving more than 500,000 people.
Boycott evil BP
Don’t buy their gas
Or any product
They are destructive to the air
To the water,
To the land
To the people
BP is British Petroleum
Based in London,
Bad feelings about Americans
BP is getting revenge
For losing the colonies
I'm telling the truth
Gouging the public
Partners with Koch Brothers
People mean nothing
Only money matters
The future be damned
BP is destructive to America
To the American people
Time for action
Boycott Evil BP
Don’t buy their gas
Environmentally destructive and evil
The United Arab Emirates on May 25 said that it has succeeded in generating solar power at the cost of thermal power. The parity, achieved for the first time, promises to make solar power economically attractive and commercially viable.
The achievement has been documented in a 'REmap 2030' report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in conjunction with Masdar Institute and the UAE's foreign affairs ministry's Directorate of Energy and Climate Change.
From design practice, Forward Thinking Architecture, come a set of modular floating farms that harvest sunlight and rainwater, as well as desalinate saltwater and grow thousands of tons of vegetables ever year.
Inspired by Chinese floating fish farms, these rectangular units measure 200×350 meters and can connect with other modules via walkways. The usage of waterways is a great compliment to the farming industry because it makes farming available in so many more locations. It reduces the need to import food by localizing growth and incorporates rivers and lakes as viable “farmland.”
The plant, coinvested by electronics giant Kyocera Corporation and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation, is expected to generate 2, 680 megawatt hours (MWh) every year.
According to Kyocera, floating solar plants are superior to their land-based equivalents because of the cooling effects of the water, which allow the plants to have better power generating efficiency.
“As solar power is booming in Japan, land available for large solar plants is hard to come by, and solar power generation on water surfaces attracts more and more attention,” said Ichiro Ikeda, general manager of Kyocera’s solar energy marketing division.
“Besides higher efficiency, photovoltaic panels floating on the water could produce shades and reduce water evaporation and restrain algae growth, which is good for reservoirs,” he added.
The Japanese government has been vigorously promoting development of renewable power generation such as solar power since the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear disaster caused a power shortage around the country. Enditem
umping off the tram or bus to roam city streets, drink in the architecture, or just arrive at work in an urban area would be so much better if air quality were fresh and fine. Melbourne, Australia, considers this very thing and intends to leave behind those suffocating, smelly fossil fuels… at least, to a degree. With a blueprint for an entirely solar-powered tram network in Melbourne (which would be the world’s largest), the capital city of Victoria could soon become a world leader while seeking pure air.
Australians in Melbourne have been negotiating with the various state (Victorian) government bodies for the past four years. They project how much better the tram would be as a viable alternative transportation mode if the tram’s energy source were solar, resulting in zero emissions. A solar tram or bus will keep the urban air cleaner, quieter, and more breathable through cutting atmospheric and noise pollution in large cities.
The Age Victoria explains that the Australian Solar Group (ASG) is the company supporting this proposal. ASG is intent on establishing this project, and its progress appears one step closer towards gaining approval from the Victorian Government. The Age Victoriacomments that Melbourne’s plans to power its entire tram network by solar waits on the state government, which needs to give this ambitious renewable energy proposal the green light.
Expecting to see rooftop panels on the top of trams? You won’t. In fact, two new solar farms will generate the power if the project proponents do what they intend to do (build near Swan Hill and Mildura). The two solar farms would generate about 80 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, about the same amount used by Melbourne’s tram network.
Yes. This. It is an important undertaking to phase out conventional fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. Melbourne claims to have the world’s largest tram network — averaging over 3.5 million trips per week across a 250-kilometre double-track network. Solarizing that would be a wonderful step forward.
Stoking the renewable push, The Age Victorian reports this proposal would neither increase fares for commuters nor cause rises in electricity bills for PTV. Additionally, such a project will create many jobs in the green technology industry. Avoiding 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year (reported by The Age Victoria), the transition to solar sets a standard for other cities to meet.
“This project is virtually ready to go. We can’t see any barriers that would stop it from here,” Dave Holland, a founder of Australian Solar, said.
“Australia Solar had tried to get almost all elements of the tram project ready to go before it sought final financial backing,” he noted.
