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Caught in the Act: WalMart Fined $110 Million for Flouting Environmental Laws

Caught in the Act: WalMart Fined $110 Million for Flouting Environmental Laws

 
The world’s largest retailer has been fined for flouting the United States’ Clean Water Act; WalMart has been issued this fine by U.S. authorities on several accounts, a report claims. 
 
WalMart plead guilty to charges of several environmental crimes, including mishandling pesticies and hazardous waste, and has agreed to pay a total of $110 million to settle the charges. 
 
The United States Department of Justice claimed WalMart stores has pleaded guilty in cases filed by federal prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles to six counts of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of poisonous materials at its retail stores throughout the United States. 
 
The U.S. retail giant pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by mishandling pesticides that were returned by customers at its stores throughout the United States. 
 
Documents retrieved by the court system reveal illegal dumping to have occurred in 16 counties in California between 2003 and 2005. Prosecutors claim the company did not train its employees on how to dispose and handle hazardous materials. The court documents reveal that these retail stores simply tossed the waste into trash bins or poured the hazardous materials into sewer systems. 
 
As a result of the criminal cases filed by the Justice Department, along with related civil cases filed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, WalMart is required to pay roughly $81.6 million for its illegal conduct. In 2010, WalMart paid nearly $28 million to settle similar charges made by California authorities that led to the restructuring of its hazardous waste compliance program. 
 
“Combined with previous actions filed by the States of Missouri and California for similar conduct, WalMart will pay a total of $110 million to settle cases alleging violation of several state and federal environmental laws,” the United States Justice Department claimed. 
 
The retail giant owns more than 4,000 stores across the United States; each store sells thousands of products which are considered corrosive, reactive, flammable, toxic, or otherwise deemed hazardous under U.S. law. 
 
 
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Sean Parker Slapped with $2.5 Million Fine for Dream Wedding

Sean Parker Slapped with $2.5 Million Fine for Dream Wedding

 
Napster co-founder and Internet bad boy Sean Parker dished out $10 million for his fantasy wedding in Big Sur, and now, he is being slapped with $2.5 million in fines for the dream-like nuptials. 
 
Parker constructed the equivalent of a Lord of the Rings movie set near the majestic redwoods and a creek that contained endangered steelhead trout. The wedding project included fake waterfalls, ruins, a cottage, and an enormous dance floor amid the fauna and flora. 
 
Problem was; however, that Parker did not procure the proper permits required for the wedding, officials claimed. The California Coastal Commission, an independent agency, notified Parker after a local resident informed the Commission of the newlywed’s violations. 
 
Also in trouble are the owners of the sanctioned campground where Parker staged the event. The California Coastal Commission discovered the breech of environmental laws before the wedding, but by then, the elaborate sets had already been constructed. Officials agreed to let the nuptials take place after Parker negotiated a deal. 
 
The two sides settled on the $2.5 million fine, money that could be applied to projects such as building new hiking trails or bolstering the conservation effort. 
 
The extravagant nuptials took place between the Napster co-founded and Former Facebook President and blonde singer Alexandra Lenas this past Saturday. The wedding drew an assortment of celebrity guests from singer Sting, to actress Emma Watson and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. 
 
Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie “The Social Network”, also agreed to make an educational video or mobile application to help identify which coastal areas are open to the general public. “Sean Parker has been extremely cooperative and even helpful during this matter,” said Charles Lester, the executive director of the California Coastal Commission. 
 
 
Source: EPA.gov

Climate Change Talks Begin at Doha Conference

Climate Change Talks Begin at Doha Conference

 

The 18th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began on November 26, 2012.  The United Nations has warned that strict policies and pledges are required during the conference to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. 

Without the emergency adoption of tighter emissions controls, the world’s temperature could increase as much as 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, putting water security, food security, economic security, and human security at risk—especially along coastal cities. 

Conservation International (CI), headquartered in Washington, D.C, indicates the conference needs to address at least three areas to curb the impending realization and risks of rising global temperatures. 

For one, the conference needs to add to the Kyoto Protocol (the only international emissions treaty) to reach international goals by 2015. 

Secondly, new public funding needs to come from developed countries to help developing countries adopt infrastructure and policies to reduce climate change. 

Thirdly, the conference needs to allow developing countries to add to existing actions that reduce the destruction of natural environments.  CI notes that specific action needs taken in REDD+ areas (Reducing Emissions form Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  These areas receive compensation for keeping forested areas protected and reducing emissions associated with deforestation. 

Dr. Fred Boltz, the Senior Vice-President for International Policy at CI, reported on the three imperative goals at the conference: “These are the pillars of a successful plan to stabilize the climate, one with increased commitment for immediate actions to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming, and which harnesses the power of nature itself to ensure that humans and all species may adapt to climate change.” 

