Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Air Pollution

Illinois sequestration project is first in U.S. for man-made CO2

A demonstration project in Illinois is the first in the U.S. to begin pumping over a million metric tons of man-made liquid CO2 into permanent underground storage. The Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium announced this week that its project in Decatur, Ill., had begun injecting carbon dioxide into sandstone formations 7,000 feet below ground.

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is a key strategy for combating the industrial emissions that contribute to global warming. In this case, the carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol production in a nearby plant run by Archer Daniels Midland. The project is a joint project by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) of the Prairie Research Institute, ADM and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy.

Robert J. Finley, leader of the project and director of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative at the ISGS at the University of Illinois, was excited to talk about it, saying: “In the Midwest, and specifically here in Illinois, we’re beginning to document that the geology is very suitable for the storage of carbon. The production of biofuels from crop products can be a very effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of our liquid fuels because you’re taking that liquid CO2 and putting it in the ground.”

Making ethanol, then, becomes a carbon pump. Plants such as corn fix CO2 that is taken from the air. Then, during the production of ethanol for fuel, the CO2 is released and captured, dehydrated and compressed into a liquid, then run through a short pipeline and directly into the ground.

Finley points out that, as a demonstration project, working with an ethanol plant has distinct advantages. With a coal-fired power plant, for example, much of the expense of a sequestration project involves separating the CO2 from the other gases in the smokestack emissions, which are about 12% to 14% carbon dioxide. The fermentation tanks in ethanol production, however, produce about 99.9% carbon dioxide, which is then easily gathered at low cost at the rate of about 1,000 metric tons per day.

“The research that we’re doing is very much on the subsurface geologic environment, to make sure that we can do this safely and effectively, and that we can monitor the CO2,” says Finley. “So we’re using our research dollars to answer these important questions about safety and effectiveness, and we don’t have to use our Department of Energy-funded dollars to just try to get our flow of CO2.”

The Illinois project is one of seven regional partnerships studying sequestration around the country, and the first to use a man-made CO2 source. The project takes advantage of the massive Mt. Simon Sandstone, which is below several layers of shale that serve as a cap to keep the liquid in place. The storage capacity of Mt. Simon is estimated at 11 to 151 billion metric tons.

Establishing that million-metric ton projects are feasible is important because a medium-sized 500 MW coal-fired power plant produces about 3 million metric tons of CO2 per year, and are a key target for sequestration projects.

Finley points out that the Decatur project is not related to the troubled FutureGen project, which sought to build an advanced coal-to-gas power plant in Illinois and sequester its emissions, then was revised to refit a Meredosia plant after Obama took office. That project has been plagued by cost overruns, and major partners have pulled out at various points of the project. He does say, however, that some of the technology that would be used to do that sequestration, and the actual sandstone formation used, would be the same.

The Decatur experiment is expected to continue injecting CO2 for the next three years, and has drawn significant interest from other scientists and industrial concerns around the world.

[For the record, Dec 2, 2011, 11:45 AM: This post has been corrected. The photograph and photographer were miscredited, and the original text failed to identify the Illinois State Geological Survey of the Prairie Research Institute as a partner in the consortium.]


UN Durban climate conference wrangles funds for poor countries

Brown cloud might be intensifying storms over the Indian Ocean

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium verification well in Decatur, Ill. The project is the first to sequester 1 million metric tons of man-made CO2 in limestone formations below ground. Credit: Daniel Byers for the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium

Brown cloud might be intensifying storms over Indian Ocean

A longstanding brown cloud of pollution over the Indian Ocean is causing cyclones to intensify in that region, according to a new study published this month in the journal Nature and involving researchers from multiple institutions, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

After the apparent recent increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, including the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, climate watchers everywhere have speculated whether these storms were made stronger by industrial or man-made emissions. This is reportedly the first study to indicate that human activity may, in fact, affect large storms.

