December 29, 2011

Get LED Christmas tree bulbs for next year

Did unlit bulbs on your Christmas tree make you a Scrooge this Christmas?

Get ahead of the rush for NEXT Christmas by recycling your old incandescent holiday lights for those LEDs you've been wanting. Click here to participate in a light recycling program that will get you a 25 percent off coupon for new LEDs.

December 22, 2011

Finally . . . Mercury and toxic air pollution standards

What a great Christmas present for those of us worried about the mercury and other toxins emitted every day from nearby coal-burning power plants. The EPA just set the first-ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution for power plants. Too late for the Madhatter, but in time for us.

These historic new health standards will save lives, help prevent illnesses like asthma and bronchitis, avoid hospitalizations and missed days at work, and create jobs in pollution control technology. The folks fighting against these standards should note that last objective--JOBS.

Why anyone would prefer power plants to keep spewing out mercury, arsenic, lead, dioxins, acid gases and other harmful pollutants is beyond my understanding.The EPA estimates that these new standards will save thousands of lives, prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma and avert 11,000 cases of acute childhood bronchitis every year starting in 2015.

So thank you, Santa, for having Lisa Jackson (EPA chief) as one of your elves. This has been a long time coming--20 years. President H. W. Bush authorized the EPA to reduce air toxins in 1990. Now I can sleep in heavenly peace.

Or will this provide political fodder in the coming months? Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is already fuming and threatening to overturn this ruling. Perhaps he should take some deep breaths near a coal-burning plant. Or maybe he already has. The Madhatter did, and might agree with Inhofe that climate change is a hoax.

December 20, 2011

Uranium mining in Virginia update

Are the rewards worth the risks?

The long awaited report (all 290 pages) from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) about mining uranium in Virginia provides some not-so-surprising news. The bottom line is that Virginia must overcome “steep hurdles” before it can assure that mining uranium in the western part of Virginia, at the Coles Hill site, can be safely done.

The NAS report does not definitively state that extracting possibly 119 milllion pounds of uranium can be done safely in this area of Spotslvania County, but defers that to our legislators as a policy decision. THAT is scarier than the largest undeveloped deposit of the radioactive element in the U.S. itself.

Why would they lift a 30-year moratorium on mining uranium?  Because Virginia Uranium Inc. wants them to and even funded the $1.4 million study. Hmmm? That company even spnsored a trip to France earlier in the year for a lot of the lawmakers to see how it's done safely in France. Hmmm again.

There are many risks, needless to say, in mining uranium. Yes, it's on that perioidic chart of elements we may remember from high school and it occurs naturally in the earth. But we saw how BP mitigated the dangers of offshore oil well drilling with their "infallible" blowout preventers.

Before the report was released, Governor Bob McDonnell stated that public safety must trump the potential economic impact and a boost in jobs to Southside Virginia. But campaign contributions could easily sway some legislators.

Virginia also has no uranium monitoring experience, and the U.S. has little experience with modern mines. So the state would have to enact a whole new set of uranium laws for optimal regulation and oversight. The East Coast has never seen full-scale uranium mining, but it has seen hurricanes on a regular basis. At the moment, the only folks who have a real voice are adjacent landowners. But didn't Japan's nuclear disaster extend farther out than a few miles? And do we yet know the extent of radiation exposure in that disaster?
It may take between five to eight years after lifting the moratorium to commence any uranium mining. So we don't need to suffer immediate heartburn over this possibility. Although last summer's earthquake should make us wary of any down-in-the-earth substances.

One member of the uranium mining subcommittee of Virginia's Coal and Energy Commission asked if maintaining a radioactive tailings (uranium mill waste) containment site for 1,000 years, as per federal regulation, was realistic.

Uranium mining opponents, such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, found the NAS report validated their concerns about potential risks to human health and the environment, But Virginia Uranium Inc. viewed the report as a “clear road map” for moving forward.

Yes, coal-burning power plants are dirty and we need uranium for our nuclear plants, and we import more than 90 percent of our nuclear fuel. But I'd want a very muscular regulatory power in place well before the moratorium is lifted.

Let the spin doctoring begin. The long-suffering Chesapeake Bay has enough problems with the current pollutants. Can we risk more?

Click here to learn what American Rivers folks have to say about uranium mining, or click here for input from the Piedmont Environmental Council..

Jewelry from vintage buttons?

I saw some mighty cool jewelry made from old buttons at a craft show in Beverly, Massachusetts, last month. Renee took some buttons handed down from past generation who collected and preserved them and transformed them into some unique necklaces, bracelets, etc.

These "wearable art" pieces are a great conversation piece too. Check them out at and you'll see what I mean.

December 19, 2011

What's up with the Keystone pipeline?

And why is it so contentious?
This proposed 1700 mile oil pipeline from Canadian tar sand fields to our Gulf coast has been in political crosshairs for some time. The Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, is hot to trot to get it installed. They have a LOT of oil waiting for some market, any market. If it doesn't go through the U.S., they say they'll take the pipeline west to Vancouver and sell the oil to China. That gets the attention of a lot of folks.

TransCanada has also bandied around a tantalizing number of jobs they claim this huge project will create--6500 jobs each year. Even the State Separtment agrees that 6500 jobs could be created, many of them temporary. After a pipeline goes down, it doesn't need a lot of babysitting. Perhaps only 50 permanent jobs will remain after the oil gets pumping.

So why the hubbub? There's this little aquifer (no actually HUGE aquifer) that's along the proposed route. The Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer) is one of the world's largest aquifers and it provides drinking water to 80 percent of the folks who live in Nebraska, and parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It's also used for irrigating crops in this "breadbasket of America" area that has suffered greatly from recent drought. It's not an especially deep aquifer either, so a nearby pipeline seems a real threat. Kinda like putting an open can of oil next to a pitcher of iced tea in your fridge and hoping the kids don't knock it over.

Some hydrologists say that the pipeline would be far enough west of the aquifer to not be a problem. Hydrologists also say that aquifers are replenished slowly, if at all. Many may dry up in 25 years. Oops, that's a mighty big problem.

Robert Redford stated this on Huffington Post today: "Keystone XL would cross more than 1,500 waterways, threatening them with the kind of accident that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River last summer and put 20 times that much tar sands in Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010, in a spill that hasn't been cleaned up yet." Robert always gets my attention when he talks like that.
And the crude oil that the pipeline would carry may not end up for domestic use anyway. The Gulf Coast refineries have existing contracts to export much of it. So that argument of "getting us"off foreign oil" doesn't hold water.

President Obama recently put the project on indefinite hold by deciding that no decision would take place until after the fall 2012 elections. "Unlikely to have significant environmental impact" was not good enough for many protesters who recently encircled the White House.

But Congress had to deal with the expiration of the payroll tax deduction--about $1000 to most Americans. So why not demand that in return for extending that cut for two months, the President make the Keystone pipeline decision before those two months are over? Only a disfunctional Congress can think like this, but that's what's going on. Only electoral politics can be as crude as this oil.

Click here to see a map of U.S. aquifers. Then take a cold sip of water and pray that the environmental oversight on this project will be tight if it proceeds, as it certainly might.