TIME Environment

Obama Will Declare Vast Expanse of Pacific Ocean a Marine Sanctuary

Rainbow Over Ocean Waves
Teahupo'o is world famous for its spectacular large waves that create beautiful hallow-breaking barrels. These powerful ocean waves often reach 7 to 10 feet and up to 21 feet. The unique waves are a caused in part by an extremely shallow coral reef. Teahupo'o is a village on the south-west coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, southern Pacific Ocean on July 2013. Keith A. Ellenbogen—AP

The proposal would reportedly double the total area of the world's protected oceans in an ambitious plan to extend the president's environmental agenda over territorial waters

President Barack Obama plans to extend marine sanctuary protections over a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, limiting fishing, drilling and other commercial activities in a nautical area more than twice the size of Texas.

The Washington Post reports that the proposal will dramatically extend the borders of an existing marine sanctuary encompassing a cluster of remote Pacific islands. It will expand the protected area surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to 782,000 square miles, effectively doubling the area of the world’s protected oceans.

The expansion is expected to draw fire from congressional Republicans, who accuse the President of overstepping the bounds of executive authority. “It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings told the Post.

In addition to making the area off limits to commercial fishing and oil drilling, the President will reportedly direct federal agencies to come up with a plan to crack down on illegal fishing.

The proposal is expected to go into effect later this year following an open comment period.

[WP]

TIME Environment

Here’s What We Can Expect From El Niño This Year

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year.

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year according to a recent report by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). This weather anomaly is characterized by an unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean and has caused intense hurricanes and drought in the past. But what can we expect from the phenomenon this summer?

South Asia will likely be hit first with heavy rain and flooding. Drought conditions in Australia and a drop in the fish population off of the west coast of South America will follow. El Niño also damages the agricultural industries in countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean such as Indonesia, and the Philippines. Efforts are currently being made in some of these regions to lessen the impending impact that El Niño will have.

The results of the El Niño events in 1997-1998 were by far the worst in recent history, but unlike thunderstorms and snowstorms forecasters have little ability to predict how intense future El Niño episodes will be. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) it is also near impossible to pinpoint the exact dates that El Niño will begin.

Within the next month more details regarding El Niño and when it will begin will become clearer. In the meantime people around the world will begin to gather resources and prepare themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Environment

There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas

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Getty Images

Geologists have found a vast body of water deep below earth's surface and say it is evidence that oceans came from water inside the planet that seeped to the surface

Geologists have long mused about the origin of earth’s seas. Did water, for example, arrive from somewhere else — like on icy comets that struck the planet? Or did water come from somewhere within?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited about the latter possibility.

Like something out of early 19th century playwright Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth — in which characters stumble across a massive underground basin — a team of geologists led by Steven Jacobsen from Northwestern University have found a vast body of water, three times the size of any ocean, located near earth’s core. It’s possible that water from this enormous reservoir oozed to the surface.

“It’s good evidence earth’s water came from within,” Jacobsen told NewScientist.

Jacobsen and his team used seismometers in their find, studying the speed of seismic waves to determine what lies beneath the surface. The waves slowed down upon reaching a layer of blue rock called ringwoodite, indicating that they were passing through water as well as rock. The depth of the phenomenon — 700 km below the mantle, which is the layer of hot rock underneath the surface — is also the perfect temperature and pressure for water to ooze out of the ringwoodite “almost as if it’s sweating,” Jacobsen says.

The discovery has only revealed ringwoodite beneath the continental U.S. however, so further experiments will need to be conducted to determine where else on the planet it can be found.

[NewScientist]

TIME Environment

A BP Employee Convicted of Deleting Deepwater Texts Gets a New Trial

Kurt Mix
Kurt Mix, left, leaves Federal Court with an unidentified member of his defense team in New Orleans on Dec. 18, 2013. Gerald Herbert—AP

A judge rules that the original verdict was compromised by remarks overheard by the jury forewoman

A U.S. District Judge has thrown out the original verdict, and ordered a new trial, in the case of a BP employee convicted of deleting text messages to obstruct an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Engineer Kurt Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas, was convicted of obstruction of justice for, prosecutors said, deleting text messages between a supervisor and a contractor with the aim of thwarting a grand jury investigation into the disaster. But Judge Stanwood Duval tossed out that verdict, ruling that it had been compromised by remarks the jury forewoman overheard outside the jury room.