Amato Evan, lead author on the study and a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, notes: “The thing that stands out to me, as someone who works in climate and tropical cyclones, is that human activity, things people do, can actually change these massive atmospheric phenomena. To me, this is kind of the first study that can unambiguously tie human activity to something as enormous and powerful as a tropical cyclone.”

The Atmospheric Brown Cloud, previously known as the Asian Brown Cloud, has been observed for decades and began forming prior to World War II. From space, it resembles a dense brown smog and hangs over the northern Indian subcontinent, the northern Bay of Bengal, and the northern Arabian Sea. One of the contributors to the paper, Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, has done some of the most important work on identifying the sources of this pollution, which is made up of particles like black carbon and sulfates and is a product of industrial development but also things as common as wood cookfires from an increasing population.

Cyclones naturally form over the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, but are often limited by wind shear -– the cacophony of short-distance winds moving at different speeds and different directions in the atmosphere. Wind shear can be thought of as turbulence and prevents the cyclones from organizing into powerful storms.

As the brown cloud shades the ocean (called “atmospheric dimming”), however, it affects surface temperatures, which lessen the effects of wind shear. As wind shear effects drop, the storm intensifies. The scientists looked at wind, temperature and satellite data from 1979 to present and correlated the increased pollution to increased storm wind speeds. According to a NOAA press release, five storms in the northern Indian Ocean since 1998 have had winds over 120 mph –- including category 5 Cyclone Gonu in 2007  — and have killed more than 3,500 people and caused over $6.5 billion in damage.

James Kossin, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, N.C., and co-author on the study, cautions that it’s early to say smog causes bad storms. “It’s a hypothesis. It’s difficult to say with much certainty, and I think our main hurdle there is just a small sample of storms to look at. The results are very suggestive.”

“It gets into a tricky business when you want to start saying, ‘Here is the cost of that pollution associated with the tropical cyclones.’ That’s probably stretching it a bit far,” adds Evan. “But certainly it’s true in the Atlantic Ocean and it’s true anywhere: a bigger, stronger storm generally causes more damage.”

For Evan, the study has a significant upside: the pollutants that may be intensifying these cyclones are short-term, unlike greenhouse gases. They float into the lower or middle atmosphere and would clear out very quickly if emissions are cut.

“If emissions are reduced, we expect that this kind of trend would reverse on time scales of a few months,” Evans says. “It’s not like greenhouse gases, where we think we’re already in trouble. With these kinds of aerosols, if you just stopped all the emissions right now, the atmosphere would become much cleaner in a matter of weeks. And then the whole climate system, the ocean and the atmosphere, would essentially lose memory of those aerosols. It’s pretty dramatic.”

In an interesting side note, emails related to this study were among those listed in a recent FOIA request by the conservative American Traditions Institute as it investigates climate change science published by the former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann. The ATI has close ties to energy interests that have opposed climate legislation, and the so-called "Climategate" matter has been the subject of previous posts on this blog.


Greenhouse gases, water vapor and you

Another 'Climategate' inquiry clears professors

Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: A NOAA satellite image showing Hurricane Katrina near the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Credit: EPA/NOAA

CO2 sensitivity possibly less than most extreme projections

A new study in the journal Science suggests that the global climate may be less sensitive to carbon dioxide fluctuations than predicted by the most extreme projections, and maybe slightly less than the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., and lead author on the new study, notes that, while man-made global warming is happening and tiny changes in global average temperatures can have huge and deleterious effects, the atmosphere may not be as sensitive to carbon dioxide change as has been reported.

“We used paleoclimate data to look at climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling in the atmosphere, and we are coming up with a somewhat lower value,” says Schmittner.

A 2007 IPCC report addressed the climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide, estimating that air near the surface of the earth would warm 2 to 4.5 degrees Celsius with a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-Industrial (pre-1850) standards. The mean value of that estimate was 3.0 degrees. Thus, if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from the amount in 1850, we’d expect a 3 degree C rise in temperature.

