Environmental Policy

US EPA issuing new Air Quality rules
January 12, 2012 07:10 AM - Timothy Gardner,David Gregorio, Reuters

The Environmental Protection Agency is introducing its most ambitious clean air rules in decades, though it is making some concessions to election-minded Republicans who oppose them. The EPA, facing backlash from heavy industry, has delayed several of the rules and made adjustments in others. Some industry groups say the rules will cost companies billions of dollars and increase power bills for consumers. The EPA says money saved on healthcare costs will be greater than the amount polluters will need to invest in retooling plants to meet the new standards. So far, the major delay in the rules has been President Barack Obama's backtracking in September on smog pollution, which came as a disappointment to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Below are important dates for the clean air rules: 2011: CROSS STATE AIR POLLUTION RULE Finalized by the EPA in July, this rule aims to slash air pollution that blows downwind from coal-fired power plants in the eastern United States. Two days before it was to take effect, a U.S. federal appeals court delayed the implementation, pending further review, after power generators complained about the deadline. The first phase of regulation had been set to begin on January 1, 2012, and the second two years later.

Operation Migration is ON! Whooping Cranes WILL migrate!
January 10, 2012 06:59 AM - Ian Simpson, Reuters, WASHINGTON

A flock of rare whooping cranes has been given the go-ahead to complete its inaugural winter migration after a U.S. agency lifted restrictions on the pilots, who will guide them wearing bird costumes. The whooping cranes, part of North America's tallest flying bird species, have been in pens since last month while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated whether the 1,285-mile flight violates regulations. The FAA said on Monday it would grant a "one-time exemption" to the pilots flying ultralight aircraft leading the whooping cranes, who were stalled in Alabama on their journey from Wisconsin to two Florida refuges. The issue arose because the pilots are being paid by the conservation group Operation Migration, violating FAA regulations that a pilot must hold a commercial rating to fly for hire. The Operation Migration pilots are licensed to fly lightweight sport aircraft. "The FAA has granted an exemption to Operation Migration that will allow pilots to continue to aid the whooping crane migration," the agency said in a statement.

U.S. weighs retaliation over Europe carbon tax
January 7, 2012 07:57 AM - John Crawley and Andrew Quinn, Reuters, WASHINGTON

The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for possible retaliation in response to a European law requiring airlines to pay for carbon emissions. Discussions between key agencies have ramped up recently, although there is no consensus yet on what, if anything, the U.S. government should do unilaterally or in concert with other nations also upset with the law. The EU law went into effect on January 1 and requires global airlines to pay for carbon emissions on flights to and from Europe. Several experts said one option the United States could pursue would involve charging European airlines to maintain U.S. access to pressure EU policymakers. This strategy was used by the United States in a recently concluded dispute with Argentina over landing fees. "We are contemplating a wide range of possible steps that we could take, or actions that we might take," a senior administration official told Reuters. "All these are on the table, we haven't decided how to move forward on any specific one," the official said, while declining to give specifics on the possible steps.

Who pays the EU airline carbon tax? Not Chinese airlines!
January 5, 2012 06:36 AM - Reuters, BEIJING

China voiced its deep concern and opposition on Thursday to a European Union plan to counter airline emissions and called for talks to resolve the issue a day after China's major airlines refused to pay any carbon costs under the new law. From January 1, all airlines using EU airports fall under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and could be forced to pay fines of 100 euros ($128) for each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted for which airlines have not surrendered carbon allowances. "China opposes the European Union's unilateral legislation. China has expressed to the EU our deep concern and opposition many times on a bilateral level," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. "We hope the EU can take careful precautions with a cautious and practical attitude, and regarding those aspects involving China, appropriately discuss and handle this matter," Hong told reporters during a regular briefing. The scheme was launched in 2005 as one of the pillars of Europe's efforts to combat climate change, and if airlines persistently flout the law the EU has the option of banning the operator.

Expert says Ohio earthquake was not a natural event
January 4, 2012 07:18 AM - Kim Palmer, Reuters, CLEVELAND

A 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Ohio on New Year's Eve did not occur naturally and may have been caused by high-pressure liquid injection related to oil and gas exploration and production, an expert hired by the state of Ohio said on Tuesday. Ohio's Department of Natural Resources on Sunday suspended operations at five deep well sites in Youngstown, Ohio, where the injection of water was taking place, while they evaluate seismological data from a rare quake in the area. The wells are about 9,000 feet deep and are used to dispose of water from oil and gas wells. The process is related to fracking, the controversial injection of chemical-laced water and sand into rock to release oil and gas. Critics say that the high pressure injection of the liquid causes seismic activity. Won-Young Kim, a research professor of Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that circumstantial evidence suggests a link between the earthquake and the high-pressure well activity. "We know the depth (of the quake on Saturday) is two miles and that is different from a natural earthquake," said Kim, who is advising the state of Ohio.

