Yes, it Crocus time of the year

February 23, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor.

Sometimes it happens as early as January, this year it was late February but one sure sign of good things to come is the appearance of crocus which are always the first flowers to bloom nearly every winter (of course that does not count dandelions). © 2016 BlairPhotoEVVIMGP0421

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Cardinals arrive at my bird feeder for Valentines Day

February 14, 2016 – Photo © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Several Cardinals finally found my bird feeder today. This one seems to be talking to me, asking how he should pose. 

Cardinal

Cardinal © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

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Indiana already at risk of Flint-style water problems

February 12, 2016 – by Mary Dieter in the Indiana Business Journal

The school counselor told her it would shave just a few points off her child’s IQ.

That’s what a mother said in an interview in Flint, Michigan, where residents drank lead-poisoned water for 18 months before their indifferent government belatedly took steps to stop it.

© 2010 Illustration by John Blair

© 2010 Illustration by John Blair

Just a few IQ points for a kid who already is starting life more than a few steps behind, living in a city of 99,000 where median household income is half that of the United States, 42 percent of residents live in poverty, and 57 percent are black.

Just a few IQ points. As stomach-churning as that is, it’s not the whole story. Lead poisoning can cause failure to thrive, behavioral issues, high blood pressure, joint pain, kidney damage, memory loss, mood disorders, and possibly miscarriages and criminal behavior.

The Michigan governor, his environmental agency and the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency systematically covered up and profoundly let down Flint residents, more determined to save money than save futures, more concerned about deflecting blame than preventing damage. The Region 5 EPA administrator and Michigan’s top environmental official have resigned. Gov. Rick Snyder should, too, but he has merely apologized. Their actions are far too little, far too late, for the Flint families who might be irreversibly harmed by their alleged leaders’ apathy and ineptitude.

When horrible things happen to somebody else, we tend to take smug solace in thinking, “It can’t happen here.”

Only I have zero faith that something like the Flint disaster can’t happen in Indiana, where every action by the current governor and his predecessor has been weighed against political consequences, where the slightest possible imposition on business (read: contributors) immediately renders worthless any environmental-protection proposal. Govs. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence have fought environmental protections at every turn and weakened the state’s ability to go after polluters.

The state—whose water was deemed by a 2014 study as more polluted by industrial chemicals than that of any other state—recently joined a lawsuit challenging federal authority to protect some streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, Pence has criticized President Obama’s Clean Power Plan—a response to climate change—but is making no visible headway toward deciding if the state should write its own plan. He asked environmental groups early on for their ideas, but discussions since have gone behind closed doors, leaving common citizens out of a matter that deeply affects them. Continue reading

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If Flint water is unsafe, what about yours?

January 27, 2016 – By Jasmine Watts in Great lakes Echo. Editor’s Note: Evansville has had its own lead problem and although not as ubiquitous and pervasive as the problem in Flint, it was every bit as much of a threat to human development for those who were forced to live in lead tainted neighborhoods. Sadly, that problem, once discovered, took more than twenty years to correct due to the lack of official leadership concern in Evansville as well as bureaucrat morass and delay. How many of us actually know if we have lead solder or lead piping for our service lines? The use of faucet filters is always a wise investment.Water

While Flint struggles with lead in its water, other aging Michigan communities also have water lines made of the health-threatening metal.

The National Drinking Water Advisory Council said in 2014 that there is no safe level of lead. It’s a costly problem to address.

An American Water Works Association report, “Buried No Longer,” said the nation needs to replace aging pipelines that may contain lead or may leak. Over a 25-year span, “Buried No Longer” estimates that the country’s new drinking infrastructure will cost $1 trillion.

According to the report, the total replacement cost of water pipes in the Midwest would be about $486 billion. Public Sector Consultants is analyzing Michigan’s infrastructure to find costs and needs related to fixing or replacing wastewater and drinking water systems. The Lansing-based research and program management firm specializes in governance and regulation, health care, education, energy and environmental policy.