Schmittner’s study, however, took a longer view.

“We looked at the paleoclimatic record from the Last Glacial Maximum, which was 19,000-23,000 years before the present. At that time, the planet was much colder than today: There were huge ice sheets over Canada and Northern Europe; the sea levels were much lower, 120 meters lower than today; and C02 levels were also lower, were at 185 ppm. Other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere were also lower, and there was more dust in the atmosphere,” he said.

Researchers involved with this study compiled large data sets of land and ocean surface temperature reconstructions from that Last Glacial Maximum, when the last ice age was at its peak, and then ran them through the climate models they’ve been using for years, inserting a range of sensitivity numbers from near zero degrees to as high as 8 degrees. Their results showed that temperatures didn’t change as much as would be predicted using the most dire sensitivity numbers. Some independent studies have suggested that carbon dioxide sensitivity might be 10 degrees or higher.

“In fact, a climate sensitivity of more than 6 [degrees] would completely freeze over the planet,” Schmittner pointed out, referring to the ice age. Which, of course, didn’t happen. The ice sheets and glaciation only reached so far toward the equator and then stopped. “So, from that observation alone that it was pretty clear to me that those high climate sensitivities are out of the question, as they are virtually impossible.”

“The best-fitting models had a climate sensitivity of about 2.3-2.4. So that is slightly less than the IPCC best estimate of 3.”

Applying those findings to the future atmosphere, a doubling of carbon dioxide from 1850 levels might mean a rise of 2.4 degrees, rather than 10 or more.

Schmittner points out, however, that there are uncertainties associated with the climate modeling he was using. For instance, the study was unable to take into account changes in clouds on the absorption on sunlight. He expects that the range of climate sensitivities found by the study would expand if cloud changes could be figured in.

Still, Schmittner notes, tiny numbers mean enormous changes. “The temperature reconstructions, they hold a cautionary tale for us,” he says, commenting that even with glaciers covering much of the earth, the ocean temp only went up 2 degrees C.

“If we look at model projections for the future, that suggests temperature changes on the global average of 2-4 degrees are possible. Now, that’s in the similar range to what we had between the Last Glacial Maximum and today. These numbers sound small, but some regions change very dramatically.”


NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

Greenhouse gases, water vapor and you

Doug Brinkley, Rep. Don Young squabble over Arctic refuge

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: A coal-burning power station located next to a lake on the outskirts of Beijing. A new study suggests that the global climate may be slightly less sensitive to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than previously believed, and much less sensitive than the most extreme projections. Credit: David Gray / Reuters

Greenhouse gases, water vapor and you

Several readers pointed out an omission in last week’s post about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s release of its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which showed that man-made gases that contribute to global warming continued a steady rise. The post -– and the AGGI –- mentioned carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, but failed to mention the biggest contributor to global warming: plain old water vapor.

“I want to comment that the way-dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is not mentioned, namely water vapor,” writes Ken Saunders of Pacific Palisades. “Water vapor accounts for about 97 percent of the total (natural plus man-emitted) greenhouse warming of the planet. See, e.g., John Houghton's ‘The Physics of Atmospheres, 3rd edition,’ Cambridge University Press, 2002.”

This is true, water vapor is the major player in the greenhouse effect and is often omitted from reports and reporting about global warming -– mostly because it is more of a symptom than a cause in global climate change, and cannot be easily mitigated.

Tom Boden, director of the U.S. Energy Department’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, acknowledges in an email: “Folks are right when they state water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas and not routinely measured directly in the atmosphere. Atmospheric water vapor is difficult to measure, highly reactive, and variable in amount due to meteorological conditions (i.e., atmospheric water vapor is continuously being generated from evaporation and continuously removed by condensation).”

“Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas and natural levels of [carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide] are also crucial to creating a habitable planet,” writes John Reilly, professor at MIT and co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Center for Environmental Policy Research, in an email.

