Blue Marble - April 2010

Most Pesticide Laden Produce of 2010

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 10:56 AM PDT

A few months back, we reported on the 12 most pesticide-laden fruits and veggies. Today, Mother Nature Network reports that the Environmental Working Group is about to publish the 2010 version of the list. This year, celery beats out peaches for the number one spot in the "dirty dozen" list. New additions are spinach, potatoes, and blueberries, replacing last year's lettuce, pears, and carrots. In the "Clean 15" list, grapefruit and honeydew melon replace tomato and papaya.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chevron Goes Drilling for Footage

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 10:18 AM PDT

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Chevron wants to rummage through filmmaker Joe Berlinger's cutting room floor. The company has been embroiled in a massive lawsuit in Ecuador, where it's being sued for $27 billion to clean up a swath of rainforest that's been polluted by decades of oil drilling. Last year, Berlinger released Crude, an excellent documentary about this lengthy, complex legal battle. Though the film was sympathetic to the indigenous Ecuadorians who are the plaintiffs, it also gave Chevron plenty of screen time to explain why it believes it's not responsible for pollution that caused by the wells' previous owner, Texaco. When I interviewed Berlinger last year, he explained why he took this approach:

My attitude is, I am not a lawyer; I am not a doctor; I am not a scientist. I am a filmmaker and I want to present what each side is saying and let the viewer come to their own conclusion. Chevron has wrapped itself in some pretty good arguments that make you scratch your head. The moral responsibility is certainly at its door. I leave it to other people to figure out whether there's legal responsibility.

Now Chevron is saying that outtakes from Crude could help its case. It does not seem to be implying that Berlinger hid anything, but rather that his unedited footage could reveal misconduct by the plaintiffs' attorneys. Berlinger tells the Chron that he'll resist Chevron's move, saying that turning over his footage would create a chilling effect for other documentarians: "I would be equally resistant if the plaintiffs had been subpoenaing me. There's an important First Amendment principle to defend." Berlinger is expected to make his case against Chevron's director's cut in federal court in Manhattan later this week.

 

Cape Wind Finally Gets Green Light

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 9:54 AM PDT

In what environmental activists are calling a "huge victory for clean energy," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Wednesday the approval of the Cape Wind project. The announcement ends nearly a decade of debate over whether to build the 24-square-mile project in the Nantucket Sound, and launches the nation's first offshore wind farm.

"This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast," said Salazar, adding that it will help the country "build a new energy future."

He acknowledged that the decision "has not been a easy one," citing the concerns of local Native American tribes that the proposed wind farm would disrupt their ritual of greeting the sunrise and impose on ancestral burial grounds. In order to address some of those concerns, the number of turbines planned for the sound will be reduced from the original proposal of 170 to 130, and more archaeological surveys of the area will be done to "minimize impacts," Salazar said.

"There is no question that the review of the project in my mind has been thorough," he said, noting that the project has been under review for nine years. "There is no reason a offshore wind project should take a decade to be approved," he added.

The project's approval was especially salient in light of the current drilling catastrophe off the coast of Louisiana, where the Coast Guard today announced that it is planning to light the oil spill on fire in order to protect the sensitive coastline. The spill has sparked concerns over the administration's plans to expand offshore drilling, which Salazar and President Barack Obama announced last month.

The juxtaposition didn't seem lost on Salazar. "Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter," he said.

UPDATE: Cape Wind president Jim Gordan issued a statement that he hopes "to begin construction of Cape Wind before the end of the year." "Going first is never easy and Cape Wind is proud of the role we played in raising awareness for what will become a major component of our energy future and in helping the United States develop a regulatory framework for this new exciting industry," Gordan said.

Cape Wind Decision Coming Today

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 8:08 AM PDT

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is in Boston today, where at noon he is expected to announce the fate of the Cape Wind project. The announcement will bring an end to nearly a decade of debate over whether to build the 24-square-mile, 130-turbine wind farm in the Nantucket Sound.

The final decision comes after local Native American tribes requested that the entire sound be designated for protection as part of the National Register of Historic Places. The proposed wind farm would disrupt their ritual of greeting the sun rise and impose on ancestral burial grounds, the tribes have argued. But the latest spat comes after years of wrangling over the project, with dirty energy interests and wealthy local land owners (like the Kennedy family) working to kill the project. If approved, it will be the country's first offshore wind farm.

Salazar has been trying to mediate the situation, but pledged to make the final call this month if an agreement couldn't be reached. Advocates of the project are taking it as a positive sign that he's making today's announcement in Massachusetts. Will he weigh in favor of the farm? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Boston Globe reports that Cape Wind has been approved. More to come following official announcement.