“Although the report is still being drafted and we can’t release the results, part of our analysis is looking at the flaws in the EPA survey about drinking water,” said Jon Beard, a consultant at Public Sector Consultants.

Beard says that there have been far too many underreported cases of decrepit pipelines that lead to underestimating the problem. The assessment of need in the EPA survey is for 20 years from the time of the survey, which also causes discrepancies.

Homes with plumbing systems built before 1978 have copper and cast iron pipe connections. The American Water Works Association report says that these pipes can contain lead.

“If there is lead within one source in the home, there is probably lead in other sources,” said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the Department of Community Health and Human Services. “Lead poisoning has been a problem and will always be a problem until we get all lead risks out of homes.”
Minicuci recommends that people who live in homes built before 1978 get tested for lead poisoning because of lead in pipelines and in paint.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe blood level of lead and that even low levels have been shown to have an effect, especially among children.

Lead poisoning can affect mental and physical development and at very high levels can be fatal.

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Alcoa To cease smelter operation at Warrick facility

600 Employees facing termination

January 7, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Alcoa's sprawling 900 + sure facility in Warrick County, just east of Newburgh has been the largest aluminum smelter in the nation for several years as others have been forced to close due to economic issues with the price of aluminum. Now, like the others, a substantial portion of the Warrick plant will shut down in 2016. © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Alcoa’s sprawling 900 + sure facility in Warrick County, just east of Newburgh has been the largest aluminum smelter in the nation for several years as others have been forced to close due to economic issues with the price of aluminum. Now, like the others, a substantial portion of the Warrick plant will shut down in 2016. © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

UnknownAlcoa, the largest primary aluminum producer in the nation announced today that it is permanently shutting down smelter operation at its Warrick facility which was the largest smelter left operating in the United States. In their announcement, they also said that about 600 employees would lose their jobs.

Alcoa has operated the smelter since 1960 and employs just under 2,000 people in total at the Warrick County facility located just east of Newburgh, IN.

Alcoa claims their decision was based strictly on market issues which have forced the price of aluminum to historic lows due to international competition.

Alcoa did say that their power plants and rolling mills will remain open and it is only the smelter part of the business that will be shuttered permanently.

Their claim that they will keep open their power plants is curious since the primary need for the electric power is smelting. If the smelters are closed, and they keep the power plants operating, it can be assumed that they will operate their power plants as so called “merchants” selling their power on the open market. But that market is not good these days as renewable energy and natural gas have caused the retirement of numerous coal fired power plants across the country,

It should be noted that the power plants operate mainly to supply energy for the smelting process and with that shutting down the demand for power will diminish considerably. Currently, the power plants that carry a nameplate capacity of 800 megawatts in total do not sell power on the open market.

However, the Warrick Unit 4 is “jointly owned with Vectren with each owning 135 MW. At this time, it is unclear how all the power will be divided although Vectren has no plans to give up their portion. If Alcoa’s part of Warrick 4 is sufficient to operate the remaining operations at the plant, then it could well be that Units 1, 2 and 3 will be permanently shuttered. This is especially so since there are a number of environmental issues those 1960’s plants must contend with, including Carbon Dioxide as it pertain to climate change. Continue reading

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Christmas Card VW

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First-Ever National Wild Bee Map Shows Major Decline in Crucial Agricultural Regions

December 22, 2015 – by Cole Mellino in EcoWatch

Web  Bee 2-27

Simple observation in the Valley Watch garden over the last few years bears out the severe reduce ion in honey bees in this region. This bee was an early explorer several years ago in the garden e=collecting pollen from a crocus in February. © BlairPhotoEVV

A team of researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) created the first national study, which mapped wild bee populations. Their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that native pollinators are in major decline in crucial agricultural regions of the U.S. They estimate that between 2008 and 2013, wild bee abundance declined in 23 percent of the contiguous U.S.