That idea leads many to believe that global warming is natural and cannot be affected much by human activity. Reader Roy W. Rising of Valley Village writes: “Today's report focuses on a bundle of gases that comprise a very small part of total of ‘greenhouse’ gases. It totally disregards the long-known fact that about 95% of all ‘greenhouse’ gases is WATER VAPOR! Spending billions of dollars to alter a few components of the 5% won't affect the natural course of climate change.” 

Reilly warns, however, that scientists don’t blame water vapor or clouds for global warming.

“Concerns about global warming are about how human beings are altering the radiative balance,” says Reilly. “While some of the things we do change water vapor directly, they are insignificant. Increasing ghg's [greenhouse gases] through warming will increase water vapor and that is a big positive feedback [meaning: the more greenhouse gases, the more water vapor, the higher the temperature]. But the root cause are ghg's. So in talking about what is changing the climate, changes in water vapor are not a root cause.”

Water vapor is, however, included in modeling used to study global warming. Boden adds: “We do measure water vapor fluxes routinely at the Earth's surface in terrestrial systems. All climate models account for water vapor in the processes of evaporation, condensation and transpiration. Since water vapor is naturally occurring and mostly driven by natural processes it would be difficult to mitigate (e.g., cap on a lake) and thus does not enter into reduction discussions.”

So, when NOAA’s Jim Butler confirmed in our previous post that carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and two CFCs cause 95% of global warming, he meant that these five gases are at the root of a complex reaction that also involves water vapor and any number of other factors. The fact that you and I are responsible for generating a bunch of those man-made gases makes them the five to watch.

Thanks for placing your comments on the blog.


NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

Hewlett-Packard tops Greenpeace guide to greener electronics

Obama proposal would open Arctic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Britney Waugh stands in Fogscreen, an exhibit at WIRED NextFest 2007 in which pictures are projected onto a vapor "screen" that is dry to the touch. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.

Obama pipeline decision courts youth vote

When President Obama announced Thursday that he was delaying a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline for at least a year, it was partly the result of significant youth lobbying, says Courtney Hight, 32, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition.

The action also may have re-energized a 30s-and-under youth vote that was drifting away from his campaign.

“We are the generation that elected Barack Obama,” said Hight, formerly a staffer with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Most of the organizers on the [Obama] campaign were under 30, and believed in this vision that President Obama put out. We were a little frustrated by not seeing the leadership on climate change that we wanted. So the XL Pipeline issue was an opportunity.

“He had been risking young people’s votes, and he showed us that he cares about our vote,” she added. “A lot of us are reinvigorated by the fact that he delayed this pipeline, which essentially kills it.”

A protest action on Sunday, Nov. 6, may have been the game-changer on the Keystone Pipeline decision. That day, about 12,000 people formed concentric rings around the White House to express their outrage over the environmental effectsof the project. Those people, says Hight, were organized by youth organizers from the EAC, the climate change group and Tar Sands Action, which focuses resistance to the development of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada, where oil for the pipeline originates. Rather than be described as a protest, the action was seen as giving support to Obama, to show him physically by surrounding his house that he had the political backing to say no to this project. Heavy lifting was also done by mainstream groups the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, but the youthswere kept out front.

The EAC is a national coalition of about 50 youth environmental organizations, including the Sierra Student Coalition (the youth arm of the Sierra Club) and many other statewide student groups.

Over the summer, the EAC and many of these groups considered the pipeline a done deal -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said as much -- but students realized that this was one decision the president could make without congressional approval because it was being handled at the State Department. Groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network in South Dakota had been fighting an existing version of the pipeline (it extends into the Dakotas already) for more than four years.

So, in August, students gathered at the White House to express their disapproval, and 1,253 of them were arrested. Hight’s friends inside the White House acknowledged to her that the issue hadn’t really been on the president’s radar until that point. So she and others dug in.