Boltz went on to say, “This year’s conference is crucial because many of the negotiations which have been taking place since 2007 will draw to a close.  We need to make sure the progress that has been made over the past five years is not lost.” 

The “progress” that Boltz refers to is funding made from developed countries in Copenhagen in 2009.  The $30 billion that was pledged is expiring at the end of December, 2012, and no pledges have agreed to continue the funding.  The goal was to pledge $100 billion internationally per year by 2020. 

Conservation International is now asking for $60 billion in pledges from 2013 to 2015 that will double the “fast start” funds agreed to in Copenhagen. 

Boltz raised concern over the lack of pledges: “The debt problems facing several wealthy nations make it more challenging for them to put money on the table. But, if funding is not provided now, the future costs of inaction will be prohibitive in both financial and human terms.” 

Source: Conservation International

Increased Protection in Wild Tiger Campaign

Increased Protection in Wild Tiger Campaign

 

On November 21, 2012, the Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it is providing more support for Project Predator under INTERPOL.  Project Predator helps the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) protect wild tigers. 

The U.S. Ambassador to India and Bhutan Nancy Powell made the announcement at the Second Asian Ministerial on Tiger Conservation.  The event is organized annually by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Global Tiger Initiative.

Ministers that attended the Second Asian Ministerial on Tiger Conservation were from 13 different countries containing wild tiger populations.  The recent meeting focused on important achievements in conservation and the implementation of a 12-year conservation strategy and ensured political support would continue. 

The same countries that attended this year’s meeting approved the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) during 2010 in Russia. 

Ambassador Powell stated: “Protecting our living natural resources, especially endangered species, has increasingly become an issue impacting the security of nations because of massive upsurges in international wildlife trafficking.  We need to recognize wildlife crime as a serious crime that undermines good governance and rule of law.” 

Project Predator is an initiative crated by INTERPOL that aids in the conservation of wild tigers while respecting countries’ rules and government.  Since its creation, the project has provided seminars on police, customs, and wildlife.  The seminars have helped enforcement agencies in other countries identify signs of tiger poaching and underground trading. 

David Higgins, the manager of the Environmental Crime Programme under INTERPOL, stated: “This additional financial support from USAID will assist INTERPOL's global and regional networks of national police and enforcement agencies in their continued efforts support the tiger range countries in ensuring that we protect the wild tiger population and target those criminals who are attempting to undermine efforts to conserve this iconic species.” 

In 2011, USAID provided monetary support for the creation and launch of Project Predator.  The project has helped Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal confront the killings of protected tigers in their countries.  So far, the countries have made 40 arrests and seizures of big cat skins and other body parts. 

Mary Melnyk, the Senior Advisor of Natural Resources Management for Asia and the Middle East for USAID, stated: “USAID is supporting INTERPOL not only because of its international network and communications systems to track down criminals, but also to encourage the greater participation of police in cracking down on wildlife crime.”

Source: Agency for International Development

New Recreational Water Quality Criteria Recommended

New Recreational Water Quality Criteria Recommended

 

On November 26, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that states need to harness new and improved water quality criteria and testing for recreational water areas.  The recommendations were made with favor from a U.S. District Court and requirements under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000. 

The new water quality criteria will make sure visitors are protected as they visit beaches and other bodies of water throughout the year.  The criteria can better protect the public and quality of water by observing waterborne illnesses more efficiently, measuring water pollution after heavy rainfalls more quickly, and more. 

It is important to note that the recommended criteria do not mandate new requirements.  The recommendations simply serve as an example of tools that states can choose to adopt in their overall standards and state or territorial environmental protection agencies.

The new criteria provide states and communities with the most updated scientific information about particular areas, particularly public water bodies like beaches.  The updated information can help the state or community issue a beach, lake, or stream closure more quickly. 

The new criteria were established by the EPA after several scientific and health studies confirmed some waterborne illnesses (including some stomach illnesses) can occur without a fever.  The period required for monitoring water samples was reduced from 90 day to 30 days.  The new water quality data will create more accurate water trends and improve advisories. 

Some of the other recommendations include the following:

·  short-term and long-term testing of bacteria levels in water

·  improved recommendations for coastal waters to make sure public health is protected equally in coastal and fresh waters

·  a quicker water-testing method that allows the state to see if the water is safe within hours

·  tools that can predict problems with water quality and find sources of pollution quickly

The increased testing of bacteria levels was recommended because the criteria in 1986 called for a certain amount of testing depending on the beach usage.  The new recommendations replaced the testing/intensity standard and recommended a precautionary testing method for states. 

Predictive modeling will pair with epidemiological studies and other information like microbial risk assessments to predict outbreaks in the future.  The new and faster testing method recommended by the EPA uses a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and a quick analytical technique to detect a type of bacteria called curable enterococci. 

