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Archive for January, 2013

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to EPA Rulemaking

(January 22)

Scientific American

The Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to consider reducing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set air quality standards, leaving intact a tough new limit on sulfur dioxide emissions in a victory for the Obama administration. Without comment, the court decided not to hear an appeal by Grupo Mexico SAB’s Asarco LLC unit of a lower court ruling that upholds a 2010 EPA rule limiting sulfur dioxide in the air to 75 parts per billion over one hour. Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory problems. (http://www.epa.gov/air/sulfurdioxide/).

Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage

(January 21)

The New York Times

President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.

The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election.

Forest Restoration Initiatives Reduce Wildfire Risk, Produce Responsible Timber

(January 21)

Earth911.com

On the heels of the Wallow Fire, which burned nearly 539,000 acres in four days and was the largest forest fire in state history, representatives of The Nature Conservancy’s Arizona chapter are making efforts to protect forest habitats from wildfires before it’s too late.

To fight back against intense wildfires, the organization is collaborating with conservation partners, the private sector and government agencies to implement innovative new programs – beginning with the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, the largest forest thinning program in the history of the U.S. Forest Service and one that Nature Conservancy officials say could be used to prevent severe fires in dry forests across the western U.S.

Watershed Payments Topped $8.17 Billion In 2011

(January 17)

Ecosystem Marketplace

The number of initiatives that protect and restore forests, wetlands, and other water-rich ecosystems has nearly doubled in just four years as governments urgently seek sustainable alternatives to costly industrial infrastructure, according to a new report from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace.

The report, State of Watershed Payments 2012, is the second installment of the most comprehensive inventory to date of initiatives around the world that are paying individuals and communities to revive or preserve water-friendly features of the landscape. Such features include wetlands, streams, and forests that can capture, filter, and store freshwater.

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5 Must-See Charts From Major New U.S. Climate Report

(January 14)

Climate Central

A major new federal climate science assessment, released in draft form on Jan. 11, finds that “climate change is real and accelerating,” and that myriad impacts are already being felt in the U.S., from more frequent, hotter heat waves, to coastal flooding and precipitation extremes. The report, which is the first since 2009 to systematically examine the effects of global warming on the U.S., bolsters some of the conclusions of the previous report and cites new findings showing that the country is already experiencing a wide range of disruptive impacts from global warming, primarily through the changing frequency and severity of weather extremes.

Climate Change: USDA Deems 597 Counties as Drought Disaster Areas

(January 10)

The Guardian Express

U. S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack indicated that the United States Department of Agriculture has designated 597 counties in the United States as primary natural disaster areas due to extended drought and heat. This designation makes all qualified farm operators in these areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. This is just the 1st round of disaster designations made by the US Department of Agriculture in 2013. “As drought persists, the USDA will continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking this with actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season,” said Sec. Vilsack. “I will also continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs bill that gives rural America the long-term certainty they need, including a strong indefensible safety net.”

Drought disaster action ignores Nebraska

(January 10)

Rapid City Journal

A hundred percent of Nebraska counties are suffering from severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, but none of them were among the almost 600 counties nationally given a primary disaster designation for 2013 on Wednesday by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Dan Steinkruger, who heads USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Lincoln, said Nebraska’s absence from the secretary’s list isn’t as big a head scratcher as it appears, even though neighboring Kansas has 88 counties on it. “They start grazing earlier in a lot of those states,” Steinkruger said. “And Kansas is included, because historically, they do a lot of grazing on winter wheat.” The main benefit of a primary designation is low-interest disaster loans for people trying to keep up with the costs associated with parched pastures and other crop and livestock dilemmas.

U.S. Climate Change Coverage Declined In 2012 Even As Year Set Major Record

(January 9)

Huffington Post

As the country experienced its warmest year on record, coverage of climate change on major U.S. television networks and across media outlets dropped in 2012. Worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, according to The Daily Climate, marking the fewest number of published stories since 2009. Along with being the warmest year on record, 2012 was also second only to 1998 as the most extreme. Climate Central notes, “In response to global warming, some extreme events, such as heat waves, are already becoming more likely to occur and more intense.”

Appeals Court Upholds Idaho Roadless Rule

(January 9)

Times-News

A plan governing the development and preservation of 9.3 million acres of roadless federal public land in Idaho has survived another court challenge. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Idaho’s “roadless rule” on Monday, declaring in a brief written decision that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service did not violate any environmental laws when forming the plan.