Students in Missouri raised money and bought tickets to Obama campaign fundraisers, at which they asked pointed questions about the pipeline and the tar sands. Soon, students were dogging the campaign, asking questions at Obama for America offices, campaign events, fundraisers and debates. Then, the big action on Sunday.

“I haven’t seen this level of youth involvement in the movement since the Obama campaign,” said Hight. “We’re not done, but we had a win.”

Keystone Pipeline delay draws cheers, dismay

NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Youth demonstrators are prominent among the 12,000 demonstrators against the Keystone XL Pipeline project who surrounded the White House on Nov.6, 2011. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood/

NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) number today, which measures the direct climate influence of a select set of greenhouse gases, and the news is not good. The numbers continue to climb, further evidence that the greenhouse effect is on the rise.

This comes on top of a staggering report released by the U.S. Department of Energy last week saying that global emissions of carbon dioxide –- a key, and long-lived, greenhouse gas –- had jumped by the biggest amount on record in the year 2010. The figures showed a 6% increase over the year before. That rise was steeper than worst-case scenarios that had been laid out by climate experts only four years before. That news was met with headlines worldwide calling it a “monster” increase and “the biggest ever seen.”

The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index number, by contrast, looks small, but has big impact. The index is a measure of the combined heating effect of the top greenhouse gases during their life spans as the gasses float around in the atmosphere. The number increased from 1.27 in 2009 to 1.29 in 2010, which is essentially a 2% increase. Since the index started in the Kyoto Protocol year of 1990, which the NOAA team chose as a baseline, the increase has been 29%.

“The way you have to look at these things is over time. So we’re up over 20% over where we were in 1990, in our effort to cut greenhouse gases. So we’re not doing very well,” says Jim Butler, director of the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., which produces the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index.

Numbers on the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, Butler points out, do not correlate directly to degrees difference in temperature. But when it goes up, warming potential increases.

“The sum of all of those tells you how much we’re increasing the warming potential of the atmosphere,” says Butler. “The analogy I use is the electric blanket. The numbers on the electric blanket don’t correlate to specific temperatures. If you’re really comfortable with it set on 3, and then you gradually turn it up to 6 to get warmer, at first you don’t notice anything. But in a little while you will, and then you’re going to stop turning it up, but you’re going to continue to get hotter.”

NOAA measures the gases in the atmosphere that most directly affect global warming, which it can do, Butler says, “with extreme accuracy.” The top five gases –- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and two chlorofluorocarbons called CFC11 and CFC12 –- are responsible for more than 95% of the warming effect. About 15 other gases make up the last 5%.

Carbon dioxide is the biggest and baddest, as it is the longest-lived and most abundant. CO2 levels rose to an average of 389 parts per million in 2010, compared with 386 ppm in 2009. Back in the 1880s, before the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm. Other gases are showing similar increases.

One bit of good news in the report: Concentrations of CFCs 11 and 12 are dropping, albeit very slowly. Remember the ban on ozone-depleting aerosol spray propellants? It evidently works. The 1989 Montreal Protocol banned chlorofluorocarbons and they are gradually being reduced.

Perhaps this is an indication that another global protocol might have similar effects on greenhouse gases. Just an idea.

The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index is just a way to make unsexy science into a concept that people can easily grasp. The heat-trapping potential of a gas is called “radiative forcing” and is measured in watts per square meter. Who the heck knows what that means? Butler hopes the index makes it more clear.

“This looked like a good way of presenting much of what we do within our organization, so people can understand the real effects,” he says.


Hewlett-Packard tops Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

EPA's secret list shows pollution unchecked

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Giant wind turbines at sunset near Albacete, central Spain, part of Spain’s effort to reach Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Paul Hanna / Reuters

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

The Obama Administration announced Tuesday its intention to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants for the first time. The new rule, nimbly titled “Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standard for Electric Utility Steam Generating Units,” would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to create emissions standards for new power plants.