Ohio suspends fracking-related well operations after earthquakes
January 3, 2012 07:17 AM - Kim Palmer, Reuters, CLEVELAND

Ohio has suspended operations at five deep wells used to dispose of fracking-related fluids after nearly a dozen earthquakes in the town of Youngstown over the past year, the latest sign of local unease over the booming shale gas industry. One day after a 4.0 quake, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said on Sunday it was halting operations at five Mahoning County wells owned by Northstar Disposal Services LLC as a precaution, citing concerns of a possible link between well activity and the quakes. The wells were used to store wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations, not for production. "We are being overly cautious in order to ensure public safety in asking the company to halt disposal injections at one site on Friday and then asking for a halt to any injections in a 5-mile radius Saturday," Ohio Department of Natural Resources deputy director Andy Ware said. "Our geologist would say there is a strong chance there is a fault line very close to the site of the well," Ware said, adding the department was concerned that pressure from the fluid disposal could be affecting a previously unknown fault line.

Who pays for carbon taxes on airlines? The customers!
January 2, 2012 08:05 AM - Reuters, FRANKFURT

Deutsche Lufthansa AG will pass on to its customers an expected 130 million euros ($169 million) of costs for carbon permits it needs this year under a new European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Germany's biggest airline said on Monday it will add the costs from the ETS to its fuel surcharge, becoming the first carrier to provide details of how it plans to cope with the additional burden. "In the face of intensive competition, especially of companies from non-EU countries whose production is subject to emissions trading to only a small degree, Lufthansa will have to pass on the burden via ticket prices, as suggested by the EU," it said in a statement. However in the short term Lufthansa will not raise its existing surcharges, which it had increased last month -- to between 102 euros and 122 per flight leg for intercontinental flights and to 31 euros for domestic and European flights -- though it said at the time this was just to cover higher fuel costs. From this year, all airlines touching down or taking off in the EU will have to account for their CO2 emissions as part of an expansion of the world's largest carbon market.

It was a bad year for Rhinos as Asian demand for Rhino horn drives record slaughter in Africa
December 30, 2011 07:55 AM - Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, JOHANNESBURG

A record number of rhinos were poached this year in South Africa, home to the greatest number of the animals, as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to increased killings of the threatened species. At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said. The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold, platinum and in many cases cocaine, as a belief - with no basis in science - has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer. South Africa, home to more than 20,000 rhinos, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.

Anti-whaling protest ship in distress
December 29, 2011 09:27 AM - Reuters, SYDNEY

Anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd said one of its boats chasing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean had issued a distress call after its hull was cracked by a rogue wave. Sea Shepherd flagship the Steve Irwin was fighting heavy seas to help rescue the damaged Brigitte Bardot chase boat and is expected to take 17 hours to reach it, Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said Thursday. "This is disappointing, but these are hostile seas and we have always been prepared for situations like this," said Watson via satellite telephone from the Steve Irwin. "Right now the safety of my crew on the Brigitte Bardot is our priority and we intend to reach the crew and then do what we can to save our ship." Watson said the damaged boat would be returned to Australia, while a third vessel continues to chase the Japanese fleet. The "Brigitte Bardot," with a crew of 10 (three British, three American, one Australian, one Canadian, one Belgian and one South African), is about 1,500 miles southwest of the west Australian port of Fremantle.

Tokyo Electric Power wants government bailout to help pay victims of meltdowns
December 27, 2011 08:45 AM - Yoko Kubota and Kentaro Hamada & Michael Watson, Reuters

Tokyo Electric Power Co asked a government-backed bailout body on Tuesday for an additional 690 billion yen ($8.8 billion) to help compensate victims of the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi power plant. To help Japan's biggest utility, known as Tepco, meet costs running into trillions of yen for compensation and cleanup, the government had already agreed in November to provide 890 billion yen through a bailout fund. "We have reviewed the estimated sum of compensation after the committee addressing compensation disputes decided on additional measures to compensate victims who voluntarily evacuated," Tepco said in a statement.

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