Showing posts with label Komodo Dragon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Komodo Dragon. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Charlie Brown Christmas

It happens every year. Right on the heels of the most gluttonous Thursday of my life, it strikes: Christmas season.

In fact, it seems like even before Thanksgiving is over, the makeshift pumpkin patches of Halloween have magically transformed into Christmas tree lots. Rooftops are trimmed with various blinking colorful lights. And front lawns are now covered with inflatable or mechanical woodland creatures–or both.

It all walks a thin line between festive and seizure inducing.

And just as would be shoppers have claimed another Wal-Mart employee, I am stuck there with my annual Frosted Mini-Wheats dilemma: The kid in me really wants a fresh Christmas tree, but the adult in me cannot justify it.

I know what you are probably thinking. Why not an artificial tree? All I can say is that it’s just not the same.

As a kid, my father and I went to tree farms where we would chop one down in its prime. Not one of those “lots” people go to these days. I have very fond memories of being covered in tree sap, and impaled with pine needles. All of which I cherish to this day.

Do you know how hard it is for an environmentalist to reconcile memories of chopping down a tree? It sucks.

I have tried other options. My favorite is the Christmas rosemary bush. It comes all Christmas-tree-shaped. And it isn't like the smell of rosemary is a horrible thing.

But in the end, it’s not the same. I come back to this point because I think this is the same dilemma we all face everyday. As we work towards a greener lifestyle, how do we balance habits that we cherish with “what is right?”

I’d like to say I know, but I really don’t. Do you?

As for the Christmas tree, well, most years I just don’t get one. Instead I cruise the lots like a meth addict, taking in that pine fresh smell and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But some years I do break down and buy one.

Don’t even get me started on whether or not I should get it flocked

Thursday, November 27, 2008

EPA moves to ease pollution rules

Matthew Blake 11/25/08 8:15 AM


The Environmental Protection Agency seems on the brink of issuing a new regulation that would make it easier for power plants to operate longer hours — and emit more pollution.

Under the proposed rule, power plants would be able to measure their rate of emissions on an hourly basis instead of their annual total output. As long as the hourly emissions stay at or below the plant’s established maximum, the plant would be treated as if it were operating cleanly — even if its total annual emissions increased as plant managers stepped up output.

Under the current policy, power plants that seek to operate longer must install pollution-control equipment. The proposed rule, expected to be finalized in the next two weeks, would increase the life span of older power plants without owners having to install costly new pollution-control equipment.

The rule, though, may be in conflict with a 2007 Supreme Court case, Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp. In a 9-0 ruling, the justices decided that the Clean Air Act required Duke Energy to install pollution-control equipment if its annual pollution output increased. The court made clear that power plants must measure their pollution based on annual output, not an hourly rate.

The proposed power-plant rule marks a final attempt by the Bush administration to radically revise the way environmental laws are applied, especially the Clean Air Act. Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush has sought to weaken the traditional regulatory authority of many federal agencies — like the Food and Drug Admin. and Consumer Product Safety Commission — to make them more friendly to business. This anti-regulatory stand has had perhaps its most sweeping effect on the EPA.

But the administration’s drive to weaken environment safeguards has gotten it into legal trouble. Since Bush took office in 2001, the EPA has issued 27 air-pollution regulations. Seventeen were either partly or entirely thrown out by the D.C. circuit court, which oversees cases involving federal regulation. One, the Duke Energy case, was reversed by the Supreme Court.

In many of the rulings, judges used caustic language in striking down the administration’s position. They lectured EPA officials on elementary legal principles, like the importance of carefully reading the language of a law. The agency has been compared to Humpty Dumpty and the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Not only judges have given the administration a tongue-lashing. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have repeatedly charged that the EPA is undermining the spirit of the Clean Air Act, which passed in 1963 and was strengthened in 1977 and 1990.

Boxer and Waxman have vowed to fight the proposed power-plant regulation. They may well have an ally in the federal court system.