It is another end-run around a Congress that has balked at passing cap-and-trade legislation or other remedies to curb greenhouse gases.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the right and responsibility to determine whether greenhouse gases endangered public health, making them subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The agency released its "endangerment" finding, a prelude to such regulation, just before the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change.

Since then, however, the White House and the EPA have delayed proposing new regulations, under intense pressure from Republican lawmakers, who have tagged the agency as a source of "job-killing regulation."

The White House has said that if Congress failed to act on carbon emissions, it would eventually step in.

The move could appeal to the president’s base at a time when he is taking many other unilateral steps to move his agenda, and as his reelection bid kicks into high gear.

David Doniger, policy director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “Setting carbon pollution standards for new power plants is an important first step. President Obama campaigned on moving America to a clean energy future. Cutting dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s dirty power plants is an essential part of fulfilling that pledge.”

It is likely that the appearance of the rule in the White House agenda will only intensify the political slugfest over the regulation of greenhouse gases. When the EPA first announced that curtailing these gases would fall under its purview, the business community erupted in a fury that continues today.

"We don’t believe that unelected bureaucrats should be doing what Congress was elected to do," said Nicolas Loris, policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, which has battled the EPA regulation of carbon from the outset. “The economic costs of regulation by the EPA or by a cap-and-trade system far outweighs any environmental benefit we would get from these measures."

Asked how the Heritage Foundation would like to see this problem addressed, he added: "First we need to step back and look at what the real problem is: CO2 isn’t black smoke that is emitted from factories; it’s a colorless, odorless gas. Does it contribute to global warming and climate change? Sure. But it’s the role of Congress to figure out the best way to address those effects in a way that protects our economy."

Charlotte Baker, press secretary for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, stated, “The committee plans to review the rules recently submitted to OMB and remains focused on finding ways to promote common-sense regulations that will protect our environment without destroying jobs or driving up electricity prices for families and job creators."

The committee is chaired by Congressman Fred Upton, who spearheaded a House effort to block the EPA from regulating CO2 and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.


EPA's secret list shows pollution unchecked

Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists

Are birds getting bigger because of global climate change?

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The Encina Power Power Station in Carlsbad, Calif. Proposed EPA rules would regulate CO2 emissions from new power plants. Credit: Sandy Huffaker/Bloomberg News.

EPA’s secret list shows pollution unchecked

A secret EPA “watch list” unearthed by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that hundreds of the nation’s worst industrial air polluters violate toxic air emissions standards with little or no action by state agencies, sometimes for decades. Several of the plants on the list are in Southern California.

NPR reports that about 1,600 power plants and other industrial facilities were flagged as requiring urgent action to reduce emissions, and nearly 300 were marked as “high priority violators” of the Clean Air Act for more than a decade.

If a facility is noted as needing urgent action, and no enforcement action is taken within nine months, it is automatically bumped onto a watch list, which now includes more than 450 plants. It’s unclear why the list was kept secret, although a former Environmental Protection Agency official noted in the story that it was to prevent tipping off the facilities that were the targets of criminal investigations.

Not all the plants on the list are being investigated, and some end up there for bureaucratic reasons not directly related to the seriousness of the violations.

The upshot is that some big polluters skate by for years without any remediation. CPI used this data to put together its “Poisoned Places” report, telling the story of communities across the U.S. that are wrestling with elevated incidence of cancer and other illnesses thought to be related to high concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and other toxic substances released by industrial plants.

In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, NPR and CPI received watch lists from July and September 2011. California companies on those lists are noted below. In notes included on the lists, several of the companies explain why they do not belong on the list or how they ended up there due to administrative error.