Projects like this go for the real thing. Why hesitate with a pilot project? CleanTechnica discusses this some recent electric transit news. “[Amsterdam’s] transport alderman Abdeluheb Choho in an interview with the Volkskrant suggests the same, ‘This project means we are saying goodbye to symbolic behavior and pilot projects. We have decided to just do it, not to experiment with five buses.’ “
Melbourne’s intended solar standard for mass transit comes amidst Amsterdam’s target of electrifying all diesel-powered buses by 2025 as well as projections for the arrival of Elon Musk’s conceived intercity Hyperloop project (but note that he’s not putting this one into practice).
Wyoming has made it illegal to collect evidence of water pollution and other violations of environmental laws. The ban is designed to protect the state's cattle farmers, who often let herds graze on public lands and defecate near rivers and streams, polluting them with E. coli bacteria. State Sen. Larry Hicks said the ban would prevent environmentalists from interfering with important "economic activity."
Intel is turning the roof of its Santa Clara headquarters into a mini-wind farm with what it says is one of the largest micro-turbine arrays in the country.
The V-shaped formation of 58 wind-powered turbines, being installed this week, is expected to generate about 65 kilowatt-hours of power that will be used to provide electricity to the conference center in the rambling Robert Noyce Building on Mission Boulevard.The chipmaker called the micro-turbines a "proof of concept" project."We are trying to understand how this type of technology integrates into Intel and where are the best locations for it around the world," said Marty Sedler, director of Intel's global utilities and infrastructure.
"We'll share the data and share the information so other people can apply it to their own businesses and homes," he said.The micro-turbines are 6 to 7 feet tall, weigh about 30 pounds each and are positioned at the roof's edge where they can gather the most wind, which averages about 8 to 9 miles per hour in the area. They share the roof with an array of solar panels."This is just another prong adding to our sustainability program," Sedler saidIntel's new wind turbines arrive at a time when major tech companies are turning to green power. Apple and Google announced green projects in February. Apple is building a solar farm in Monterey County and Google is developing a forest of wind turbines on Altamont Pass near Livermore.
Intel says it has been green for years, and was recently recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for the seventh year in a row, as the largest voluntary purchaser of green power in the country. It has solar installations on 12 Intel campuses in the U.S., Israel and Vietnam that generate more than 12 million kilowatt-hours of power per year of clean energy, as well as a solar hot water system that supplies nearly all the needs of Intel's two campuses in India.
The new array "is one of the largest we've identified anywhere," Sedler said. "One of the things Intel does that's a little different from other companies is that all the projects we have done to date have been on our campuses. It's not the answer, it's one of the answers. The key is to get off the grid."
a new study, a team of scientists says there's a definite link between the massive BP oil spill in 2010 and a record number of dolphin deaths along the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The scientists on Wednesday said large numbers of dead bottlenose dolphins found along shores since the spill suffered from lung and adrenal lesions caused by swimming in oil-contaminated seas.
The research paper backs up previous findings linking dolphin deaths to the oil spill. The study involved federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
BP has rejected the contention linking the deaths to the oil spill. Instead, it said, the dolphins were likely suffering from common respiratory illnesses.
The new study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE.
With the release of the study, researchers and the federal government made the most direct link yet between the spill and the dolphin deaths.
"No feasible alternative causes remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of these distinct lesions and increase in deaths," said Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study's lead researcher with National Marine Mammal Foundation.
From 2002 to 2009, the Gulf averaged 63 dolphin deaths a year. That rose to 125 in the seven months after the spill in 2010 and 335 in all of 2011, averaging more than 200 a year since April 2010.
That's the longest and largest dolphin die-off recorded in the Gulf. The number of deaths has started to decline, according to federal scientists.
Researchers said oil contamination caused chronic adrenal problems for dolphins, and this in turn hurt their chances of surviving low temperatures, infections and bacterial pneumonia. Also, the dolphins suffering from oil contamination had problems with pregnancy.
Venn-Watson said dolphins were vulnerable to oil contamination because they take deep breaths at the sea's surface — the same place where oil sheens covered the Gulf following the spill.
"Dolphins were swimming into the oil," she said. "Their lungs are large, they take big deep breaths at the water's surface and hold it for extended periods of time."
