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Can Mardi Gras Go Green?

New Orleans revelry celebrates culture, but at a cost to the environment

It’s Carnival time in New Orleans. For the past week and a half, locals and visitors alike have been celebrating one of New Orleans’ most famous historical and cultural traditions. Today, the revelry culminates in Mardi Gras, and up and down the streets of New Orleans, hundreds of thousands of people are gathered together enjoying food and drinks, and watching the parades roll by.

Mardi GrasPhoto by Neil Cooler, on Flickr Mardi Gras beads litter a New Orleans street.

Green may be one of the three prominent colors of the Mardi Gras spectrum, but the event is anything but. It produces millions of pounds of trash each year, the majority of which ends up in landfills. In 2014, the City collected 1,758 tons of trash during the 10 days of Carnival, spending nearly $1.5 million on sanitation.

Though the City distributes between 50 and 100 extra trash bins along the major parade routes for the festivities, much of the litter still ends up on the ground and it falls upon the City and contracted companies to make the streets look clean again. Currently, the City doesn’t attempt to place recycling bins along the parade routes because of attendees’ general resistance to recycling. Pilots for recycling programs have been too small to have a noticeable effect on sanitation costs, according to the City.

What people often forget about when they see the streets shiny and new again on Ash Wednesday is where those tons of trash end up — in a landfill. If people recycled their plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclable containers instead of tossing them in the trash or on the street, Mardi Gras-related waste could be significantly reduced.

The Rise of Mardi Gras Beads

While catching and throwing beads, doubloons, stuffed animals and other trinkets during Mardi Gras parades may be exhilarating, many of these throws end up polluting the city as they are dropped and long forgotten once the parade is over. But the biggest offender when it comes to litter? Mardi Gras beads.

The Mardi Gras beads tradition began innocently enough. While the earliest of Mardi Gras parades didn’t have throws at all, by the 1950s, strings of glass beads imported from Czechoslovakia became a staple throw for the Rex parade, one of the earliest parades in New Orleans’ Mardi …more

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Germany Moves to Legalize Fracking

Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas

By Arthur Neslen

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

3D printingPhoto by Justin Wooldford Germany has drafted a law that would overturn a de factor moratorium on shale gas fracking.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels.

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

“It is important to have a legal framework for hydraulic fracturing as until now there has been no legislation on the subject,” Maria Krautzberger, president of Germany’s federal environment agency (UBA), told the Guardian.

“We have had a voluntary agreement with the big companies that there would be no fracking but if a company like Exxon wanted, they might do it anyway as there is no way to forbid it,” she said. “This is a progressive step forward.”

The draft law would only affect hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and tight gas in water protection and spring healing zones.

The tight gas industry made up around 3% of German gas production before the moratorium, and, under the new proposals, could resume fracking in the Lower Saxony region where it is concentrated.

Commercial fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane would be banned at levels below 3,000 metres, but allowed for exploration purposes at shallower levels, subject to the assessment of the expert panel.

Environmentalists, however, were alarmed that half of the experts belong to institutions that signed the Hanover Declaration, calling for increased exploration of shale gas in Germany as a way of increasing energy security.

“It is clear what these people are going to say,” José Bové, the French Green MEP, told the Guardian. “The panel is not going to be independent, but exactly what the companies are looking for. You don’t need a panel …more

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Missouri Supreme Court Rules Against Utility in Solar Rebate Case

Lawmakers violated voter’s Constitutional rights by preemptively passing legislation that tried to amend a pending ballot initiative on renewable energy, court says

In a win for renewable energy, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that Empire District Electric Company, the utility that serves Joplin, MO and areas in four neighboring states, has to comply with the solar energy requirements of the state’s 2008 renewable energy law.

arial view of solar arrayPhoto courtesy of Renew MissouriThe ruling concludes a five-year long legal against Empire District Electric Company's refusal to comply with the state's renewable energy law that Missouri residents passed via a ballot initiative in 2008.

The ruling concludes a five-year long legal battle between Empire District Electric Company and two environmental groups — Renew Missouri and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment — regarding the utilities’ refusal to comply with the law, which Renew Missouri was instrumental in putting into place in 2008. The Missouri Supreme Court’s definitive 5-2 ruling is a validation of Renew Missouri’s work and has far-reaching consequences.