Clean Tech Guru Fights California GHG Law

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 6:15 AM PDT

California has more than geeks and greenies to thank for its transformation into a clean tech Mecca; it's also gotten a boost from the passage of AB32, the state's landmark global warming law, say Silicon Valley's tech leaders. Yesterday and today, many of these eco-execs have gathered at a clean technology conference held at the Silicon Valley campus of SRI International, an R&D and consulting firm that has earned its share of lucre from the green tech boom. But here's one weird thing Silicon Valley might not know about SRI CEO Curtis Carlson: He has given money to a controversial campaign to derail AB32 that's backed by major oil companies.

Last month, Carlson wrote a $5,000 check to the California Jobs Initiative Committee, the backer of a November ballot initiative that would prevent AB32 from going into effect until the state's unemployment rate is cut in half. Other funders include Valero and six other oil companies, a coal front group, truckers, and the libertarian Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. They claim that AB 32 would cost the average small business in California $50,000, lead to the loss of 1.1 million jobs in the state, and "devastate the budgets of California social service agencies." AB32's supporters strongly disagree, pointing to competing studies that show the law would cost little and actually create jobs by incubating the kind of clean tech research that helped SRI earn nearly $500 million last year. SRI didn't respond to a request for comment.

Carson's opposition to AB32 is perplexing, to say the least. SRI is currently developing fuel cells, materials for solar cells, powerful batteries, and technologies for hydrogen storage, the smart grid, and nuclear power plants. It also earns money helping government agencies design environmental rules. "In the 1970s, our groundbreaking research into the environmental causes of lung disease led to regulatory guidelines for air pollution," its website says. "In the 1980s, we demonstrated how chlorofluorocarbons contribute to the ozone hole, and developed protocols for the EPA's regulation of pesticides."

The conference that SRI is hosting this week, Nordic Green II, has attracted a who's who of clean tech start-ups and investors, including Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Better Place, and Google. The latter two, along with SRI, are members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which in turn is an official supporter of Stop the Texas Oil Companies' Dirty Energy Proposition, the campaign against the campaign against AB32.

Rather than speculate on what Carson is thinking, I'll leave you with this intriguing list of SRI's business clients:

 

Reid: Energy Will Come Next

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 2:15 PM PDT

First, Lindsey Graham signaled that he is pissed that Democrats might move to immigration legislation before taking up the climate and energy package he's working on. Pissed enough to walk away if Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't commit to moving climate first. Then last night he told reporters that he doesn't want immigration coming up this year at all—no way, no how.

Today Reid signaled that climate will move first. "The energy bill is much further down the road ... Common sense dictates that if you have a bill that's ready to go, that's the one I'm going to go to," Reid told reporters today (via TPMDC). "The energy bill is ready and we'll move that more quickly than the bill we don't have. I don't have an immigration bill."

Will that satisfy Graham? Not clear. As I reported last night, he seemed to move the goal posts on the issue, arguing that immigration won't be ready at all this year and he wants confirmation that it won't be pushed. But Graham co-wrote an op-ed last month calling for bipartisan work on immigration reform. He also called on President Obama "to step it up" on immigration. So it's hard to say where he is right now and whether he'll come back to the table on climate and energy.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New! Chocolate Toddler Formula

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 1:20 PM PDT

Worried your 18-month-old might not be getting enough chocolate? Luckily, now there's a solution. Over at Food Politics, Marion Nestle reports on Mead-Johnson's new chocolate and vanilla flavored formulas for toddlers. Nestle lists the main ingredients in the chocolate version:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don't really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium. In 2007, Australian toddler-formula makers came under fire for aggressive marketing, including handing out samples to pregnant women.

The president of the Australian Lactation Consultants Association, Gwen Moody, said food should replace milk as the primary source of energy during a child's second year. "Mothers buy the formula and they also give their child cow's milk … so either the child doesn't eat because they're not hungry, or they do eat, which can lead to weight gain. It is very clever to develop a market for this age when a child should be eating solids."

Even cleverer to make the formula taste like Yoohoo (whose ingredients, by the way, are not all that dissimilar to chocolate toddler formula).

Climate Advocates Seek to Keep Bill Alive

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 12:20 PM PDT

With climate bill negotiations still apparently in a state of chaos, a coalition of 31 environmental groups on Tuesday called on the Senate "not to squander the great promise of bi-partisan action."

"This must be the year that the United States passes comprehensive climate and energy legislation into law in order to create jobs, strengthen our national security, and reduce carbon pollution," write the groups, which include the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and 28 other environmental and progressive organizations. "We can't afford to delay action any longer; we urge the Senate to take up a comprehensive energy and climate bill in June."

