Day: September 24, 2014

Beer: a magical mixture of hops, barley, and tiny pieces of plastic

Read the full story in Grist.

Plastics are everywhere: on the street, in our refrigerators, all over the oceans — you name it. But now they’re hitting us where it really hurts. Authors of a new study published in the latest edition of Food Additives and Contaminants found traces of plastic particles (and other debris … we’ll get to this later) in beer.

This is how the study worked: Researchers lab-tested samples of 24 varieties of German beers, including 10 of the nation’s most popular brands. Through their superpowers of microscopic analysis, the team discovered plastic microfibers in 100 percent of the tested beer samples.

Construction Begins at a Carbon-Capture Plant, but Will It Ever Be Completed?

Read the full story in MIT Technology Review.

After a decade of stop-and-start efforts and a $1 billion federal pledge, construction of the country’s most hyped project for capturing carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant and storing it underground has finally begun. But even now, the project, called FutureGen, faces hurdles. An environmental group has brought a lawsuit against the project that threatens to undermine the additional funding needed to see the job through.

In Los Angeles, Can #Droughtshaming Go Too Far?

Read the full story in CityLab.

A giant waterslide is heading to downtown L.A., whipping up understandable ire from water-conscious citizens. But when is pro-conservation just anti-fun?

How Tennant sought to flourish through innovation

Read the full story in Environmental News Bits.

H. Chris Killingstad was vice president of a struggling 132-year-old company when he went to an industry trade show in 2002. His company, Tennant, made floor cleaning equipment using technology first developed during the Great Depression.

“When I walked into the room, I saw hundreds of different machines that looked exactly the same, except for their colors,” he said. “I realized that we had to do something to differentiate ourselves.”

Today he is Tennant’s CEO. The company’s stock has risen 300 percent since 2002, more than five times faster than the Dow Jones Index.

How did he do it? With a lean, clean and green strategy aimed at contributing to a healthier world. He did it in the face of enormous doubt from customers and competitors who wondered whether “chemical-free cleaning” would pay off. Not only did his gamble prove technically sound, but his vision has inspired and engaged customers and employees.

University of Minnesota Institute on Environment Fall Seminar series

This fall, Frontiers in the Environment will ask some BIG QUESTIONS and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery. Held at noon Wednesdays in St. Paul or online, each session includes a lively 30-minute discussion followed by Q&A and a networking reception. Here’s the schedule through October.

9/24 – IonE resident fellow Matteo Convertino, an IonE resident fellow and assistant professor in the School of Public Health, and Craig Hedberg, SPH professor, discuss how computer models can predict and deal with foodborne disease outbreaks in Can We Build a More Resilient Food Distribution System?

10/1 – Get a peek at IonE’s recently launched Energy Transition Lab when the lab’s executive director, Ellen Anderson, and faculty director, Hari Osofsky, ask How Can the University of Minnesota Assist in the Energy Transition?

10/8 – A panel of urban planning experts, including Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiatives; Ann Hunt, environmental policy director for the City of St. Paul; Peter Frosch, director of Strategic Partnerships, Greater MSP; and Mike Greco, program director of the Resilient Communities Project, will focus on cities of the future in How Might the Twin Cities Catalyze Needed Global Urban Innovations?

10/15 – IonE’s Natural Capital Project lead Steve Polasky, IonE resident fellow and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, will lead a discussion of the big question, Should Society Put a Price Tag on Nature?

10/22 – What Does a Sustainable Clean Water Future for Minnesota Look Like? is the question to be considered by panelists Bonnie Keeler, Natural Capital Project lead scientist; Deb Swackhamer, Water Resources Center program director; and John Linc Stine, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner.

10/29 – Political thought leaders David Gillette, special correspondent for Twin Cities Public Television; Amy Koch, small business owner and former Minnesota senate majority leader; and Mark Andrew, president of Greenmark, will dive into What is the Role of the Environment in This Year’s Minnesota Elections?