The study looked at 46 dead dolphins found in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama from June 2010 to December 2012. Researchers tested lung and adrenal gland tissues.
The study looked at 22 dead dolphins found in Barataria Bay, a heavily oiled water body south of New Orleans where researchers first began noticing and tracking dolphin deaths after the spill.
Venn-Watson said further studies would be needed to track and monitor the long-term effects of the contamination on the dolphin populations.
BP questioned the validity of the study because it was based on what it termed "just a small sample set" of dolphins. The company accused the federal government of not releasing in a timely manner hundreds of necropsies.
"This new paper fails to show that the illnesses observed in some dolphins were caused by exposure to Macondo oil," said Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman.
Morrell said BP was "unaware of any toxicological studies linking lung disease in bottlenose dolphins to exposure to oil or other environmental contaminants."
BP's Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, leading to deadly explosions aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the nation's largest offshore oil spill.
The federal government used a team of scientists to calculate that about 172 million gallons spilled into the Gulf. BP put the number much lower, closer to 100 million gallons.
One man's trash is another man's treasure for one Luling man, who is re-purposing plastic bags in an effort to change the world.
Wayne Abadie has a thing for plastic bags.
Save the Arctic Refuge / ANWR
as recorded by Anna Stange and Acie Cargill
Save this hallowed land
It was made by God’s hand
Preserve it as it is
Do not tamper, not a bit
Even if there is emergency
Or extreme urgency
We can slow down consumption
If we have the gumption
Save this hallowed land
It was made by God’s hand
Preserve it as it is
Do not tamper, not a bit
President Obama's Campaign Promises
Increase the taxes for those making more than 200,000 year
Eliminate tax breaks for oil companies
Forbid companies in bankruptcy to give executive bonuses
Expand Pell grants for low-income students
End income tax for seniors making less than 50,000 year
2 million new jobs working on our transportation infrastructure
All children will have health care coverage
Allow Americans to buy their medicines from other countries
Provide 50 billion dollars for global fight against AIDS
Double federal funding for cancer research
Hire an additional 100,000 federal employees with disabilities
Expand veteran’s centers in rural areas
100 percent debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries
Direct military leaders to end the war in Iraq
The U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq
Provide $30 billion over 10 years to Israel
Send two additional brigades to Afghanistan
Increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops.
Bring military pay more in line with the private sector
Make greater investment in advanced military air technology
Modernize ships and invest more in small vessels
Increase military and non-military aid to Afghanistan
Make U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional on anti-terror efforts
Double U.S. spending on foreign aid
Establish alternatives to Islamic extremist schools
Personally lead diplomatic efforts with Islamic countries
End the use of torture
Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center
Restore habeus corpus rights for "enemy combatants"
Improve port security through better radiation detection
Prioritize security in refineries, pipelines and power grids
Increase funding for national parks and forests
Protect forest service lands from more roads
Support wetlands protection
Preservation of the Everglades
Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
Eliminate disparity in sentencing for crack and cocaine
Push for a college football playoff system
Increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour
Champion the importance of arts education
Speed up development of the next-generation space vehicle
Support human mission to moon by 2020
Accelerate the development of new medicines
Reduce dependence on foreign oil
Create 5 million "green" jobs
Build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska
Reduce energy consumption in federal buildings
Require half of federal vehicles to be hybrids
Modernize air traffic systems
Support airline service in small towns
Support funding and reform for Amtrak
Phase out incandescent light bulbs
Share environmental technology with other countries
Support abortion rights
Fight Age amd sexual orientation discrimination
Toughen Hate Crime Laws
Marathon Petroleum refinery in Canton, Ohio, got a job subsidy scheme worth $78m when it started in 2011. Photograph: PR
The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change.
A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidises were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.
The Guardian has found that:
- A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6bn (£1bn) in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8bn.
- ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana are benefitting from $119m of state subsidy, with the support starting in 2011, when the company made a $41bn profit.
- A jobs subsidy scheme worth $78m to Marathon Petroleum in Ohio began in 2011, when the company made $2.4bn in profit.
“At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said senator Bernie Sanders, who announced on 30 April he is running for president.
Sanders, with representative Keith Ellison, recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135bn of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8bn on lobbying, much of it in defence of these giveaways,” according to Sanders and Ellison.