The groups are hoping to keep the efforts of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) alive as Graham and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid butt heads over the timing of climate and immigration legislation. Their rollout of the bill, scheduled for Monday morning, was postponed indefinitely as the authors scrambled to salvage ties with their only Republican ally.

Kerry penned an op-ed last night arguing that the bill remains "very much alive." On Tuesday he told reporters (via Greenwire) that the tension over timing "obviously has to be resolved" before they can release their bill, and Reid and Graham are "working diligently and appropriately to try to help find resolution."

To be sure, not all green groups are sad to see this particular piece of legislation falling apart. The bill's sponsors have been touting the industry support they have for their measure, listing a number of concessions made to please business interests. This has drawn objections from Greenpeace, which last week issued a statement criticizing the bill as a sop to dirty energy interests. "[I]t’s clear that polluter lobbyists have succeeded in hijacking this climate policy initiative and undermined the ambitious action necessary," said Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford. Other groups, like Friends of the Earth and Center for Biological Diversity, have not outright opposed the measure, though they have expressed concerns about the direction it seems to be headed.

Badvertising, Bottled Water Edition

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 10:55 AM PDT

Hey, if you were organizing a conference on water scarcity and climate change, would you give your speakers tap water or plastic bottles filled with water from a distant tropical island? At the [Michael] Milken Institute's global conference this week, organizers chose to do the latter, providing speakers with bottles of Fiji Water. The irony wasn't lost on attendees: "At a Milken Global Conference panel on water supply. The speakers are all drinking Fiji bottled water. Aaaargh," tweeted Paul Hyneck. Fiji, need we remind you, is an island where water supplies are scarce and locals have struggled to find clean, reliable supplies of drinking water. Meanwhile, Fiji Water owns the rights to the island's largest underground aquifer, drawing water into its diesel-fueled factory and bottling it using heavy-weight plastic. All this makes having Fiji Water at a panel about "the most creative solutions being attempted to meet the water challenge in the United States and around the world" hard to swallow.

 

 

Rig Explosion Ignites Concerns Over Drilling

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 10:50 AM PDT

Last week's explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig likely claimed the lives of 11 workers, and what's left of the rig is currently hemorrhaging oil into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 42,000 gallons per day—two painful reminders that our fossil fuel reliance is neither safe nor clean.

The massive spill, just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, already covers more than 1,800 square miles. It is expected to hit land by Saturday. The leak from a pipe about 5,000 feet underwater may take up to two weeks to fix. Meanwhile, clean-up crews are dropping chemical dispersants into the water to try to prevent the spill from reaching land, where it would wreak environmental havoc on coastal ecosystsems (both the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Breton National Wildlife Refuge are not far from the spill site). But as the New York Times reports, those dispersants can also be toxic to sea life; the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported sighting three sperm whales near of the spill, so crews were instructed to "steer clear" when dropping the chemicals.

This marks the worst oil rig disaster in decades, and it comes just weeks after the Obama administration announced plans to expand offshore drilling. Despite the fact that the oil industry and its government supporters claim that new technologies have made the sector "environmentally responsible", the blast makes it clear that oil extraction still has potentially catastrophic effects. And as Marcus Baram reports today, the oil industry, including including Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean Ltd. and operator BP, has fought against new safety rules that might have prevented this disaster.

The episode has prompted new concerns in Congress about the prospects for expanded drilling. Three Senate opponents of offshore drilling, Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, on Monday called for a congressional investigation into the blast, calling it "a sobering reminder of the real risk from oil drilling." The explosion and subsequent leak, the senators wrote in a letter to relevant committee chairs, raise "serious concerns about the industry’s claims that their operations and technology are safe enough to put rigs in areas that are environmentally sensitive or are critical to tourism or fishing industries." All three have vowed to vote against climate and energy legislation if it includes an expansion of oil drilling.

It's not just Democrats. Charlie Crist, Florida's Republican governor and prospective Senate candidate, also criticized the incident as evidence that even more technologically advanced rigs don't guarantee safety:

"If this doesn't give somebody pause, there's something wrong," Crist said. "This is, as I understand it, a pretty new rig with modern technology. As I've always said it would need to be far enough, clean enough and safe enough. I'm not sure this was far enough. I'm pretty sure it was not clean enough. And it doesn't sound like it was safe enough. It's not a great situation."

Obama's announcement of his offshore expansion plan last month called for drilling "in ways that protect communities and protect coastlines." This recent spill makes it clear that may be an empty pledge.