Month: March 2006

Study Says U.S. Companies Lag on Global Warming – New York Times

Study Says U.S. Companies Lag on Global Warming – New York Times

European and Asian companies are paying more attention to global warming than their American counterparts. And chemical companies are more focused on the issue than oil companies.

Those are two conclusions from “Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Making the Connection,” a report that Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists, expects will influence investment decisions.

The report, released yesterday, scored 100 global corporations — 74 of them based in the United States — on their strategies for curbing greenhouse gases. It covered 10 industries — oil and gas, chemicals, metals, electric power, automotive, forest products, coal, food, industrial equipment and airlines — whose activities were most likely to emit greenhouse gases. It evaluated companies on their board oversight, management performance, public disclosure, greenhouse gas emissions, accounting and strategic planning.

The report gave the chemical industry the highest overall marks, with a score of 51.9 out of a possible 100; DuPont, with 85 points, was the highest-ranking American company in any of the industries. Airlines, in contrast, ranked lowest, with a score of 16.6; UAL, the parent of United Airlines, received just 3 points.

Well, clearly government policy and media attitudes have more to do with market behavior and regulation than the “free market fundamentalists” would care to accept.

Cleaner Air Brings Drop in Death Rate – New York Times

Cleaner Air Brings Drop in Death Rate – New York Times

When air pollution in a city declines, the city benefits with a directly proportional drop in death rates, a new study has found.

In other news, Dog bites man (I have never typed “dog bites man” into google news before – shocking…)

Well, the Dockery and company published a seminal set of articles on the 6 city study back in the 90s that are the gold standard of air pollution epidemiology. It takes large long-term studies like these to establish even tenuous correlations, and their graphs connecting particle concentrations and mortality were beautiful straight lines.

This follow up is pretty cool because the cities had made most of the reductions in the 70s and 80s after the passage of the Clean Air Act and this study clearly demonstrates that the bar for lowering mortality/cancer rates by lowering fine particle levels has not been reached yet. The abstract of the paper is below the fold.

Judges Overturn Bush Bid to Ease Pollution Rules – New York Times

smokestacks.jpgThis is the NY Times headline, not mine!

Judges Overturn Bush Bid to Ease Pollution Rules – New York Times

But on Friday, the court said the agency went too far in 2003 when it issued a separate new rule that opponents said would exempt most equipment changes from environmental reviews — even changes that would result in higher emissions.

With a wry footnote to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” the court said that “only in a Humpty-Dumpty world” could the law be read otherwise.

“We decline such a world view,” said their unanimous decision, written by Judge Judith W. Rogers, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judges David Tatel, another Clinton appointee, and Janice Rogers Brown, a recent Bush appointee, joined her.

The winners this time —more than a dozen states, including New York and California and a large group of environmental organizations — hailed the decision as one of their most important gains in years of litigation, regulation and legal challenges under the Clean Air Act.

The provision of the law at issue, the “new source review” section, governs the permits required at more than 1,300 coal-fueled power plants around the country and 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants that spew millions of tons of pollution into the air each year.

The proposed rule would have allowed powerplants to avoid putting new controls in as long as the cost of equipment did not exceed 20% of the replacement cost of the plant. Fuzzy math, anyone! This would have let to major incentives to not build new plants using cleaner technology, but keep the “grandfathers” running. A lot of the old plants were exempted from some of the strict controls by being grandfathered into the act. Well, call me cruel, but grandfathers eventually die! I thought of this proposed rule as the “Bionic Grandpa” provision! Glad that the courts did not like it.

Killer nets reinstated

Council Decisions: March 2006

Drift Gillnet Management

The Council adopted a recommendation to NMFS to authorize an exempted fishing permit (EFP) that would allow drift gillnet fishing in the current August 15-November 15 closed area. The EFP fishery would be governed by several requirements for all vessels, including, to carry an observer; to limit total fishing effort in the EFP fishery to 300 sets; to immediately cease the EFP fishery if, and when, two leatherback sea turtles were encountered by the fishing gear; and to immediately cease the EFP fishery if one mortality or serious injury occurred to any of the following marine mammals: short-finned pilot whale, sperm whale, fin whale, gray whale, humpback whale, or minke whale.