Wild bee populations are in serious decline across the U.S. Photo credit: Proceedings of the Nati
Wild bee populations are in serious decline across the U.S. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

“If losses of these crucial pollinators continue, the new nationwide assessment indicates that farmers will face increasing costs—and that the problem may even destabilize the nation’s crop production,” the researchers said.

The study found that 39 percent of U.S. croplands that depend on pollinators face a “threatening mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees.” They propose setting aside 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

They identified 139 counties where this “mismatch” is most striking. These counties included agricultural regions of California such as the Central Valley, Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas and the southern Mississippi River valley. Crops such as pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries are most at risk because they are most dependent on pollination.

Researchers identified 139 counties that are especially at risk for pollinator decline. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Researchers identified 139 counties that are especially at risk for pollinator decline. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

“Until this study, we didn’t have a national mapped picture about the status of wild bees and their impacts on pollination,” Koh, a researcher at UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, said—even though each year more than $3 billion of the U.S. agricultural economy depends on the pollination services of native pollinators like wild bees.

The researchers cite “numerous threats” to wild bees, including pesticide use, climate change, disease and habitat loss.  Continue reading

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Cancer studies clash over mechanisms of malignancy

December 17, 2015 – by Heidi Ledford in Nature

4.0.4

4.0.4

Most cases of cancer result from avoidable factors such as toxic chemicals and radiation, contends a study published online in Nature on 16 December (S. Wu et al. Naturehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature16166; 2015). The paper attempts to rebut an argument that arose early this year, when a report in Science concluded that differences in inherent cellular processes are the chief reason that some tissues become cancerous more frequently than others (C. Tomasetti and B. Vogelstein Science 347, 78–81; 2015).

The work led to assertions that certain forms of cancer are mainly the result of “bad luck”, and suggested that these types would be relatively resistant to prevention efforts. “There’s no question what’s at stake here,” says John Potter of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, who studies causes of cancer. “This informs whether or not we expend energy on prevention.”

In their Science paper, mathematician Cristian Tomasetti and cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, calculated the relationship between the number of stem-cell divisions and the risk of developing cancer in various tissues. Every instance of cell division comes with a risk that DNA will be incorrectly copied, leading to mutations — some of which could contribute to cancer. The duo’s analysis found a correlation: the more stem-cell divisions that occur in a given tissue over a lifetime, the more likely it is to become cancerous. Continue reading

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“Winter” is colorful in late 2015

December 16, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Record breaking temperatures across the eastern half of the USA have provided more opportunities for being outdoors than normal this time of the year. But that also includes pests like those in the mosquito family and other insects. Perhaps the agreement reached last week in Paris will at least quell the advance of climate change, at least hopefully.Winter color web

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Carbon capture analyst: ‘Coal should stay in the ground’

December 2, 2015 – Contact: Nicole Casal Moore at University of Michigan News. Editor’s Note: Valley Watch has opposed the use of Carbon Capture and Sequestration for mainly economic and efficiency reasons for more than a decade. 

AEP's Rockport plant, a 2,600 MW behemoth located in Rockport, IN will not have to install scrubbers until 2028 under an agreement signed by several environmental groups and the EPA this week. Photo © 2013 John Blair

Photo © 2013 John Blair

Serious flaws have been found in a decade’s worth of studies about the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the climate.

The findings, from the University of Michigan, are released as world leaders at COP21 attempt to negotiate the globe’s first internationally binding climate agreement.

The U-M researchers have found that most economic analysis of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology for coal-fired power plants severely underestimates the technique’s costs and overestimates its energy efficiency. CCS involves sucking carbon out of coal-fired power plants’ flue gases, compressing it and then injecting it deep underground.

The new analysis puts the cost of reducing carbon emissions with CCS-equipped coal plants higher than any previous study—and most importantly, higher than wind and comparable to solar power. It’s the first study to confront the so-called “energy loop” inherent in the CCS process.

Beyond a one-time “energy penalty” these plants pay because they have to burn more coal to power devices that capture carbon, the researchers say the disadvantage compounds until fuel costs leap to four times today’s accepted estimates.