In April, the president of the World Bank called for the subsidies to be scrapped immediately as poorer nations were feeling “the boot of climate change on their neck”. Globally in 2013, the most recent figures available,the coal, oil and gas industries benefited from subsidies of $550bn, four times those given to renewable energy.
“Subsidies to fossil fuel companies are completely inappropriate in this day and age,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an NGO that analyses the costs of fossil fuels. OCI found in 2014 that US taxpayers were subsidising fossil fuel exploration and production alone by $21bn a year. In 2009, President Barack Obama called on the G20 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies but since then US federal subsidies have risen by 45%.
“Climate science is clear that the vast majority of existing reserves will have to stay in the ground,” Kretzmann said. “Yet our government spends many tens of billions of our tax dollars – every year – making it more profitable for the fossil fuel industry to produce more.”
Tax credits, defined as a subsidy by the World Trade Organisation, are a key route of support for the fossil fuel industry. Using the subsidy tracker tool created by the Good Jobs First group, the Guardian examined some of the biggest subsidies for specific projects.
Shell’s proposed $4bn plant in Pennsylvania is set to benefit from tax credits of $66m a year for 25 years. Shell has bought the site and has 10 supply contracts in place lasting up to 20 years, including from fracking companies extracting shale gas in the Marcellus shale field. The deal was struck by the then Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who received over $1m in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. According to Guardian analysis of data compiled by Common Cause Pennsylvania, Shell have spent $1.2m on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2011.
A Shell spokesman said: “Shell supports and endorses incentive programmes provided by state and local authorities that improve the business climate for capital investment, economic expansion and job growth. Shell would not have access to these incentive programmes without the support and approval from the representative state and local jurisdictions.”
ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery is the second-largest in the US. Since 2011, it has been benefitting from exemptions from industrial taxes, worth $118.9m over 10 years, according to the Good Jobs First database. The Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal has expressed his pride in attracting investment from ExxonMobil. In state election campaigns between 2003 and 2013, he received 231 contributions from oil and gas companies and executives totalling $1,019,777, according to a list compiled by environmental groups.
A spokesman for ExxonMobil said: “ExxonMobil will not respond to Guardian inquiries because of its lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”
The Guardian is running a campaign asking the world’s biggest health charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to sell their fossil fuel investments on the basis that it is misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding more oil, gas and coal when current reserves are already several times greaterthan can be safely burned. Many philanthropic organisations have already divested from fossil fuels, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund whose wealth derives from Standard Oil, which went on to become ExxonMobil.
In Ohio, Marathon Petroleum is benefitting from a 15-year tax credit for retaining 1,650 jobs and a 10-year tax credit for creating 100 new jobs. The subsidy is worth $78.5m, according to the Good Jobs First database. “I think Marathon always wanted to be here,” Republican governor John Kasich said in 2011. “All we’re doing is helping them.” In 2011, Kasich was named as the top recipient of oil and gas donations in Ohio, having received $213, 519. The same year Kasich appointed Marathon Petroleum’s CEO to the board of Jobs Ohio, a semi-private group “in charge of the economic growth in the state of Ohio”.
A spokesman for Marathon Petroleum said: “The tax credit recognises the enormous contribution we make to the Ohio economy through the taxes we pay and the well-paying jobs we maintain. We have more than doubled the 100 new jobs we committed to create.” The spokesman said the company paid billions of dollars in income and other taxes every year across the US.
“Big oil, gas, and coal have huge influence on politicians and governments and they get that influence the old fashioned way – they buy it,” said Kretzmann. “Through campaign finance, lobbying, advertising and superpac spending, the industry has many ways to influence candidates and government officials seeking re-election.”
He said fossil fuel subsidies were endemic in the US: “Every single well, pipeline, refinery, coal and gas plant in the country is heavily subsidised. Big Fossil’s lobbyists have done their jobs well for the last century.”
Ben Schreiber, at Friends of the Earth US, said. “There is a vibrant discussion about the best way to keep fossil fuels in the ground – from carbon taxation to divestment – but ending state and federal corporate welfare for polluters is one of the easiest places to start.”