And, with that, starts the rather egregious practice of drift gillnet fishing. The restrictions seem fairly tight, an observer on every boat, and end to the fishery after two incidences of capture. There is definitely more than meets the eye here, I don’t know what. Drift gillnet fishing is well documented to cause turtle catch, this from the 1998 Fishery Bulletin for 1990-1995

In the drift gillnet fishery, seven out of 387 mammals observed entangled were released alive. In the set gillnet fishery, five out of 1,263 mammals observed entangled were released alive. Estimates of incidental kill are presented along with estimates of entanglement for species that were observed to be released alive. For the period under consideration, the estimated mortality for the drift gillnet fishery was over 450 marine mammals each year. A total of 20 turtles and 3 seabirds were observed entangled during the entire period. The most frequently entangled species in this fishery were common dolphins, Delphinus spp., and northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris. Estimated cetacean mortality in the driftnet fishery decreased from 650 in 1991 to 417 in 1995; pinniped mortality decreased from 173 in 1991 to 116 in 1995. Estimated cetacean mortality in the set gillnet fishery ranged from a high of 38 in 1991 to a low 14 in 1993; pinniped mortality rose to a high of 4,777 in 1992 and then decreased to 1,016 in 1995. We postulate that there has been a decline in the number of pinnipeds and cetaceans in the setnet fishery owing to area closure. No similar proposal can be made for the driftnet fishery. The most frequently entangled mammals in the setnet fishery were California sea lions, Zalophus californianus, and harbor seals, Phoca vitulina. Six turtles and 1,018 seabirds were estimated entangled in this fishery during the NMFS Observer Program from July 1990 to December 1995.

So what’s the deal, this thing caught 20 turtles in 5 years, so it is going to catch turtles, no doubt about it. Anyone who does not get what the death of one adult sea turtle means read this. Sea turtles are wonderfully fragile animals given their size, they take long to mature sexually, they do not breed all that much and less than 1% of turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood. Leatherbacks are highly endangered.

I have a feeling that this is the first part of a one-two punch intended to reinstate the famed turtle killer long line swordfish nets on the pacific coast. The “proof” that these nets do not catch turtles will be used to lobby for longline swordfishing in, oh say three months?

Voluntary Priority and Toxic Chemical Reduction – US EPA

Priority and Toxic Chemical Reduction | Resource Conservation Challenge | US EPA

Priority and toxic chemicals make up a fairly limited volume, yet potentially hazardous portion of the nation’s waste stream. We are working to eliminate or reduce priority chemicals and other chemicals of national concern from commercial products, waste streams, and industrial releases through pollution prevention, waste minimization, and recycling/reuse.The 31 priority chemicals are federal priorities because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, and highly toxic. We’re focusing on reducing priority and toxic chemicals to better protect human health and the environment.

By substituting or eliminating certain chemicals in their manufacturing processes, companies produce less waste and thus lower their waste disposal costs. Our goal is to substantially reduce the volume and toxicity of priority chemicals in waste by asking companies to voluntarily:

  • Substitute safer alternatives when they can;
  • Minimize the amount of priority chemicals they use, if they can’t substitute for them;
  • Maximize their recycling efforts;
  • Practice cradle-to-cradle chemical management; and
  • Design products to minimize exposure to, and release of, priority chemicals during manufacturing and use.

Sounds good, and Worldchanging has more:

But nowhere near the progress some companies are making on their own in cleaning up toxic emissions — not simply to be good guys, but to reduce their costs, liabilities, and exposure to activist and shareholder pressures. And, in some cases, to meet their customers’ growing demands for less-toxic or nontoxic alternatives to business as usual.

Read the whole post, which sounds ambivalent about the scheme. The idea is Environmental Good Sense 101, use less, or none at all, practice cradle to grave economics and minimize exposure. Simple stuff, huh. The biggest problem, however, is that by setting limits on a voluntary basis, you always run the risk of setting the bar too low, and then indulging in relentless and pointless self congratulation about how the “market” solved everything, and how rules are so, well, 1970s?

you need a good mix of

  1. Regulation, which sets a minimum, health based bar
  2. Flexibility to the business on how to achieve their targets
  3. Market systems to trade emission credits, etc
  4. Voluntary industry-government initiatives like the one above
  5. Relentless citizen activism that forces governments/business to act
  6. Community outreach and education so consumers can make informed choices
  7. Costing mechanisms that actually reflect free market efficiencies (no stupid subsidies, accurate costing of “externalities”, etc. )

Yeah, this does not fit neatly into the Mano a Mano, you’re with us/you’re against us false dichotomy of choice that seems to beset almost every policy debate (environmental or otherwise). It seems that you never have to do one or the other, but a bit of both, or all of them at the same time.