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Maine Modernizing State Mining Regulations

Maine Modernizing State Mining Regulations

 

On November 19, 2012, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it was hiring a Michigan firm and Maine subcontractor to update state mining rules that have not been changed in decades. 

The Michigan firm, North Jackson Company, is an environmental and engineering firm located in the Marquette Mineral District.  The firm will work with the state DEP over the next 18 months to make changes and provide environmental insight to the mining rules that have not been changed in 20 years.  The changes are required by a bipartisan law passed by the state’s 125th Legislature. 

The North Jackson Company received a $175,000 contract because they have experience in mineral mining regulations.  They have also helped the state of Michigan make changes to their old mining rules.  The Maine subcontractor, S.W. Cole Engineering, Inc., with provide consulting in geotechnical engineering, Maine environmental regulations, and landscape information to the Michigan firm. 

DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho emphasized that minerals can be recovered in a way that is environmentally sound for the air, land and water—as long as the state’s minding rules are updated.

She also stated: “Our selection of partners with reputations for providing reliable technical information through rigorous science that allows their clients to make sound environmental management decisions demonstrates this process is one we take seriously. We look forward to working with the North Jackson Company and S.W. Cole as we undertake this important work together.”

After the legislature and DEP agreed to update mining rules, a large number of advertisements were sent to members of the National Mining Association and Interstate Mining Compact.  The North Jackson Company was selected because they were the most qualified. 

The updated rules will address surface water protection and waste rock management as well as ensure that all proposed mining operations prove financially reasonable environmentally and for state citizens. 

Commissioner Aho continued: “DEP’s promise is that as this process moves forward, it will be thoughtful and transparent and if mining activity is carried out in Maine as a result of these regulatory updates, it will be done in a responsible, respectful way that helps Maine and its citizens receive the benefits of the resource while also guaranteeing that environmental protections are upheld and subsequent remediation and closure is adequate.”

More information about the updates can be found on the websites of the Maine DEP, North Jackson Company, or S.W. Cole Engineering. 

Source: Maine Department of Environmental Protection

U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Nearly 20-Year Lows

U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Nearly 20-Year Lows

New figures show that, energy-saving technologies and a concerted effort in renewables have led to the overall reduction in climate pollution. This drops in climate pollution—even as the U.S. Congress fails to act on climate change in a broad spectrum—brings the United States more than halfway towards President Barack Obama’s goal.

The United States’ carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 fell to their lowest levels since 1994, according to various environmental reports.

Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States fell by 13% in the last five years, due to new energy-saving technologies and a two-fold increase in the practice of renewable energy resources, as confirmed by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Commission for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

This reduction in climate pollution brings the United States more than halfway towards President Obama’s target of reducing emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next decade.

By the end of 2012, the United States’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases had fallen nearly 11% from the 2005 levels. This drop puts President Barack Obama in a better position to defend his environmental policies and achievements, which often go overlooked in the bitter realm of climate science. Moreover, such statistics may bolster America’s standing with global climate regulations.

Lisa Jacobson, acting President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said these findings exposed the conservative argument that acting on climate change would hinder the economy—carbon emissions are declining while GDP is rising.

The dramatic decrease in Carbon emissions is attributed to the country’s shift in energy production—Coal fell to 18% in 2012 from 22.5% in 2007 of the nation’s energy mix, and oil use also declined.

Thanks to fracking, natural gas production filled the majority of this gape—the United States received 31% of its electricity from gas-fired plants in 2012.

The report also noted that steadily expanding installations of solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energies have led to the significant drop in Carbon emissions. Renewables represented the largest source of new growth last year, reaching $44 billion.

Over this timeframe, total energy use fell by 6.4% since 2007. The bulk of emissions cut were largely due to installing more efficient cooling and heating systems in commercial locations. Other cuts in emissions came from transport, as 488,000 Americans purchased plug-in or hybrid vehicles.

This mix of energy sources proves that the economy can grow as our reliance on carbon-emitting gases declines.

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

 

On November 20, 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it was awarding support for the design and licensing of small modular reactors with the United States.  The strategy is parallel with the Obama Administration’s strategy to access every possible source of energy in the United States. 

The funding was announced in March of 2012, and the DOE has just announced the recipient of the award.  The project is led by Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) along with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel.  If strategies stay the same, the DOE plans to solicit other companies and manufacturers to focus on developing small modular reactor designs and operations. 

The investment from the DOE to B&W will help the company receive Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements and begin commercial operations by 2022.  The small modular reactor project will first occur in Tennessee, but the DOE plans to help operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  All of the projects will help U.S. utilities receive power from low carbon sources while increasing export opportunities and U.S. dominance in the world energy market. 

Secretary Chu stated: “The Obama Administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future.  Restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production.” 

The recent projects stands as the first-ever government investment in the design, implementation, and licensing of small modular reactors.  The DOE will invest in about half of the project’s total cost through a five-year cost-share agreement.  Babcock & Wilcox will provide the other half of investment, but the specific amounts toward the project are still being decided by the DOE and B&W. 