Schreiber also defended subsidies for renewable energy: “Fossil fuels are a mature technology while renewable energy is nascent and still developing. It makes sense to subsidise technologies that are going to help solve climate change, but not to do the same for those that are causing the problem.”
It's not easy to fight for your cause with pepper spray in your mouth and eyes, but Gabriel Paun tried it anyway in front of the gate of a huge sawmill in the Romanian town of Sebes. On that day last winter, Paun had followed a truck loaded with lumber after the vehicle left the Retezat National Park, located in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains -- one of Europe's most beautiful forested regions -- and in the heart of a threatened world.
Paun was wearing a brown vest over a camouflage hoodie. He had a buzzed, military style haircut. Paun, an activist with the Romanian organization Agent Green, followed the truck to the sawmill. He had a suspicion and all he had to do was make one phone call to confirm it.
In Romania there is a hotline to check the origins of lumber transports. The system can use the license plate number to track each truckload of wood. Paun dialed the number and an employee at the Environment Ministry's wood tracking section picked up the phone. Her answer left no doubt: She said the lumber was "illegal." Paun followed the truck to the entrance of the sawmill, which belongs to Austria's Schweighofer Group, and informed security guards working for the company. But instead of taking the wood out of circulation, they put Paun out of commission: first with blows, then with pepper spray, causing Paun to fall to the ground. Everything was captured on shaky video images and uploaded to YouTube.
The film snippet is a hit in Romania, where it has become a symbol for the Romanians' concern for their forests -- and for their powerlessness to stop it from disappearing. At stake here is one of the last virgin forests in Europe. These are regions roamed by brown bears, wolves and lynxes, and many of these areas have remained untouched for centuries.
The Carpathian Arc contains the largest contiguous forested region in Central Europe. Roughly one-third of the area of Romania -- 6.6 million hectares (16.3 million acres) is forest, but Romanians are seeing it hemorrhage on a daily basis. A 2012 study by Greenpeace revealed that the equivalent of three football fields filled with trees is disappearing every hour. The Romanian government estimates that roughly 4 million cubic meters (141 million cubic feet) of lumber is illegally removed by forest workers every year -- enough to fill one and a half Cheops pyramids.
A Dramatic Increase in Deforestation
According to the Greenpeace study, the deforestation dramatically increased between 2000 and 2011. It was the period when Austrian wood processing companies like Egger, Kronospan and Schweighofer moved into Romania and quickly dominated the market. But nobody grew as large as Schweighofer. The company reported sales of €465 million ($519 million) in 2013, generating impressive profits of €96.5 million.
The four sawmills operated by Schweighofer are the gates to the clear-cutting. This is the end of the road for most of the lumber trucks from the Carpathians. Here the logs are peeled, milled and shredded. Much of this lumber ends up as wood pellets, parquet and laminate flooring in German and Austrian DIY stores.
Group CEO Gerald Schweighofer had just sold his family's company to a Finnish corporation when he arrived in Bucharest in 2002 to relaunch the business. He couldn't have picked a better time. One year later, the government under Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase auctioned off a large proportion of the lumber in national forests on the basis of 10-year contracts -- but it was primarily large companies like Schweighofer that succeeded in making purchases. During the auctions in Romania, Schweighofer was always "served first," says Vasile Coman, who heads a medium-sized lumber company in the north of the country. "They always had priority because of their contract and selected the best wood at the lowest price." Then the general auction would begin and Schweighofer would "hit again".
Driving Out the Competition
Coman says the Austrians dominated the industry and the prices. He contends that many local companies could no longer compete. Thousands of Romanian custom furniture makers -- once one of the country's main industries -- have gone bankrupt in recent years. The Schweighofer company speaks of "transparent" processes and prices that are adapted to the market price based on "indexation formulas."
Indexation formulas? Coman had always wondered why the price of wood in Romania consistently rose while it was declining worldwide. A few weeks ago, he had to lay off 160 workers.
Alexander von Bismarck has also had his fair share of experiences with Schweighofer. Bismarck heads the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in Washington, DC, which has specialized in undercover environmental investigations. In 2014, Bismarck contacted Schweighofer under an assumed name. He claimed to be a lumber supplier and filmed the exchange with a hidden camera. This video material has been made available to SPIEGEL, and the Romanian network Antenna 3 broadcast a number of scenes from the film last week.