Aera Energy, San Ardo (Monterey County).
Big West of CA, LLC, Bakersfield.
Blue Lake Power, Blue Lake.
CA Portland Cement Co., Mojave.
Cold Canyon Landfill, San Luis Obispo.
ConocoPhillips Santa Maria Refinery, Arroyo Grande.
ConocoPhillips SF Refinery (Phillips 66), Rodeo.
E&J Gallo Winery and Brandy, Modesto.
Forward Inc. Landfill, Manteca.
Red-Scotia, LLA (Town of Scotia Co.), Scotia.
Shell Oil Products U.S., Martinez Refinery, Martinez.
Tamco, Rancho Cucamonga.
Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co., Martinez.
TXI Riverside Cement, Oro Grande.
Valero Refining Company, California, Benicia.


Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed by State Department

Burning oil from BP spill produced carbon plumes

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Oil refinery near Martinez, Calif. Several area refineries are on an EPA watch list with unaddressed Clean Air Act violations. Credit: Ray Saint Germain/AP Photo/Contra Costa Times

Grand Canyon mining ban moves forward

Grand canyon

The Obama administration moved closer to adopting a 20-year ban on new mining claims on 1 million acres of land around the Grand Canyon by issuing the final environmental impact statement analyzing potential consequences of the prohibition.

The ban would extend a two-year moratorium established in 2009 that is set to expire in December. Uranium mining claims have jumped 2,000% in recent years in land bordering Grand Canyon National Park and supporters of the ban argue it is necessary to protect Colorado River supplies vital to the Southwest and Southern California.

“For more than a century, this national treasure has endured because a series of American presidents have had the foresight and willingness to safeguard it from mining and other development interests,” said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group.

The environmental documents, issued Wednesday, will be used to support the Interior Department's final decision, expected after a 30-day review period.

Extending the mining ban would not affect existing claims. According to the impact statement, “as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years,” including four mines already approved.

The new ban is opposed by the mining industry and Republicans from the region in both houses of Congress, who introduced a bill in October to block it. The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah and John McCain of Arizona, and by Reps. Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert and Ben Quayle of Arizona and Rob Bishop of Utah.

“If this study had relied more on science and less on a political agenda, it would confirm that uranium mining in northern Arizona can create jobs and stimulate the local economy without jeopardizing the beauty of Grand Canyon National Park,” Flake said.


California asbestos deposits mapped

Keystone pipeline backers use anti-Saudi message for oil sands 

Fracking used more diesel fuel than estimated, lawmakers say 

-- Neela Banerjee

Photo: Sunset at Mohave Point in Grand Canyon National Park. The Department of Interior is considering a 20-year ban on new mining claims on 1 million acres around the park. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles

Burning oil from BP spill produced carbon plumes

BP oil spill controlled burns released an estimated 1 million pounds of soot into the atmosphere, a study found
Chalk up another environmental impact from last summer's Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Nine weeks of burning off oil slicks from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico following the BP spill released an estimated 1 million pounds of soot into the atmosphere, according to a study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The burns were conducted to reduce the size of the slicks and to minimize the amount of oil reaching the gulf’s coast and wetlands systems. But the study, which was co-written by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colo., found the plumes of smoke from the burns produced an amount of carbon equal to the total black carbon emissions normally released by all ships that travel the Gulf of Mexico during a nine-week period.

Black carbon, whose primary component is often called soot, is among the most light-absorbing particles in the atmosphere. The new study, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, provides some of the most detailed observations made of black carbon sent airborne by burning surface oil.

The study found that the soot plumes reached much higher into the atmosphere than ship emissions normally rise, and that the average size of the soot particles was larger than normally emitted from other sources in the gulf region. Researchers also found that the soot particles were almost all black carbon, unlike forest fires, for example, which produce other particles along with black carbon.


California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

-- Julie Cart

Photo: A controlled burn on June 19, 2010, attempting to remove oil floating near the leaking BP well in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Recent News
Invitation to connect on LinkedIn |  December 12, 2013, 9:58 am »
New Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary proposed |  December 8, 2011, 8:00 am »