Day: August 4, 2011

Researchers castigate planning bodies for ill-conceived Jatropha programs

Read the full post at Green Car Congress.

The results of massive plantings of Jatropha worldwide for use as a biofuel feedstock—some 12.8 million ha (49,421 square miles) are expected to be planted by 2015—are “anything but encouraging”, according to Promode Kant from the Institute of Green Economy in India and Shuirong Wu of the Chinese Academy of Forestry.

In a Viewpoint published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, Kant and Wu suggest that what they call the “extraordinary collapse of Jatropha as a biofuel” appears to be due to “an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach, undertaken without adequate preparation and ignoring conflict of interest, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone awry bringing misery to millions of poorest people across the world”.

Green Flight Challenge will include biodiesel teams

Read the full story in Biodiesel Magazine.

The prize for this year’s winner of the Google-sponsored Green Flight Challenge will total $1.65 million, the largest ever for the competition. NASA will pay the bill for the prize for the competition which requires participating teams to travel at least 200 miles in the air going at least 100 mph and reaching at least a 200 passenger miles per gallon level. A research and flight testing organization known as the CAFE Foundation (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) will conduct the event that will include several innovative aircrafts fueled by everything from electric power to biodiesel.

A River Runs Through It: Defining news communities through the water they share

Read the full story in the Columbia Journalism Review.

While students at Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Andrew McGlashen and Jeff Gillies started thinking, like so many J-schoolers, about how to turn the skills they were learning into a career.

Their prospects didn’t look too promising. McGlashen and Gillies, who often attended conferences held by the Society for Environmental Journalists, kept hearing the same story from veteran environmental reporters. “They were always talking about how their friends had been laid off in the last round of buyouts,” says McGlashen. “We were hearing pretty frank advice, saying, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t go work for a newspaper because there’s no job stability, you don’t get paid much, and you’re going to be asked to do more than you should.’”

With environmental beats often being among the first cut, they started brainstorming about making their own site. But they kept getting snagged on the same question: What would be their beat? “We couldn’t find a scope that was doable for us. We wanted to make it stand out without being overly broad,” says McGlashen.

During the drive home from a fishing trip last year, they realized they had been wading knee deep in their specialty: Michigan’s rivers. This June, the two men launched their site, Michigan River News, where they have been posting about one news story and a few blog posts a week, all having to do with the state’s 36,000 miles worth of rivers and streams.


Fallen Leaves, Precipitation Add Similar Amounts of Mercury to the Environment

Fallen autumn leaves transfer as much, if not more, hazardous mercury from the atmosphere to the environment as does precipitation each year, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey research.

Mercury is an environmental contaminant that accumulates in fish and food webs and poses a health risk to humans and wildlife. Precipitation is a major avenue by which mercury is transferred from the atmosphere into the environment, but new studies by the USGS and partners show that litterfall—the leaves and needles that drop to the forest floor each year—delivers at least as much mercury to eastern U.S. ecosystems as precipitation, and precipitation has been increasing in the Great Lakes region.

“Before these studies, we didn’t know the extent of litterfall as a mercury pathway in different types of forests across the eastern U.S.,” said USGS research hydrologist Martin Risch. “Our research found that annual amounts of mercury deposited in autumn litterfall from deciduous forests were equal to or exceeded the annual amounts deposited in precipitation.”

Most of the mercury that eventually ends up in fish and food webs comes from the air, and much of the mercury in the air comes from human sources such as coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, cement manufacturing, and incinerators. Forest canopies naturally remove mercury from the air and incorporate the mercury into and onto the leaves and needles of trees.

USGS scientists researched mercury levels in litterfall from forests over a three-year period in 15 eastern U.S. states. When they compared the results to those from a separate study of mercury in precipitation within the Great Lakes region, they found similar geographic patterns for mercury in litterfall and mercury in precipitation: Both types of mercury deposition were generally high in the same areas and low in the same areas.

“The similar geographic patterns indicate that the same mercury emissions sources affecting mercury levels in precipitation in an area also may affect mercury levels in forests and litterfall in that same area,” Risch said.

Furthermore, the precipitation study found no improvement in the amount of atmospheric mercury deposited by precipitation in the Great Lakes region over a 7-year period, and found that the amount of precipitation in the region had increased during this time. This precipitation study covers a time period that precedes new regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce mercury emissions in the U.S.