In the meanwhile, the voluntary program will work, but only in areas in specific instances where it is to a company’s advantage.

BTW, I think that good old fashioned regulation in Europe – See Reach and many many more existing regulations, such as this one for PCBs and Dioxins which I know a little too much about, have a little more to do with American companies reducing POP levels that they care to admit!

Stealth sharks to patrol the high seas

From the annals of the utterly insane, it’s about 3 weeks early for April Fools pranks…

Stealth sharks to patrol the high seas

More controversially, the Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks’ natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails. By remotely guiding the sharks’ movements, they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted. The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), based in Arlington, Virginia, was presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week

Read the Tom’s Dispatch article for a bigger picture look, excellent paragraph here, one can’t help but wonder…

To support letting inventive minds roam free outside normal frameworks is in itself an inspired idea. But I bet there’s no DARPA-like agency elsewhere in the government funding the equivalent for education 2025 or health 2025 or even energy independence 2025. To have this happen, I’m afraid, you would have to transform them into Northcom war games.

I do not believe that throwing money into research solves all problems, but I wonder what would happen if the US of A did not spend all its spare cash and (up to the eyeballs) in debt on defense. The incredible amounts of money spent on defense makes many people rich, keeps many companies afloat, creates many jobs, etc. But so would massive amounts of government funding on pretty much any other, more worthwhile venture.

California’s Prop 65 on Deathbed

House votes to dump state food safety laws

See this post for some context.

The vote Wednesday was a sign of the tremendous power of the food industry in Congress. Corporations and trade groups that joined the National Uniformity for Food Coalition, which backed the bill, have contributed more than $3 million to members in the 2005-06 election cycle and $31 million since 1998, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The industry also has many top lobbyists pushing the bill, including White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s brother, Brad Card, who represents the Food Products Association.

Well, will it die in the senate? One wonders.

Why bother with an elected goverment if all it does is pass bills written by big industry? Maybe it’s time to get the middlemen out and have big business actually run the country, maybe GM can take a shot! Or maybe the top guy on the Forbes list for the year can take over as president for the year, this will give Warren Buffett good incentive to knock off Mr Gates.


pigFrom the annals of “Make them Laugh” | Local & State

North Carolina has spent six years searching for systems to replace hog lagoons — the open air ponds used to treat waste at hog farms. But according a $17.3-million study’s final results, released today, researchers haven’t found workable alternatives. Mike Williams, a N.C. State University professor and the lead researcher, told legislators today that he has found at least five hog waste systems that are dramatically better for the environment. But they are all too expensive for use on existing hog farms.

There better be more to this report that what’s in this article. I need to get my hands on the actual report. But this is ridiculous, those hog factories they very thoughtfully call farms are very lightly regulated. Read here for more information on the hog industry in NC, but  “they are all too expensive for use on existing hog farms” is, well, HOGWASH, and a little bit of a waste of 17 million bucks!

Sethusamudram – A typical Indian development project

The Sethusamudram (bridge sea – for the transliterators) project has the classic development plot lines that I’ve seen play out many times in India. Here’s a rationale from the official site…

Currently the ships coming from the west coast of India and other western countries with destination in the east coast of India and also in Bangladesh, China etc have to navigate around Srilankan coast. The existing water way is shallow and not sufficient for the movement of ships. This is due to the presence of a shallow region known as Adam’s bridge, located southeast of Rameswaram near Pamban, which connects the Talimannar Coast of Srilanka

What? They are going to destroy the bridge that rama and the vanaras built? Look at that picture, (thanks Manitham), can’t you see all the “Vanaras” (this has always struck me as racist – folks showing up from the North and calling the darker skinned Southerners Monkeys! But that is a different rant) running across the very clearly delineated land bridge – It’s fascinating, almost makes me believe that the Ramayana happened as narrated!

Manitham has a good rundown of the project from an activist standpoint.

