This Week’s Environmental News Roundup

Here’s a list of the previous week’s stories that were interesting (to me at least). Are there any others that you think should be on the list? Leave a comment.

Japan releases Chinese fishing boat captain

Japan released the last member arrested, the boat’s captain, of a Chinese fishing boat the government of Japan accused of ramming a Japanese naval vessel in disputed territorial waters. China had responded to the arrests with threatening to cut its rare-earth mineral exports to Japan. Rare-minerals are used in the electronic manufacturing industry; Toyota needs such minerals for its battery in the Prius hybrid. (More at the Economist)

“The well is dead. Long live the well!”

The Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center’s Admiral Thad Allen released this statement:

“After months of extensive operations planning and execution under the direction and authority of the U.S. government science and engineering teams, BP has successfully completed the relief well by intersecting and cementing the well nearly 18,000 feet below the surface.  With this development, which has been confirmed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, we can finally announce that the Macondo 252 well is effectively dead.   Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.  From the beginning, this response has been driven by the best science and engineering available.  We insisted that BP develop robust redundancy measures to ensure that each step was part of a deliberate plan, driven by science, minimizing risk to ensure we did not inflict additional harm in our efforts to kill the well.  I commend the response personnel, both from the government and private sectors, for seeing this vital procedure through to the end.  And although the well is now dead, we remain committed to continue aggressive efforts to clean up any additional oil we may see going forward.”

The well was apparently talked to death.

NOAA Reopens Nearly 8,000 Square Miles in the Gulf of Mexico to Fishing

On Tuesday, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA) reopened 7,970 square miles of Gulf waters to commercial and recreational fishing. The total area reopened today is about 20 percent of the current closed area, as last modified on September 3. At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 50 statute miles south of the Deepwater/BP wellhead. No oil or sheen has been documented in the area since July 21.

“This area is significant to commercial and recreational fishermen who target tunas and billfish that migrate far and wide and provide an important source of income and sport. We’ll continue to work with our partners at FDA and the Gulf states to ensure our Gulf seafood is safe, so we can reopen more areas to fishing,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator longwindedly in the media release.

According to NOAA, the remaining closed area still covers nearly 32,000 square miles. To date, NOAA has re-opened over 44,000 square miles of oil-impacted federal waters under this protocol and sampling regime.  With this latest opening, 87 percent of federal waters are now open.

FDA panel ponders recommending FDA approval for fast growing Salmon
Joke Photograph: Rotarians Holding Pat Rood's 500 Pound Salmon
At a public meeting held last Monday held by an advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration, proponents and opponents voiced their thoughts on whether to allow the sale of genetically engineered salmon. The genetically engineered salmon received a gene from the Chinook salmon, allowing the fish to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. AquaBounty Technologies, the petitioner says, “In all other respects, AquAdvantage® Salmon are identical to other Atlantic salmon.”

A New York Times article reported that committee member Kevin Wells (who is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri) doubted the fish would be harmful, “The salmon contains nothing that isn’t in the human diet.”

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Secretary Clinton Announces Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced today [21 September 2010] the formation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a more than $60 million dollar public-private partnership to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions.  Exposure to smoke from traditional stoves and open fires – the primary means of cooking and heating for 3 billion people in developing countries – causes almost 2 million deaths annually, with women and young children affected most.  That is a life lost every 16 seconds.

“Today we can finally envision a future in which open fires and dirty stoves are replaced by clean, efficient and affordable stoves and fuels all over the world — stoves that still cost as little as $25,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  “By upgrading these dirty stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved.  Clean stoves could be as transformative as bed nets or vaccines.”

“Over the next two years, WFP [UN World Food Program] aims to reach 6 million people, providing safe stoves and other initiatives that help to protect the environment and reduce the risk of violence to women who would otherwise have to go in search of firewood,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the WFP.  The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves will help us to reach millions more.”

To learn more about the Alliance please visit  For more information contact John Anthony at or by phone at 202.277.2103.

Population of tigers found in Bhutan Mountains

A BBC film crew has documented the existence of a population of tigers living in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan between 3,000 (~9,800 feet) and 4,100 meters (~13,500 feet). According to the BBC report, “The discovery has stunned experts, as the tigers are living at a higher altitude than any others known and appear to be successfully breeding”

Japan complains to WTO on Canada’s renewable energy law

Columbia Law School’s Climate Law blog, reports that on September 13, Japan submitted “a complaint to the World Trade Organization alleging that a Canadian renewable energy law violates WTO non-discrimination rules.”

[1] At issue are a set of domestic content requirements built into Ontario’s landmark green energy law,
[2] which are designed to guarantee that local producers – and local jobs –supply a minimum percentage of the technology used to meet the province’s ambitious goals for renewable energy generation.
[3] While Japan’s “Request for Consultation” with Canada does not formally initiate a case before the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), it nevertheless sets the stage for a high-stakes showdown between the two countries, with potentially global repercussions for energy and industrial policy linking renewable power to high tech employment opportunities.

California Energy Commission approves world’s largest solar thermal power plant

The California Energy Commission (CEC) unanimously approved the construction and operation by Solar Millennium of four solar-thermal power plants with a planned overall capacity of nearly 1,000 megawatts (MW) at the Blythe location in California last Wednesday. If built, it will be the largest solar thermal plant in the world. Solar Millennium hopes to begin the initial construction on two of four plants overall in 2010 the US Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval to site the plants on federal lands. Since California’s electric utility companies are required to generate 20 percent of their power via renewable energy by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020, the CEC notes, “BLM has received right-of-way requests encompassing more than 300,000 acres for the development of approximately 34 large solar thermal power plants totaling approximately 24,000 megawatts.”

According to the story in the New York Times, “[The project] will cover 9.3 square miles in Riverside County in Southern California with long rows of parabolic troughs. The solar reflectors focus the sun on liquid-filled tubes suspended over the mirrors to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine housed in a central power block.”

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was excited to see such solar projects move forward, “I applaud the California Energy Commission’s decision…and am excited to see other solar projects move forward. Projects like this need our immediate attention, as solar and renewable power are the future of the California economy.”

Solar thermal power generation needs about half the area as photovoltaic (see graphic).


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