Small modular reactors are about one-third the size of traditional nuclear power plants.  The smaller designs increase safety and offer more economically benefits over large nuclear plants.  Also, the small modular reactors can be manufactured at factories then transported to the sites were they can basically be plugged in.  The designs decreased capitol costs and construction costs for nuclear energy. 

Small modular reactors have other benefits as well.  Large reactors cannot be used on some small grids, while small modular reactors can provide power to small grids in a cost-effective way.  The reactors allow greater flexibility for utilities as demands grow. 

Source: Department of Energy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

 

 
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that will provide grants of $340 million to New York and $229 million to New Jersey for improvements to drinking water treatment facilities that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. These funds will help storm-ravaged communities in both states as they continue to rebuild and recover from the damage caused by the super storm on October 29th of last year. 
In the aftermath of the super storm, drinking water and wastewater treatment centers in New Jersey and New York were so badly damaged that some could not treat raw sewage or provide safe drinking water to their residents. The funding announcements will give states the ability to further reduce the risks of flood damage and increase the resilience of drinking water and wastewater facilities to withstand the effects of severe storms like Hurricane Sandy. 
 
“As communities continue to rebuild and recover following the storm, it is crucial that their efforts to rebuild infrastructures such as drinking water and wastewater facilities are approached in a sustainable manner,” said the EPA’s Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “This money is a crucial step in the administration’s ongoing effort to provide aid to New Jersey and New York so they can recover and move forward in a way that ensures local communities are stronger than ever.”
 
“As extreme weather is increasingly becoming the norm, the United States Congress wisely provided these funds to make sure our drinking water and wastewater facilities can withstand storms the size of Hurricane Sandy,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judit Enck. “These funds will help vulnerable communities in New York and New Jersey become more resilient to the effect of weather change.”
 
The funds will be offered as grants to New York and New Jersey and roughly 40 percent of the funds will provided to New Jersey for both the Drinking Water and Clean Water Revolving fund programs. The determination of how the funds will be allotted to the states was based on the percentage of the population living in counties that were impacted by the storm. 
 
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act provided the Environmental Protection Agency with $500 million for Clean Water Revolving Fund and $100 million for the Drinking Water Fund. 
 
 
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

 

On November 23, 2012, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reached a landmark decision to increase investor confidence and generate 250,000 jobs in the energy sector.  The decision, called the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) in the Energy Bill, will address electricity demands through low-carbon technologies in the United Kingdom as about 20 percent of the country’s generating capacity from conventional, carbon-based sources decrease over the next decade. 

The EMR hopes to give confidence to certain investors and create government contracts for about £110 billion in investments. 

The sections of the Energy Bill allow the following:

·   Create a government owned-company to give investors more confidence while investing in long-term contracts called “Contracts for Difference” for low-carbon electricity projects

·  Allows auctions for generating capacity from 2014 for the winter of 2018/2019 to make sure peak demand is addressed

·  Provides confidence to gas investors to make sure energy demands are addressed (Gas Generation Strategy published with Chancellor’s Autumn Statement)

·  Sets a target range for reducing carbon emissions by 2030

The UK’s Climate Change Committee will make suggestions in 2016 during the Fifth Carbon Budget to make sure target ranges are reached by 2030.  Until 2016, the government is providing tips to National Grid for different ways to reach lowered emissions ranges by 2030 and even reach target ranges by 2050 in the most economical way.  A sample approach for the UK 2050 carbon target is explained in the Fourth Carbon Budget. 

Edward Davey, the Energy and Climate Secretary, stated: “They [the Coalition Agreement decisions] will allow us to meet our legally binding carbon reduction and renewable energy obligations and will bring on the investment required to keep the lights on and bills affordable for consumers.” 

The decarbonization targets were set by the Climate Change Act of 2008.  Together with the decarbonization targets and government-issued contracts, about £9.8 billion in 2020 prices is set aside in the Levy Control Framework.  The budgeted investment by the government will decrease dependency on gas imports by establishing renewable energy.  By 2020, about 30 percent of the UK’s energy will come from renewables—compared to 11 percent in 2012.  The investment will also ensure power from new nuclear energy and commercialized carbon capture. 

Davey continued, “The decisions we’ve reached are true to the Coalition Agreement, they mean we can introduce the Energy Bill next week and have essential electricity market reforms up and running by 2014 as planned.”

The shift in public spending by the government, referred to as the Levy Control Framework (LCF), is the responsibility of the Treasury.  The spending meets energy and climate goals in line with economic recovery and the least impact on utility bills for consumers.

The spending does not include the ECO or the Warm Homes Discount in the UK.  These programs have separate spending limits for 2015. 

Source: Department of Energy & Climate Change