In 2008, Renew Missouri, an Earth Island project dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in Missouri, championed Proposition C, a ballot initiative establishing Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES). Missouri became the twenty-seventh  state to enact a RES and only the third to do so by ballot initiative. Getting Proposition C on the November 2008 ballot was no easy task — it required over a million dollars in financial investment and thousands of volunteer hours to gather the 170,000 signatures needed to place Proposition C on the ballot.

The RES required utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2021 with 2 percent coming from solar energy. The RES also required all investor-owned utilities to offer solar rebates of $2,000 per kilowatt to help their customers, covering 25-50 percent of the cost of rooftop solar and to help establish a mature solar industry in the state.

But before voters had the opportunity to vote on the initiative, the Missouri General Assembly passed House Bill 1181 in May 2008, which sought to exempt only one of the three investor-owned-utilities in the state — Empire District Electric Company — from any future solar requirements that may later be enacted.

The solar rebate grew the industry across the state. Three thousand jobs were created, over 125 megawatts of solar panels were installed on over 7,500 Missouri rooftops, and 45 solar companies were created. All of this growth has …more

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9 Million Tons of Plastic Waste WIll End Up in Our Oceans in 2015, Says New Study

Researchers warn that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade

We’ve all heard about the great Pacific garbage patch and other huge swirls of plastic trash floating around in our world’s oceans damaging marine ecosystems and sea creatures. But what’s not been clear is  just how much more plastic is making its way from land to sea every year. Now we have an estimate.

 A new study in the February 13 issue of the journal Science calculates that about 8 million tons of plastic waste wound up in the world's oceans in 2010 — equal to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.

plastic trash in oceanPhoto by Cesar HaradaThe study says that plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally.

The study, by researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, and their colleagues from other schools in the US and Australia, also identifies the major sources of this plastic debris and lists the 20 countries — including China, India, Brazil and the United States — that are the biggest polluters.

It warns that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade unless the international community improves its waste management practices.

The researchers combined data on solid waste from 192 different coastal countries with factors such as population density and economic status. They found that “uncaptured waste” — trash that is littered or lost from waste management systems — was the biggest source of ocean-bound plastic debris in the world.

They estimate that coastal countries generated nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans. “Our estimate of plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally,” they write in their report.  And the trash pile is only going to get bigger: The estimate for 2015  is 9.1 million metric tons.

Using population growth data to project the increase in mass to 2025, the researchers estimate that by 2025, the volume of ocean trash would expand to 155 million metric tons. "In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 …more

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Will Obama Veto the Keystone XL Bill?

Ball is in the president's court after Senate passes bill approving the controversial oil pipeline project

Yesterday afternoon, after some debate that broke no new ground, the House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of the Keystone XL pipeline bill by a vote of 270-152, the Senate passed the bill on Jan. 29 by a vote of 62-36. The House had quickly approved it — for the tenth time — just days after the current session of Congress convened in early January, sending the bill to the Senate. There it passed for the first time, thanks to Republicans taking control of the Senate following last November’s mid-term elections.

Profile shot of ObamaPhoto by Christopher Dilts for Obama for AmericaTo override the president's veto the bill would have required 67 votes in the Senate,
which they did not achieve.

Yesterday’s vote was necessary to reconcile the two versions of the bill, the final step before sending it to President Obama’s desk. President Obama has consistently indicated that he will veto the bill. To override his veto it would have required 67 votes in the Senate, which they did not achieve.

“The only thing Congressional Republicans accomplished with this vote is a show of unflinching loyalty to their Big Oil campaign donors who put this tar sands pipeline at the top of their wish list,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“President Obama has made it clear he will veto this toxic legislation, clearing the way for his administration to finish its assessment of the damage this dangerous project will do to our air, water, land and climate. We are confident that assessment will find that Keystone XL fails the President’s climate test and is therefore not in our national interest, meaning it must be rejected once and for all.”

Earlier yesterday in a Republican House leadership press briefing, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) did some cheerleading for the pipeline, which he referred to as a “people’s priority.” He repeated exaggerated jobs creation claims and publicly pressured Obama by tying him to environmental activists whom he smeared.