The two studies, “Litterfall mercury dry deposition in the eastern USA and “Spatial patterns and temporal trends in mercury concentrations, precipitation depths, and mercury wet deposition in the North American Great Lakes region, 2002-2008,” are available online in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Biofuels Production LibGuide

The University of Illinois’ Funk ACES Library has developed a guide to resources on the industrial production and processing of fuel from biomass. It includes links to major journals, databases, government organizations, RSS feeds/podcasts, and university web sites relating to the topic.

Why green-tech start-ups depend on big business

Read the full story at CNET.

For the thousands of green-tech start-ups out there, big brothers like GE have never been more important. Corporations, once the nemesis of environmentalists, have emerged as vital partners in getting new energy products to market. Whether businesses continue making bets on smaller players will determine how quickly many green technologies, from solar power to plug-in vehicles, become mass-market or remain niche products.

Obama Administration Advances Efforts to Protect Health of U.S. Communities Overburdened by Pollution

Building on its commitment to ensuring strong protection from environmental and health hazards for all Americans, the Obama Administration today announced Federal agencies have agreed to develop environmental justice strategies to protect the health of people living in communities overburdened by pollution and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were joined by agency heads across the Administration in signing the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU).

“All too often, low-income, minority and Native Americans live in the shadows of our society’s worst pollution, facing disproportionate health impacts and greater obstacles to economic growth in communities that can’t attract businesses and new jobs. Expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice are some of my top priorities for the work of the EPA, and we’re glad to have President Obama’s leadership and the help of our federal partners in this important effort,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Every agency has a unique and important role to play in ensuring that all communities receive the health and environmental protections they deserve. Our broad collaboration will mean real progress for overburdened communities.”

“All Americans deserve the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment. Too many low-income and minority communities shoulder an unacceptable burden of pollution, affecting the health of American families and the economic potential of American communities, and the country as a whole,” said Sutley. “The Memorandum of Understanding helps integrate environmental justice into the missions of Federal agencies, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring America truly is a country of equal opportunity for all.”

“Today’s memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice – that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives,” said Holder. “These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”

“Today, we understand better than ever that our health is not just determined by what happens in the doctor’s office.  It is affected by where we live, work, go to school and play, by what we eat and drink, and by the air we breathe,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius. “HHS is committed to working with our partners across government to build healthy communities, especially in those areas burdened by environmental hazards.”

“Every community deserves strong federal protection against pollution and other environmental hazards,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “The Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring environmental justice for all populations in the United States – including American Indians, Alaska Natives and rural communities who may be among the most vulnerable to health risks.”

“This agreement is an important step in furthering the Administration’s commitment to ensuring healthy communities for all Americans – free from environmental and health hazards,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The Department of Energy is aggressively investing in clean energy in order to improve the environment, strengthen the economy, save families money, and create the clean technology jobs of the future here at home.”

“No one should have to work in unhealthy or hazardous conditions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. “The Department of Labor is pleased to be part of this important initiative to ensure that vulnerable workers have access to information and can voice their concerns about their working environment.”

“Like so many things, environmental justice starts in the home, where families spend most of their time,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  “Whether it’s removing potentially dangerous lead-based paint from homes or helping to redevelop polluted brownfields, HUD is a critical part of the President’s plan to protect the health of people living in environmentally challenged parts of our country.”

Environmental justice means that all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and tribal communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the Federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps the Obama Administration has taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, Jackson and Sutley reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in more than a decade. In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including  reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events. Since her appointment, Jackson has also joined congressional leaders across the country to tour impacted communities and hear residents’ concerns.

The MOU advances agency responsibilities outlined in the 1994 Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” The Executive Order directs each of the named Federal agencies to make environmental justice part of its mission and to work with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJ IWG. The EJ MOU broadens the reach of the EJ IWG to include participant agencies not originally named in Executive Order 12898 and adopts an EJ IWG charter, which provides the workgroup with more structure and direction. It also formalizes the environmental justice commitments that agencies have made over the past year, providing a roadmap for agencies to better coordinate their efforts. Specific areas of focus include considering the environmental justice impacts of climate adaptation and commercial transportation, and strengthening environmental justice efforts under the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The MOU also outlines processes and procedures to help overburdened communities more efficiently and effectively engage agencies as they make decisions.

The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.


Reconnecting Children and Nature

Read the full story from Miller-McCune.

It may not be recognized by the AMA, but nature deficit disorder is raising Cain with children in the industrialized world — and it can be fought.

MIT generates photovoltaic power without sunlight

Read the full post at SmartPlanet.

With heat, tungsten, and a silicon cell, MIT researchers have been developing a different way to get power from photovoltaics without sunlight.

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