A few points

  • The secrecy and lack of transparency are classic government techniques to control the flow of information and discourse. Every government does it, and the Indian government is no exception.
  • Environmental Impact Assessments are bought and paid for by the funding agency, and are hence essentially unreliable and untrustworthy. I had first hand experience of this when I was a student at IIT Bombay 10 years back.
  • There is a lot of politics involved, the port of Tuthukudi (Tuticorin as the damn Brits say) in Tamil Nadu is a clear winner and Colombo in SriLanka stands to lose revenue. There is also a great deal of Tamil Pride involved
  • Read this excellent article from the clearinghouse of articles : There is a security dimension here for India that may have been the actual motivation.
  • The area, due to its sheltering and shallow waters, has a lot of marine life. From a 2004 Deccan Herald Article

The series of meetings called by the Tuticorin Port Trust chairman in the coastal districts have turned out to be stormy with representatives of political parties shouting down objections from fishermen, who fear the loss of livelihood, and environmentalists who say the project threatens to destroy the Gulf of Mannar Marine Reserve. This reserve is one of India’s most biologically diverse coastal regions.
Over 3,600 species of plants and animals are found here. It is the first marine biosphere reserve in the South and South-East Asia and is believed to have the highest concentration of seagrass species along India’s coast. It is also among the largest remaining feeding grounds for the globally endangered species dugong. Five different species of endangered marine turtles, innumerable fish, molluscs and crustaceans are also found here. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the largest NGO working in the field of bio-diversity and environmental conservation, has said the rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is insufficient and a detailed study should be conducted in all seasons for at least a year.

  • The EIA actually says that since the seaway is 20 km away from the reserve, there will be no effect on the reserve, um, that seems highly unlikely to me…
  • The other major dimension is the usual utter lack of care for the people displaced. previous instances like the Sardar Sarovar project indicate that there will be no fair compensation for the displaced people, or for lost livelihood, which I guess is perfectly fine because it serves the greater good of the country?

Most of these big projects have resulted in overstated gains, understated losses, and huge wastes of taxpayer money. I don’t trust this to be any different. The facts look fudged, the project seems unnecessary (where’s my tamil pride?) and the effect on the wildlife and the crazy complex current system around Sri Lanka may change significantly leading to unforseen micro climate effects.

Two thumbs down…

Varanasi hit by blasts

VaranasiBBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Indian temple city hit by blasts

The first explosion took place in the major Sankot Mochan temple dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman at about 1815 local time (1245 GMT). At least 10 people were killed and a number of others injured in the blast, Uttar Pradesh officials said. An eyewitness, Siddharth Suri, told the BBC that thousands of people were at the temple at the time of the blast. Tuesday is a special day at the Sankat Mochan temple and the explosion took place just minutes before the main worship.

It’s so friggin’ easy in India, so many targets, so many people, so much activity. The motive is obvious, to incite a hindu reprisal on muslims that can ratchet up the tension even further. Don’t worry, the BJP-RSS-VHP troika is more than willing to play the game…

The BJP has already given a call for a Varanasi bandh while the VHP has gone a step further to call for a statewide bandh in UP. The BJP has also given notice to suspend Question Hour in Parliament tomorrow. On its agenda: the blasts and the alleged ‘‘competitive minorityism’’ that has encouraged ‘‘jehadi terrorism’’ to flourish, party leaders said.

While that was for the record, Sangh Parivar insiders view the latest development as an opportunity. Their calculation is that the BJP, which has declined considerably in UP over the last few years, would benefit from a communal polarisation in the state.

A similar polarisation in the early 1990s helped Hindutva forces transcend the differences of caste that lies at the root of UP’s politics of identity. The party has not been able to revive that ‘‘Hindu unity’’ since, but is now hoping that a replay of the ‘‘Mullah Mulayam’’ theme could work.

The Indian voting population has so far tended to vote more on bread and butter issues and caste/community lines than on religious lines, which makes for a fragmented voting pattern that is harder for the political parties to manage. But the forces of Hindutva would like nothing better than to polarize the electorate on religious lines, it would make the system much more “efficient”. I guess “either you’re with us, or you’re against us” is easier to manage than “either you’re with us, or you’re with them, no, you’re with the other them, no wait???” – See US of A for classic two party “efficiency”.