The video shows Karl Schmid, Schweighofer's manager in Romania. He casually boasts in the film about his company's dominance of the sector. Roughly 7 million cubic meters of coniferous wood is cut every year, he says, adding that, "If we run in full, we need 4.5 million for ourselves." Schmid gently toys with a plastic bottle in his hands and says: "There's no place for others."
Many Romanians feel as though they were being crushed, including residents of the town of Sebes, which is home to the sawmill where activist Gabriel Paun was pepper-sprayed at the gate. Now protests are staged there against Schweighofer and there is talk of illegal logging. According to the Romanian Court of Auditors, some 400,000 hectares, or roughly 6 percent of the entire forested area in the country, has been illegally logged since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The agency estimates the resulting damages at over €5 billion. The question is how much of this illegal lumber has been purchased by Schweighofer.
So far, nothing has been proved. The wood tracker hotline number, which was introduced by Social Democrat Doina Pana -- who served as minister for water, forests and fisheries until March this year -- has remained a toothless instrument: It frightens no one because no one conducts investigations. Out of 7,000 calls made during the first six months, roughly 2,000 turned out to be illegal transports. Nevertheless, the authorities only took action in one case.
'Audacious Consumer Deception'
Even the wood from the national park that activist Paun reported turned out later to be officially legal, although the truck trailer was not registered in the system. Paun remains unconvinced. "The papers were not in order here and dubious companies clear-cut trees in the national park, although Schweighofer claims on his website that he accepts no wood from such sources," he says. "This audacious consumer deception has so far been ignored."
Schweighofer is surrounded by an "illegal swamp-culture that apparently only Schweighofer doesn't notice," says Bogdan Tudor, a lawyer who is president of the Nostra Silva ("our forest") environmental organization and has exposed a number of cases of fraud in the lumber industry. In one case, the Rumanian anti-corruption agency DNA is also investigating. In this instance, the authorities are looking into forged documents connected with a community forest in the Carpathian region of Valcea that was nationalized under the communists and transferred back to the original owners after the old regime crumbled -- "a typical example of how people get into this business," says Tudor. It is just one of hundreds of such examples in Romania.
Detectives investigating some of these ownership tricks have even commissioned forensic reports, which indicate that a group of amateur counterfeiters has been at work here. Maps have been brazenly manipulated and, in some cases, pens were used that didn't even exist at the time when the originals were made.
In Valcea it had to do with the planned purchase of the forests on three mountains by the Schweighofer subsidiary Cascade Empire. Schweighofer claims that he has no information on forged documents or forensic reports. Still, the company has no explanation for why one of the Cascade managers spoke with the alleged counterfeiters about the sites and delivery conditions months before the dubious transfer of ownership.
The 'Driving Force' Behind Clear-Cutting?
This particular case involved the then-head of the local office of Romsilva, the country's government forestry agency. This same official later went on to manage a Natura 2000 area, which is part of a network of nature conservation areas in the European Union. Last week, he was arrested on suspicion of bribery. He also served Schweighofer in another case, which reveals just how much pressure the Austrians exerted. The investigation by the public prosecutor's office showed that 22,000 cubic meters of wood were to be delivered to Schweighofer within just six months. It turned out that some of the wood that went to the Austrians was illegal. Schweighofer declines to directly comment on this, but the company insists that it adheres to all existing legislation. What's more, the company says that it has filed charges against the man for "failure to make deliveries."
Tudor, the lawyer, points out that it always takes two to commit corruption. "The Schweighofer lumber slaughters were the catalyst for the illegal deforestation of the past 12 years," he says. Despite diverse investigations into the Austrian's business dealings, the lawyer states, it has still never been proven that Schweighofer broke the law.
But that could soon change. In his film, Bismarck can be seen meeting with managers of the company who repeatedly assured him that it would be "no problem" if he supplied more lumber than his permits allowed. "It quickly became clear that they had no problems with illegal lumber," says Bismarck, who adds that "they even offered bonuses." According to Bismarck, Schweighofer manager Karl Schmid explained the secret of their success as follows: "Don't ask how I managed to do it, but I managed to do it." Bismarck says that Schweighofer is "the driving force behind the clear-cutting."