“The conclusion is that renewables will be a cheaper alternative to reducing carbon emissions from coal, at least in the United States and likely globally,” said Steve Skerlos, U-M professor of mechanical engineering, and civil and environmental engineering.

“To us, this means policymakers need to stop wasting time hoping for technological silver bullets to sustain the status quo in the electric sector and quickly accelerate the transition from coal to renewables, or possibly, natural gas power plants with CCS.”
Continue reading

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The “Fixer” compliments of The League of Conservation Voters

November 20, 2015 – YouTube video from Funny or Die

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New study says typical Evansville air is bad enough to trigger serious heart attacks

November 16, 2015 – by Daphne Chen in the Deseret NewsEditor’s note: For those who follow such mundane things as air pollution data, it is clear that the many days in Evansville and surrounding environs, reach levels referred to in this new study. Unfortunately, government officials at every level, local, state and national dismiss poor air quality in the region as just  cost of doing business. air pollution alert

If you have heart disease, yellow may not be your friend.

Patients with heart disease have an increased risk of having a serious heart attack even during moderate air quality days, according to findings released last week by Intermountain Heart Institute.

Kent Meredith, a cardiologist with Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and one of the researchers on the study, said the risk begins when the level of fine particulate matter — what scientists call PM2.5 — reaches 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

That falls in the range of a yellow air quality day — what the Utah Department of Environmental Quality labels “moderate” air quality.

“Patients who have known heart disease are going to be more vulnerable on those days when you see the air pollution spike,” Meredith said. “Those are days when they probably ought to adjust their activities.”FIne particle comparison

The study involved analyzing two decades of data from more than 16,000 Intermountain Healthcare heart patients along the Wasatch Front, cross-referencing it with 20 years of local air quality data.

“It’s a very complete, very big study in terms of the number of patients, which allows us to look for even small effects,” Meredith said.

Researchers found that for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 levels, a patient’s risk for serious heart attack rose by 15 percent.

The study suggests that people with coronary artery disease should limit their outdoor exposure on many yellow days and all orange and red days. Continue reading

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Breaking News: Valley Watch, colleagues, win Vectren appeal

October 29, 2015 – by the Indiana Law Blog. Editor’s note: We would almost certainly expect that Vectren will appeal this decision for either a rehearing before the same Court of Appeals or seek review by the Indiana Supreme Court.

BIRD W: ADDRESSIn Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Inc., Sierra Club, Inc., and Valley Watch, Inc. v. Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co. d/b/a Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana, Inc., Ind. Utility Regulatory , a 34-page opinion, Judge Bradford writes:

On January 17, 2014, Appellee-Petitioner Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company d/b/a Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana (“Vectren”), a public utility company which provides electricity to southern Indiana residents, filed a petition with Appellee the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (“the Commission” or “IURC”) for approval of projects to modify their current coal-powered generating stations so as to meet new EPA standards. The petition also requested financial incentives and reimbursement from ratepayers for costs associated with the projects. Appellants-Intervenors Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Inc., (“CAC”) Sierra Club, Inc., and Valley Watch, Inc. (collectively “Appellants”) intervened in the action and, in addition to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor1 (“OUCC”), opposed Vectren’s petition. Appellants argued that retiring some or all of Vectren’s current coal-powered generators and replacing them with new natural gas-powered generators was a more cost-effective plan than Vectren’s proposal to install emission controls on its current generators. Ultimately, the OUCC ceased its opposition to Vectren’s proposal prior to the Commission’s decision.The Commission found that Vectren’s proposal was reasonable and necessary, approved the proposal, and granted Vectren’s request for reimbursement of project costs. On appeal, Appellants argue that the Commission failed to make necessary findings on (1) facts material to its determination of the issues and (2) statutory factors required to be addressed prior to authorizing the use of clean coal technology. In response, Vectren claims that Appellants’ appeal is moot and that the Commission made all necessary findings. We find that the Commission erred in failing to make findings on the factors listed in Indiana Code section 8-1-8.7-3 and, accordingly, we remand with instructions. * * *