Mix denies he was attempting to conceal evidence. He is one of four BP employees charged in connection with the 2010 spill.

[WDSU]

TIME energy

The (Slow) Greening of America

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Getty Images

A new poll reveals that the U.S. is reluctant to recognize and address climate change

Americans who don’t believe in global warming should visit my Miami Beach neighborhood at high tide, when Biscayne Bay surges through our storm drains and swamps our streets. In May, the New York Times ran a photo of sunny-day flooding outside my local Walgreens, above an article headlined, “Miami Finds Itself Ankle-Deep in Climate Change Debate.” Really, the debate should be over. Scientists have already documented 5 in. to 8 in. of sea-level rise around South Florida over the past 50 years. This kind of phenomenon has encouraged President Obama to start emphasizing that climate change is not a someday thing. “This is not some distant problem of the future,” he said recently. “This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now.”

That’s true. But as a new global survey conducted by TIME about attitudes toward energy and conservation illustrates, many Americans don’t believe it. This sets them apart from the people Time surveyed in five other countries. Only 40% of Americans “strongly agreed” that the earth is getting warmer, even though the earth is, in fact, getting warmer; 71% of Indians strongly agreed. Globally, 57% of the 3,505 people surveyed strongly agreed that the polar ice caps are melting because of global warming, including the 39% of Americans who strongly agreed. On almost every question, Americans were the least likely to back the scientific consensus on climate–and among the least likely to support doing anything about it. One out of three Americans wanted their politicians to fight global warming, compared with 3 out of 4 Brazilians.

This may seem odd because, as Obama’s new National Climate Assessment makes clear, the U.S. is already feeling the effects of global warming. The first 13 years of the 21st century were among the 14 hottest on record. California is enduring a historic drought. Wildfires are getting worse throughout the West. And while it’s premature to blame climate change for any particular storm–that stock phrase seemed to appear in every story about Superstorm Sandy–our weird weather trends are consistent with expectations for a warmer world.

Meanwhile, there’s mounting evidence of the viability of clean energy, with wind power often cheaper than coal, solar costs plunging over 80% in five years, energy-efficient lightbulbs taking off and every major automaker offering electric vehicles in the U.S.

But compared with citizens of Germany, South Korea, India, Turkey and Brazil, Americans were among the least likely to turn off the lights when leaving a room or power down their computer at night and by far the least likely to walk or take public transit instead of driving. Americans were also more opposed to carbon taxes, carbon limits and even bike lanes than the rest of the world. They were less concerned than the global average about polluted air, higher sea levels and almost every other problem the pollsters asked about except higher gas prices. (While Americans are somewhat more likely than citizens of other nations to believe that the U.S. could do more to fight global warming, they are by far the least likely to think the U.S. should accept “most of the burden” for reducing emissions.)

Why are we so unenlightened? green issues often take a backseat in tough economic times, but most of the world is enduring much tougher times than we are. Our relative apathy in part reflects our polarized politics. The Republican Party’s rejection of climate science during the Obama era has helped fuel denial among members of its base. In any case, addressing problems like climate change–requiring some perceived short-term sacrifice to avert long-term problems–is not exactly our national comparative advantage.

So Obama’s here-and-now arguments are understandable. But if global warming is our most important problem, it’s not our most imminent one. The real pain–from climate refugees to agricultural depressions–lies in the future. Even low-lying Miami Beach is not Kiribati, the Pacific island nation that’s on the verge of disappearing. We’ve got bigger headaches than the monthly flooding in the nearby Whole Foods parking lot.

If climate action depends on getting Americans outraged about what they can see now, we’re in trouble. There’s not much to see yet. The puddles at Walgreens are not gripping evidence of the need to limit emissions, although the danger of Miami Beach becoming Kiribati in this century ought to be. And while our expressed concern for future generations does not match the rest of the world’s, it does exist. That’s fortunate. Global warming has the potential to singe us, but it could roast our kids and grandkids. If we do nothing until the pain becomes unbearable, we’ll be way too late.