View the complete fall schedule or browse the archives here 

Businesses double down on carbon pricing while Capitol Hill idles

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Putting a price on carbon is not at the top of Congress’s to-do list. The 113th Congress has made no secret of the fact that it is both unable and unwilling to reach a consensus on climate change action.

As of August 2014, legislators had introduced 221 bills focusing specifically on climate change — 134 that are meant to advance climate action, as well as 87 that would hinder it, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Of these 221 bills, only 13 deal specifically with the issue of putting a price on carbon — and more than half of this number aim to prevent that from ever happening.

Despite the lack of a congressional consensus, there is a growing global corporate consensus that carbon will be priced, and boardrooms across the country are preparing for a robust, internationally-linked carbon market. These companies would welcome regulatory certainty, nationally and internationally, when it comes to climate change policy and carbon pricing.

According to a new report by CDP, 29 major public companies in the U.S., including Dow Chemical Company, Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil are now incorporating an internal carbon price into their business decisions. CDP gathered the data from corporations in response to its annual request for information on the business implications of climate change.

Retail Horizons: Food shopping in a water-scarce world

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

This article is the seventh in a 12-part series about the future of U.S. retail for the Forum for the Future-led 2014 Retail Horizons project in partnership with Retail Industry Leaders Association. For more about the project and the toolkit available in October, read the first story.

The future of food is both exciting and precarious. While technological advances promise changes in what and how we eat, the basic inputs required to make food for humans, such as water and fertile soil, have changed very little. Of these, changes in water availability could have the most drastic impact on the types of foods available to tomorrow’s consumer.

5 ways boards of directors can support sustainability

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

While corporate responsibility has risen as a strategic priority for many companies, boards have not been driving this change. The UN Global Compact LEAD board program conducts extensive surveys and interviews with board members, which have revealed some significant key areas where board members often are not aligned. Those key areas are what sustainability means, what value it brings to the company, whether it adds to (or subtracts from) profit and innovation, what the risks and opportunities of sustainability are and who the most important stakeholders are for the company’s success or failure.

Why is this mismatch a problem? When companies do not manage their sustainability risks, they can lose the license to operate or fail to foresee resource risks and market opportunities, and therefore become unprofitable in the long term. Some sustainability-related investments have a longer-term ROI horizon, which may reduce short-term profitability. However, as boards are responsible for protecting the long-term interests of their shareholders, it is part of a board’s fiduciary duty to understand and consider these risks and opportunities.

The board’s engagement with the company’s sustainability risks sends a strong message to company leaders and employees. If the board is not aligned in its views on corporate sustainability, how can the company expect everyone else to be aligned?

Misalignment on corporate sustainability often results in the overuse of company resources on sustainability efforts, with little value in return. With no clear direction and no apparent interest from the board, sustainability teams can spend valuable time and resources focusing on managing “simple” issues while avoiding those lurking in the blind spots.

US Settlement with Michigan Utility to Reduce Emissions at Its Coal-Fired Power Plants, Fund Projects to Benefit Environment and Communities

In a settlement with the United States, Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, has agreed to install pollution control technology, continue operating existing pollution controls and comply with emission rates to reduce harmful air pollution from the company’s five coal-fired power plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon and Luna Pier, Michigan, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The settlement will resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Air Act by modifying their facilities in a way that caused the release of excess sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions by over 46,500 tons per year, which includes approximately 38,400 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 8,100 tons per year of nitrogen oxide (NOx). The company estimates that it will spend over $1 billion to implement the required measures. The pollution reductions will be achieved through the installation, upgrade, and operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices designed to reduce emissions and protect public health. Consumers Energy will also take several coal-fired units offline and may repower additional coal-fired units with natural gas.

The settlement requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations and spend at least $7.7 million on environmental projects to help mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution on the environment and benefit local communities.

“The required pollution controls and funding for mitigation projects will reduce harmful pollution in American communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case demonstrates that energy can be provided to local communities in a responsible way that significantly reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide known to contribute to serious health concerns.”

“Today’s settlement will bring cleaner air to residents in Michigan by removing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollution from the atmosphere,” said Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will render benefits to communities far into the future with pollution-reduction projects that will improve public health and help restore natural resources downwind of the plants.”