Australian wildfires add to growing confusion over climate

(January 9)

BBC

According to researchers, one of the immediate causes of the wildfire problems down under is, ironically, rain. An extended La Nina season appears to have given southern and south eastern Australia a real watering over the past two years. Trees and plants have grown rapidly and extensively. But when temperatures rise, these quickly become fuel for the fires. Unfortunately, the second half of 2012 was extremely dry, with the daily temperature 0.11 degrees above the daily average. This has created the perfect conditions for raging fires.

Scientists, though, have been remarkably silent on the connection between wildfires and climate change. It makes an interesting contrast with the last time major fires threatened Australian homes and lives in 2009, when researchers and others were ready to make a more direct link with climate change. But the connection between climate change and wildfires has become a bit more certain. In a paper published last year, leading Australian experts predicted an increased risk of fire in some of the areas now suffering the worst affects, including Tasmania and South Australia.

Farm Bill Critics Claim Partial Victory Despite Stalemate

(January 8)

NPR

It’s amazing how many different kinds of people have been trying to abolish or at least change the government’s payments to farmers. They include economists, environmentalists, taxpayer advocates, global anti-hunger advocates and even a lot of farmers. Some have been fighting farm subsidies for the past 20 years. This past year, those critics laid siege to offices on Capitol Hill because the law that authorizes these programs — the farm bill — was about to expire. But instead of passing a new five-year renewal, Congress extended only parts of the previous bill by nine months. And so the reformers lost, again.

On the other hand, the big farm organizations that wanted to lock in generous subsidies for another five years also failed. All in all, the result was more like a stalemate, and the battle over farm subsidies now will resume in the new Congress. Some of the anti-subsidy campaigners are calling it a victory.

Climate change could cut Western water runoff by 10%

(January 8)

Los Angeles Times

Another climate change study is projecting declines in runoff in many parts of the West, a scenario that would put more pressure on the region’s water supplies. Using new model simulations, scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory expanded on 2007 research that predicted a drier future for the Southwest. The reasons involve more than a drop in precipitation — which is actually expected to increase in some areas that are critical to Western water supplies. Rather, rising temperatures will cause greater evaporation from plants and the ground, reducing soil moisture and water runoff into rivers and streams. Researchers concluded that average annual runoff will fall by about 10% in the three regions examined in the study: California-Nevada, the Colorado River headwaters and Texas.

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From veteran to freshman: What Congressman-elect Jared Huffman means for the North Coast

(December 31)

Times-Standard

North Coast Congressman-Elect Jared Huffman officially starts his new job this week, as U.S. representative to the recently redrawn 2nd District, which runs from Huffman’s hometown of San Rafael north to the Oregon border. The three-term California assemblyman and environmental lawyer is taking over, on the North Coast at least, from the veteran Thompson, who’s represented Humboldt County and surrounding counties in the U.S. House since 1999 after being reelected six times. Now, Thompson’s hometown of St. Helena has been drawn out of the district, and he will represent the newly drawn 5th District, encompassing Napa, parts of Santa Rosa and the San Francisco Bay Area.

How to Pick a Good Fight for Rural America

(December 27)

Daily Yonder

When talking about the delay in getting a farm bill passed, Vilsack said, “We have to be strategic about the fights that we pick, because the fights we often pick are misinterpreted in some corners.”

Vilsack offered examples of how some rural advocates had picked the wrong fights in recent years and lost credibility for rural causes in the process: “I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been to hear the conversation that we’ve had for the last couple of years about regulations, regulations that either didn’t exist, weren’t going to exist, or that were taken care of. I read a survey recently where people were still talking about the dust rule. Not going to happen, never going to happen. People are still concerned about the child labor issue. Not going to happen, never going to happen. We dealt with this, but yet we continue to talk about it.”

Severe drought conditions expected to continue through winter

(December 21)

Redlodge Clearinghouse

Climatologists are predicting that the drought that has parched more than half of the United States this year will last at least through the winter with compounding impacts on agriculture, water supplies, food prices and wildlife. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and author of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, said this year’s drought is historically unusual in its intensity and size.

Cost Of Natural Disasters, Man-Made Catastrophes In 2012 Down From Last Year, Report Finds

(December 19)

Huffington Post

Despite the substantial financial losses associated with Hurricane Sandy, the cost of global natural and man-made disasters in 2012 is actually significantly lower than last year’s total. According to a report released Wednesday by reinsurer Swiss Re, total economic losses from disasters — naturally occurring or otherwise — is estimated to beat least $140 billion.

Even with the costs of the Sandy, the second-most expensive storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina, the total financial loss from disasters this year did not near 2011’s total of $380 billion — the highest in history — or 2010’s $218 billion.

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