“EPA historically has great credibility in federal courts,” said E. Donald Elliot, who was the agency’s chief lawyer during the George H.W. Bush administration and is now in private practice. “But it has recently had a pretty abysmal record. It has lost the confidence of the courts.”

The easing of pollution controls on power plants stems from an interpretation of “new source review” rules outlined in the Clean Air Act. The law says that before an industry can create a new source of air pollution, the EPA must review it.

In this case, coal-fired power plants — 70 percent of which are between 27 and 57 years old — could install new equipment that would allow them to operate for longer periods of time. Increased operational hours would lead to more emissions of chemical compounds, like nitrogen oxide, that produce smog.

To avoid EPA review — likely to result in the plants having to install pollution-control equipment– the new regulation would measure pollution at an hourly rate.

“We’re changing the way we evaluate totals, not the amount of pollution put out by plants,” said Jonathan Shradar, an EPA spokesman.

But the change in how totals are evaluated could go against Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp.

In that case, Duke Energy, which operates power plants in North and South Carolina, upgraded its plants to keep them running longer hours, resulting in more pollution emissions.

The company contended that it did not have to submit its plant modifications to the EPA for review because its hourly rate of emissions had stayed steady. In rejecting that argument, Justice David Souter wrote that the relevant Clean Air Act provisions “clearly do not define a major modification in terms of an increase in the hourly emissions rate.”

“Each of the thresholds,” Souter continued, “is described in tons per year.”

Environmental lawyers see no reason why the administration’s new power plant regulation would be judged any differently.

“This is the latest in a long line of EPA rules regarding coal-fired power plants that will be overturned,” predicted Jennifer Peterson, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, which specializes in clean-air litigation.

One such rule is the 2006 D.C. circuit court decision, New York v. EPA. In that case, the court decided that the EPA misread a Clean Air Act provision that says “any physical change” in a power plant that increases pollutants requires the power plant to install pollution control equipment.

EPA said that the word “any” was superfluous and that the agency can decide when physical changes are big enough to merit regulation. The D.C. circuit court found EPA’s logical unfathomable.

“Only in a Humpty Dumpty world,” wrote Judge Judith Rogers, “would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world view.”

Shrader, the EPA spokesman, declined to go into why the new power plant rule would pass legal muster. He pointed out that the EPA is still working on the rule, and language has not been finalized.

EPA has not only lost 18 of 27 clean air court decisions, fully13 of those cases were rejected as contrary to the language of the Clean Air Act. At times, EPA’s defiance of the Clean Air Act has appeared to exasperate the court.

In overturning an EPA rule that allowed some power plants to exceed limits on mercury emissions, the court compared the EPA with the Queen of Hearts from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The Queen disregarded laws and proclaimed “off with her head” before a verdict was issued.

In reversing EPA’s loosening of when industrial plants need to seek emission permits, the court implored EPA regulators to do three things: “(1) read the statute; (2) read the statute, (3) read the statute.”

“Repeated losses on plain language grounds,” wrote Waxman, the oversight chairman, in a letter to Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator, “suggest a reckless determination to pursue the administration’s policy objectives regardless of legal limits.”

Waxman added that he was “gravely concerned” about the proposed regulation to change how power plant pollution is measured. Meanwhile, Boxer, (D-Calif.) chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, said she will investigate EPA if the regulation is finalized.

Environmentalists who are veterans to battling EPA over air regulations say that the Bush administration is unique in its flouting of environmental law.

“I’ve never seen such a sheer volume of cases and such a dismal track record by the EPA in court,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “They’ve lost so many cases that you either have to conclude their lawyers are idiots or their polices are illegal. I’d go with the second.”

Elliot, the EPA’s counsel during the George H.W. Bush administration, also said that the number of court losses is without precedent.

“The administration has intentionally pushed the limits of its discretion,” Elliot said. “They do things that might make sense from a policy perspective but not from the language of the statute.”

The result, Elliot said, was that the “good reputation of EPA” has been lost in the D.C. court.

But while this Bush administration has not succeeded in changing the legal reading of the Clean Air Act, critics contend that its actions have had a strong effect on air pollution regulation.

