The Russians Are Coming! Your Weekly Environmental News Roundup For Texas and Beyond

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Settlements and handcuffs are passed out in the wake of the BP Spill.  Crazy SoCal water dispute has two sides and more than one story.  FOX News wants to invade Russia.  My tree is smarter than your honors student, or so it seems.  All that, plus zombie Keystone XL Pipeline, and more in this week’s Environmental Roundup for Texas and beyond!

Texas

The Deepwater Horizon Disaster (Getty Images)
The Deepwater Horizon Disaster (Getty Images)

  • The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was in the news twice this week.  First, BP announced it has reached a settlement with thousands of individuals and businesses affected by the disaster.  The company will pay about $7.8 billion in damages, including $2.3 billion to Gulf Coast fisherman whose livelihood remains at risk due to the massive plume of hydrocarbons released during the spill.  

  • Also, Federal prosecutors charged former BP engineer, Kurt Mix, with destroying evidence (consisting of more than 300 text messages) relating to the Deepwater Horizon spill.  David Uhlmann, of the University of Michigan Law School, believes this is “just the first of what will be multiple criminal charges” handed out to BP employees who might have been covering up the size and complexity of the spill.

  • The Keystone pipeline we never wanted just won’t leave us alone, as Transcanda submitted a new route to regulators for the 1,700 mile long pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas.  The updated path for the controversial pipeline would avoid Nebraska’s Sand Hills region, which was the focus of much of the earlier opposition to the project within Nebraska.  The Oklahoma to Texas portion of the project (which will cross several environmentally sensitive regions including the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer recharge zone) has been fast-tracked by the Obama administration.

  • The great drought of 2011 has officially ended in Bastrop County.  Bastrop, of course, experienced the worst fire in Texas history this past summer as flames fed by a fierce north wind and bone dry conditions destroyed almost 1,700 homes and 35,000 acres of forest.  A hydrologist, Barney Austin, warns Texas that it must plan for future water crises like last summer’s drought, because they may become more common.

  • Researchers at Texas State University in San Marcos won a EPA P3 Sustainability Award for a neat process that converts rice husks (a generally useless agricultural waste product) into lignocellulose, a material which can be used for producing fabrics and biofuels.

The Nation

  • San Diego accused the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (a consortium of municipalities that provides water to 19 million Californians) of “conspiracies, illegal secret meetings and double-dealing.”  The accusations stem from two 5% annual water rate increases that San Diego is challenging in court.  A PR campaign accompanying the lawsuit includes an inflammatory website which implies the MWD is increasing rates to make up lost revenue due to San Diego’s increased water efficiency.  San Diego is at the end of a very long system of pipelines, and may be suffering from “end-of-pipeline paranoia,” according to Lester Snow of the California Water Foundation.

  • If you weren’t already aware, the Obama administration enacted very real and beneficial environmental policies during the last three years.  Along with funding for green technology and efficiency, Obama instituted landmark emissions standards which limit greenhouse gasses, mercury and other forms of toxic air pollution.  These standards will protect countless children from chronic asthma and other respiratory diseases.  His challenger, Mittens Romney, has pledged to “aggressively” roll back these critical protections, he would cut funding to new technologies which currently support 37,000 jobs, and believes in increasing subsidies to oil companies including ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world.  Think Progress has a handy guide to the two candidates’ positions on environmental issues.  Of course, Romney will likely change his position on each of these issues in the coming weeks.

  • Everyone’s favorite “news” outlet, FOX, ran a bizarre story which seems to imply that Obama’s hatred of drilling in Alaska (for what its worth, drilling has increased substantially there during his term in office) is forcing ExxonMobil to enter into a secret pact with Russia (the vast majority of Exxon’s business is overseas) to explore for oil in the arctic (its in their arctic, not ours) which will somehow raise the price of oil in the US (it won’t), and is cause for alarm (it isn’t).  They “report,” you decide.

Beyond

  • The Royal Society, a British think tank, released a profoundly depressing report on the future of the planet titled People and the planet.  It predicts that if humanity remains on the current course, “a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills” will follow.  Its recommendations for dealing with these problems, however, are quite reasonable:


     

    1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty.
    2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilize and then reduce material consumption levels.
    3. Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programs urgently require political leadership and financial commitment.
    4. Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues.

  • Here is a really cool reusable water bottle that actually keeps track of how many plastic water bottles you have saved by using it.  51 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the US last year, and only 25% of them were recycled.

  • Plants are much “smarter” than we usually give them credit for, according to this piece from io9.  They can hear, create communication networks, have memories, and can recognize their relatives among other nifty tricks.

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