“Instead of listening to the people, the President is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” said Boehner. “The president needs to listen to the American people and say yes! Let’s build the Keystone pipeline!”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise followed Boehner, pouring on the pipeline praise. He said:

“The House has been focused on creating jobs and …more

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Bill Clinton’s Visionary Northwest Forest Plan Is On the Chopping Block

Feds proposal to revise forest management plan that safeguards old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest could lead to increased logging

Twenty years ago, the Clinton administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan to safeguard what little remained of the region’s heavily logged old-growth forests, as well as protect its imperiled wildlife. The plan limited the timber industry’s access to federal timber in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. But now, the Obama administration appears willing to concede to the demands of the logging industry and members of Congress who are clamoring for timber they say they were promised but never delivered.

SCoastal Temperate Rainforest in Drift Creek, OregonPhoto by Sam BeebeThe Northwest’s ancient forests need protection now more than ever. Since the plan went into effect in April 1994, many more species that call these forests home face extinction and unanticipated threats, like climate change, have worsened.

The Northwest’s ancient forests need protection now more than ever. Since the plan went into effect in April 1994, many more species that call these forests home face extinction and unanticipated threats, like climate change, have worsened. Yet the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the two federal agencies that jointly administer the plan, want to introduce revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan that could again open up these forests to more logging.

The Forest Service revealed the basic outline of the revised plan to representatives of several environmental groups and the American Forest Resources Council, an industry group, at separate private briefings in Portland last November. The revisions involve folding the ecosystem-wide Northwest Forest Plan — which applies to 24.5 million acres of forests across the region — into planning documents for each of the 17 national forests across the three states, and another nine areas in western Oregon managed by the US Bureau of Land Management.

“We were there [at the briefing] because the agency wanted to hear our concerns,” says Chuck Willer of the Corvallis-based conservation group, Coast Range Association. “In rapid order, speaker after speaker from the conservation community urged the agency ‘Keep the Northwest Forest Plan intact.’”

The timber industry’s response was quite the opposite. “We want a plan that will work. It hasn’t worked for a variety of reasons,” says Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council, a logging industry group based in Portland. He said the Northwest Forest Plan was designed to deliver 1.2 billion board feet of timber to the industry, but …more

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US Launches Plan to Halt Decline of Monarch Butterfly

$2m to be spent on growing milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico

The Obama administration and conservation groups launched a plan on Monday to halt the death spiral of the monarch butterfly.

The most familiar of American butterflies, known for their extraordinary migration from Mexico through the mid-west to Canada, monarch populations have plummeted 90 percent over the past 20 years.

a cluster of monarch butterflies on a treePhoto by Jill Heemstra Migrating monarchs rest on a tree in Nebraska.The iconic butterfly's population has slumped by 90 percent.

Fewer than 50m butterflies made it to Mexico last winter – a fraction of the population once estimated at 1bn.

Those numbers mirror the sharp declines of honey bees in recent years.

“We need to turn that around,” Dan Ashe, director of US Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Guardian. “If you look at the 20-year trend definitely monarchs are at risk of vanishing.”

The USFWS will spend $2m (£1.3m) and work with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to grow milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along the monarchs’ main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico.

The initiative aims to restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat through the spring breeding grounds of Texas and Oklahoma and summer breeding areas in the Corn Belt, tracking closely to the I-35 highway from Austin, Texas to St Paul, Minnesota.

There are also plans to promote wildflowers such as goldenrod and aster along pipeline and electricity lines.

Monarch populations have fallen precipitously over the past 20 years because of changes in farming methods, and the destruction of milkweed that is the caterpillars’ main habitat.

The idea is to get populations back up to 1bn.

Monarchs showed a slight rebound this year, because of good weather. “That’s a sign we haven’t yet reached any disastrous tipping point,” Ashe said. “If the habitat improves, if we make more habitat for them, then the population still seems to have the ability to respond.”

The Centre for Biological Diversity went to court last August to seek protection for the monarch under the endangered species act. Ashe said the petition presented “substantive evidence” for such protections, and the government was studying the case.

The group welcomed the new initiative – but said protecting the monarchs would be far more effective.

“I …more

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