In response to this allegation, Schweighofer says the prices "are staggered according to quantity," but that this has nothing to do with buying more than what is legally allowed. Furthermore, the company says that the filmed excerpt of the conversation is "taken completely out of context." But given that the context was always clear, this seems like nothing more than a standard line of defense.
As proof of its integrity, the company has forwarded an email from late April. It was written to a certain Ron Wilson, which was Bismarck's cover name, and explains that the "legality" of the wood had to be documented. What Schweighofer doesn't say is that at the time a reporter from Antenna 3 had already confronted the company with the explosive revelations in the film. Schweighofer apparently realized what was in store for the company. "In previous e-mails, in which 'Ron Wilson' repeatedly talked about illegal deliveries, legality wasn't an issue," says Bismarck.
Romanian Politicians Respond
Now, the Austrians' monopolizing power has started to unnerve Romanian politicians. Last year, former minister Doina Pana introduced a lumbering bill that is currently the subject of heated debate. Schweighofer is particularly unhappy with a clause that stipulates that a group of companies is not allowed to process more than 30 percent of the volume from a single species of tree.
The Austrians have used all their lobbying muscle to fight the proposed legislation. In a letter to Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Gerald Schweighofer even threatened with lawsuits and mass layoffs. The company CEO maintains that the legislation would violate EU laws and the free trade of goods. While Ponta's Social Democrats have remained relatively unimpressed, the new Romanian conservative president, Klaus Johannis, is alarmed and has written on his Facebook page that, in his opinion, the planned regulations violate the principles of the country's own constitution.
Former minister Pana finds such notions laughable. She always carries the text of the Romanian Constitution in her handbag and pulls out the dog-eared page with Article 135, which she has evidently looked up many times before. The text says that the state is obliged to protect national resources. It may be that Schweighofer has created 3,150 jobs in Romania, as he claims in the letter to Ponta, "but we have lost 50,000 jobs in small and medium-sized companies in the lumber industry," she says.
'Investor of the Year'
None of this appears to have damaged Schweighofer's reputation -- at least not for the time being. Only a few months ago, the company was honored as "investor of the year" in Romania. The lumber from forests harvested by the dubious subsidiary Cascade even bears the coveted Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of sustainability, although an FSC spokesman says that the organization intends to review this status.
Delivery lists that SPIEGEL has obtained reveal the full extent of the market that is supplied with Schweighofer products. The German company Classen, one of the world's largest manufacturers of laminate flooring and a supplier of DIY stores, features on the list along with Denk GmbH, which provides furnishings for executive offices and company headquarters. Classen denies purchasing wood from Romania and Denk has made no comment.
The supermarket chain Spar Österreich -- which recently received a helping hand from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in presenting itself as an environmentally conscious company, even though it sells wood briquettes from Romania -- praised Schweighofer's strict "tracking rules." A spokeswoman for the supermarket said last Tuesday that there was "no substance" to the allegations concerning Romania. One day later, she retracted the statement. "Of course," she said, her company would "immediately look into the matter again."
Schweighofer's largest customers include Austrian manufacturers of wood pellets, who also supply Germany. Their monthly purchases from Schweighofer amount to over €1 million.
Meanwhile, activist Alexander von Bismarck says he simply cannot get it into his head that one of the last European virgin forests is being illegally cut down so it can be sold to heat homes in Austria.
The Obama administration on Monday gave conditional approval to allow Shell to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast this summer, a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists.
The decision adds a complex new chapter to the legacy of President Obama, who has pursued the most ambitious environmental agenda of any president but has sought to balance those moves by opening up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling.
Shell has sought for years to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea. Federal scientists believe the region could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil.
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The Interior Department decision angered environmentalists who for years have demanded that the administration reject offshore Arctic drilling proposals. They fear that a drilling accident in the treacherous Arctic Ocean waters could have far more devastating consequences than the deadly Gulf of Mexico spill of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the water.
Both industry and environmental groups say that the Chukchi Sea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill. The area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deepwater ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach in case of an accident.
The closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is over 1,000 miles away. The weather is extreme, with major storms, icy waters and waves up to 50 feet high. The sea is also a major migration route and feeding area for marine mammals, including bowhead whales and walruses.