We find that (1) the Appellants’ claims are not moot, (2) the Commission did not err in failing to consider the necessity of Culley unit 2 or the reasonableness of Vectren’s delay in filing its petition, and (3) regarding the soda ash and hydrated lime injection systems, the Commission erred by failing to make findings on the statutory factors listed in Indiana Code section 8-1-8.7-3 and by failing to grant or deny Vectren’s request for a CPCN thereunder. Accordingly, we remand the case to the Commission with instructions that the Commission make the required findings under Chapter 8.7.

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Modern living could endanger health, food and ecosystems

October 18, 2015 – by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in the Jerusalem Post

Downtown 4x6 1

City lights, bright enough to light up the sky may have negative impacts on our health and our ecosystems. © 2008 BlairPhotoEVV

Living under constant and stable temperatures throughout the year due to air conditioning, heating and artificial lighting at night is liable to harm our health, food security and ecological systems, according to a international study by 63 researchers from 24 universities, including Tel Aviv University. The study was published in the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Professor Noga Kronfeld- Schor, a behavioral neuroscientist who heads the zoology department of TAU ’s life sciences faculty, said that these artificial environmental conditions create an “unending summer”.

Kronfeld-Schor explained, “The pace of life on our planet is [naturally] affected by seasonal changes. Plants and animals exhibit annual cycles in physiology, health, morphology, behavior and demography.

Our survey points to the fact that humans are not any different, and that we show significant annual rhythms in demography, health and well-being.”

She added that we usually do not pay attention to these seasonal changes because they are very slow.

“We feel our internal clock when we’re in jet lag, for example, but we pay less attention to the seasonal ticking – partly because we live in an artificial environment of ‘constant summers’ with steady temperatures and available lighting. But studies on other species prove that even after many years under set and artificial conditions, animals continue to ‘obey’ their seasonal clock, and statistical analyses show that humans are no different. We express different genes and are ill according to seasons – and are even violent and go to war according to seasons in the year.”

While the artificial environment does not cancel the season clock of humans, Kronfeld-Schor said: “We still don’t know how this environment affects our biological clock. We have a growing number of studies that point to animals losing their synchronization.

For example, migratory birds leaving one country are supposed to reach their target country on an exact date when there are enough hatching caterpillars to serve as a source of food.

The caterpillars time their hatching according to temperatures in the environment, but because of global warming, they do so before the birds arrive, so the birds die of hunger.”

The new article stresses the importance of better understanding of seasonal biology, especially based on disruptions caused by climate changes, the modern way of life and additional effects.

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KU, LG&E “officially” retire the antiquated Green River Station

October 8, 2015 – News Release from LG&E and KU in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

It began powering customers across the Commonwealth before some areas even had electric service. Now after 65 years of providing safe, reliable energy, the turning of generating units at Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company’s Green River Station has ground to a halt. The company officially retired the plant’s final two units just before midnight, September 30.

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The antiquated Green River Station is now officially retired. Compared to other plants, like TVA’s Paradise Plant nearby, it was a small facility but a big polluter, nevertheless. File Photo © 2015 BlairPhotoEVV

Hailed by Kentucky officials as “the greatest industrial innovation of the century,” Green River was put into service in 1950 to help meet post-World War II energy demands. Strategically located in western Kentucky, the plant played a key role in supporting the region’s dramatic economic growth by taking advantage of abundant, low-cost coal supplies in the area and serving as a critical energy hub that interconnected and supplied power to Kentucky Utilities’ entire system. At the peak of its operations, the plant’s four generating units combined to produce more than 250 megawatts of power.

“This plant might be a small one by today’s standards, but it’s also been a mighty one,” said Green River Station General Manager Tom Troost. “It’s met the challenge of increased demand and endured flooding, ice storms and more than six decades of service in an industry that is constantly evolving.” Continue reading

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