“The failure to weaken rules should be celebrated,” said John Walke, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Council who has litigated several cases against Bush’s EPA. “But the failure to carry out the Clean Air Act has enormous public-health consequences.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

every color of the rainbow

Scientists have created a new material that could dramatically increase the efficiency of solar cells, by literally capturing every color of the rainbow.

Whereas other materials only catch a small range of light frequencies, and therefore only a small fraction of the potential energy, the new invention is capable of absorbing all the energy contained in sunlight. According to team leader, Prof. Malcolm Chisolm, “There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum.”


The discovery, made by an elite team at Ohio State University, opens the door to the development of a new generation of hyper-efficient solar cells. Although at this point the material is said to be some years from commercial development, the university has enough confidence in its potential to commit a large slice of its $100 million ‘high impact’ research budget to the research team over the next five years.

Such long-term investment lends a great deal of credibility to the project, and is likely to increase the chances of the invention moving from the laboratory towards commercial development.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

'Zero-energy' pilot homes planned at Fort Campbell

KRISTIN M. HALL


FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Environmental designers and green architects are meeting this week at Fort Campbell to plan what they say will be the first "zero-energy" homes on a U.S. military installation.


The two duplexes would incorporate solar panels and geothermal technology to produce as much energy as they consume from the power grid over a year.

Patrick Tahaney, development manager for Actus Lend Lease, the private company that is building the homes, said Tuesday the project is still in the design phase and won't be completed until 2010.

But Tahaney says the military hopes the project will be a starting point for finding ways to reduce energy costs for its housing on bases worldwide.

"If you look the consumption rates and how much we're paying for power these days, I think the Department of Defense housing used about 11 trillion Btu (British thermal unit) of power in 2007," he said.

Actus, which manages Fort Campbell Family Housing and has built 400 new homes on the base since 2003, dedicated $500,000 to transform their designs for a two-family duplex into a zero-energy home. The project is also funded with a $870,000 grant from the Department of Defense.

Although the actual cost of the homes hasn't been determined, the military will be monitoring the construction costs and performance of the homes over time, Tahaney said.

"The intent is to take all of the lessons learned in the technologies, see how they perform over time and disseminate that information, not only to other military housing projects, but to other private housing," he said.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Swimming with Komodo Dragons

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Five Europeans rescued Saturday after an Indonesia diving trip went wrong had to fight off a Komodo dragon while they were waiting to be found, according to reports.


The divers had to scare off a Komodo dragon while they were waiting to be found.

1 of 3 The group was found at Mantaolan, which is on the island of Rinca off the Komodo National Park, after going missing on Thursday.

The divers -- three Britons, a Frenchman and a Swede -- spent two nights on the deserted island which is home to the large Komodo dragon before rangers found them Saturday.

Frenchman Laurent Pinel, 31, said the group had to fight off one dragon with rocks and scavenged for shellfish as they waited to be rescued, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.

"On the beach a Komodo dragon came amongst us yesterday [Friday] afternoon," Pinel said, describing how the group had to pelt the dangerous reptile with rocks to scare it away.

"We had nothing to eat. We ate some kind of mussels scraped from the rocks," Pinel told the newspaper.

The husband of one of the other divers said he was told they were in good condition, although dehydrated.

"I'm just so relieved," said Mats Kohler, whose wife is Helena Neva Lainen. They are both from Sweden.

An official said they were being taken to a hospital for examination.

Searchers using boats located the missing divers at 11 a.m. Saturday (11 p.m. ET Friday), the official said.

They arrived at a hospital in Labuan Bajo, on the western tip of the island of Flores, about two hours later, an official said. Watch a report on the discovery of the missing group »

They were one of two groups of divers who entered the water off Komodo National Park Thursday and were supposed to be gone for an hour, said an employee of the dive company, Reef Seekers. The second group came back after the hour passed but the first group failed to resurface, she said.

Earlier, an official with the Komodo Divers Association said the group that returned comprised six snorkelers.

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