The move came just four months after the Obama administration opened up a portion of the Atlantic Coast to new offshore drilling.
Administration officials said they had taken measures to ensure that the new drilling in the Arctic would be carefully regulated.
“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea,” Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement. She said that the administration recognized the need to establish high standards for the protection of the Arctic ecosystem as well as the cultural traditions of Alaska Natives and that the offshore exploration “will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”
The Interior Department’s approval of the drilling was conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of remaining state and federal drilling permits for the project, including permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, called the approval “an important milestone” for Shell and said it showed the administration’s confidence in Shell’s commitment to safety.
But environmental groups denounced the move and said Shell had not demonstrated that it could drill safely in the Arctic Ocean.
“Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” said Susan Murray, a vice president of Oceana, an environmental group. “Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.”
The Obama administration had initially granted Shell a permit to begin offshore Arctic drilling in the summer of 2012. However, the company’s first forays into exploring the new waters were plagued with numerous safety and operational problems. One of its oil rigs, the Kulluk, ran aground and had to be towed to safety. In 2013, the Interior Department said the company could not resume drilling until all safety issues were addressed.
In a review of the company’s performance in the Arctic, the department concluded that Shell had failed in a wide range of basic operational tasks, like supervision of contractors that performed critical work.
The report was harshly critical of Shell management, which acknowledged that it was unprepared for the problems it encountered operating in the unforgiving Arctic environment.
But the administration said that since then, the Interior Department has significantly strengthened and updated drilling regulations. And outside experts said that while the challenges of Arctic drilling were steep, the new plan surmounted them to some extent by allowing drilling only in the summer months and in shallow waters.
“It recognizes both the economic and energy potential of the Arctic seas, but also the environmental sensitivity of the area and the challenges of responding to spills and other incidents in such a harsh climate,” said Thomas Lorenzen, who recently left the Justice Department after more than a decade as assistant chief in the environment and natural resources division, and is now a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney.
“Notably, the proposed exploration is in very shallow waters — only 140 feet deep — and thus it will not present the kinds of challenges that the Deepwater Horizon spill posed,” Mr. Lorenzen said. “That well was in water about 5,000 feet deep.”
The Obama administration has also issued new drilling safety regulations intended to prevent future accidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Last month, the Interior Department proposed new rules to tighten safety requirements on blowout preventers, the industry-standard devices that are the last line of protection against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.
The 2010 explosion was caused in part when a section of drill pipe buckled, which led to the malfunction of a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer on a BP well.
An earlier version of this article misstated the waters in which Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. is conditionally approved to start drilling. It is only in the Chukchi Sea, not also in the Beaufort Sea.
BPA, otherwise known as Bisphenol A and is found in a variety of plastics and canned foods, is now under deeper scrutiny after a study showed a potentially harmful link that could carry all the way down to a person’s grandchildren.
Scientists, using mice, exposed them to acceptable levels of BPA. The mice were pregnant. What happened next is the main issue: 3 generations of mice carried reduced fertility issues. The powerful link is groundbreaking and deeply unsettling in terms of what it could mean for people.
“Our study followed up on a previous study of ours that found that BPA can affect the development of the ovary and reduce fertility in the pups of pregnant mice exposed to the chemical,” University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Jodi Flaws, who led the new analysis said to Medical XPress. “We found that exposing them to levels of BPA which are below what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says is a safe dose causes reproductive problems in these mice.”
This of course isn’t the first time we’ve heard how potentially bad BPA can be, in fact various FDA laws have been spawned preventing babies and toddlers from exposure. But such an indirect exposure and correlation is scary in the sense that it would be difficult to stop the effects from infecting a greater portion of society without completely getting rid of the chemical.
“Normally, the painted turtle’s sex is determined by the temperature of the environment during their development in the egg—cooler temperatures yield more male turtles, while warmer temperatures mean females are more likely to develop,” said Dawn Holliday, adjunct assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the MU School of Medicine and assistant professor of biology at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. “However, when turtle eggs are exposed to environmental estrogens, their sex is no longer determined by the temperature, but rather by the chemical to which they’re exposed.” - See more at: http://www.naturalblaze.com/2015/05/bpa-exposure-can-harm-your-grandkids.html#sthash.bMu7D7d7.dpuf