The settlement requires the company install to pollution control technology and implement other measures to reduce sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions from its five coal-fired power plants, comprising 12 operating units. Among other requirements, the company must comply with declining system-wide limits for SO2 and NOx and meet emission rates. In addition, the company must retire or refuel two units to natural gas and retire an additional five units.

SO2 and NOx, two predominant pollutants emitted from power plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.

The settlement also requires Consumers Energy to spend at least $7.7 million on projects that will benefit the environment and local communities, including paying $500,000 to the National Park Service for the restoration of land, watersheds, vegetation and forests or combating invasive species in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park.

The remaining $7.2 million will be spent on a series of mitigation projects. Potential projects include efforts to reduce vehicle emissions, install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, replace or retrofit wood burning appliances, and protect and restore ecologically significant lands in Michigan. Consumers Energy has five years to complete its selected projects.

This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. The total combined SO2 and NOx emission reductions secured from all these settlements will exceed 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s second-largest electric and natural gas utility, providing electric service to more than 6 million people in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

EPA Adds Five, Proposes Three Hazardous Waste Sites to Superfund’s National Priorities List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding five hazardous waste sites that pose risks to human health and the environment to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. In addition, the agency is proposing to add three additional sites to the list. The Superfund program, a federal program established by Congress in 1980, investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive local resources by eliminating or reducing health risks and environmental contamination associated with hazardous waste sites.

“Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects our country’s most vulnerable populations, prevents diseases, increases local property values and facilitates economic restoration of communities across America,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “By listing a site on the Superfund National Priorities List, we’re taking an important action to protect human health and encourage economic restoration of communities.”

Recent academic research, from the study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, demonstrated that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities for those living within 5,000 meters (or 5,468 yards) of a site. Another study conducted by researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh Universities, concluded that making a site final on the NPL may increase housing prices by signaling that a site has been placed on the path towards remediation. Furthermore, the study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby properties have a significant increase in property values as compared to pre-NPL proposal values.

The following five sites have been added to the NPL:

  • Indiana – North Shore Drive (ground water plume) in Elkhart, Ind.;
  • Louisiana – Delta Shipyard (former boat cleaning and repair) in Houma, La.;
  • New Jersey – Pierson’s Creek (chemical manufacturer) in Newark, N.J.;
  • Pennsylvania – Baghurst Drive (ground water plume) in Harleysville, Pa.; and
  • Vermont – Jard Company, Inc. (former capacitor manufacturer) in Bennington, Vt.

The following three sites have been proposed for addition to the NPL:

  • Alabama – 35th Avenue (residential soil contamination) in Birmingham, Ala.;
  • Indiana – Kokomo Contaminated Ground Water Plume (ground water plume) in Kokomo, Ind.; and
  • Michigan – DSC McLouth Steel Gibraltar Plant (steel finishing operation) in Gibraltar, Mich.

The sites announced today have characteristics and conditions that vary in terms of size, complexity and when the contamination occurred, with some sites involving recent contamination, among other factors. But as with all NPL sites, EPA first works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting substantial cleanup at the site.

Past and current site uses include lead smelting, solvent handling, small capacitor and motor manufacturing, and maritime-related activities. Site contaminants are numerous with lead, arsenic and other metals; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE), as well as others. Contamination affects residential yards, wetlands, surface water and groundwater, and soil.

For example, EPA added the Jard Company Inc. to the NPL. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used in the manufacturing process, were released into the former building structure and soils on the property which contaminated area groundwater. At the Delta Shipyard site, heavy metals and other hazardous wastes were released from disposal ponds which contaminated area soils, groundwater and surface waters. Without NPL site listing and cleanup, contamination would continue to pose a risk to human health and the environment.

The Superfund program uses remedy effectiveness information to actively manage site operations and refine remedial strategies in order to efficiently move sites to completion. Today, more than 800 Superfund sites across the nation support some type of continued use, active reuse or planned reuse activities.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually to protect human health and the environment with the goal of returning these sites to communities for productive use. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.

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