FOR MORE POLL FINDINGS, GO TO time.com/newenergy

TIME Environment

Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners in Toxic Water Case

Court says too much time has passed in North Carolina case for legal action against electronics company CTS Corp

The Supreme Court ruled against homeowners from North Carolina attempting to a sue an electronics company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago.

The court ruled that the state’s statute of repose, which states that a plaintiff loses the right to seek property damages 10 years after contamination occurred, should stand. The ruling is a setback for property owners in similar positions.

The case on Monday involved property owners living where CTS Corp. made electronics in 1987. The residents did not realize their water was contaminated with chemicals until 2009, the Associated Press reports. The chemicals in the water can cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancers.

Homeowners argued that under federal environment laws, their case was still valid despite the statute of repose. The Supreme Court did not agree.

The ruling is a blow for U.S. Marines families involved in a separate case in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It’s estimated that up to 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated groundwater over several decades in Camp Lejeune. The Associated Press says the U.S. government is relying on the same law to avoid liability for the contamination.

[AP]

 

TIME Environment

Carbon Regs Will Help Your Health More Than the Planet’s

EPA coal pollution
Carbon dioxide is the chief target of EPA regulations, but they'll also help curb conventional pollutants Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Public health—through cleaner air—will benefit more from EPA carbon rules than climate change, and that's O.K.

When the White House rolled out the proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on power-plant carbon emissions on June 2—regs that will reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels—President Barack Obama attended a conference call with a number of public health groups, including the American Lung Association. Obama talked about the importance of treating carbon as a pollutant, of investments in energy efficiency that would cause electricity bills to shrink, of the momentum behind the move to a low-carbon economy.

But he spent much of his time talking about the health benefits that would come as the regulations cracked down on coal plant pollution:

“I got a letter from Dian Coleman, who is a mother of four. Her three kids have asthma. [...] She keeps her home free of dust that can trigger asthma attacks. Cigarettes aren’t allowed across the threshold of her home. But despite all that, she can’t control the pollution that contributes potentially to her kids’ illnesses, as well as threatening the planet. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing something on behalf of Dian, and doing it in a way that allows us also to grow the economy and get at the forefront of our clean energy future.”

Carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant—at least, not in the sense that breathing it in damages health. (If it were, trees would be a lot more dangerous.) CO2 does cause climate change, which in turn can directly threat health by increasing ozone levels, intensifying heat waves and floods and even worsening allergies, all of which the White House detailed in a new report out today. But Obama and his officials have been talking up a different sort of public health benefit that will come with the regulations: the reduction of dangerous, conventional pollutants like nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and simple soot. “Our role in this initiative is to protect public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told me in an interview last week. “It’s key in this rule that when we lower carbon, we reduce traditional pollutants.”

The EPA says that the regulations will reduce those conventional pollutants by more than 25% over the lifetime of the rules as a co-benefit. That in turn will avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and nearly 500,000 missed work or school days. That might just be the beginning—the more we learn about air pollution, the more dangerous it seems even at lower levels. A new study from the University of Rochester found that exposure to air pollution at a young age caused changes in the brains of mice, including an enlargement in the parts of the brain that is seen in humans with autism and schizophrenia. And air pollution is still a major problem in the U.S.—a recent report from the American Lung Association found that nearly 5 in 10 Americans live in places where the air can be dangerous to breathe.

There’s an added political value to the White House’s focus on the public health benefits of carbon regulations. Note the huge partisan gap on the issue in recent polls: climate change, unfortunately, remains an area where there is deep political division. But air quality and public health is something that Americans can get together on, at least somewhat, without the conversation turning into a debate over temperature trends and IPCC assessments. That could help these regulations, which are supported by a strong majority of Americans, overcome kneejerk Republican opposition. “You don’t need to have a debate over climate change,” says Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana and a member of the White House task force on climate change. “Who doesn’t want to breathe clean air?”

As I wrote last week, the EPA regulations by themselves will have only a small impact on total U.S. carbon emissions, and a negligible one globally. The hope is that these rules are just the beginning, that they will help prompt other countries to push their own carbon-cutting efforts further, and encourage businesses to find even better ways to accelerate the clean energy revolution. But countless Americans will breathe easier—literally—thanks in part to these rules. That’s reason enough to celebrate.

TIME China

A Mining Accident in Southwest China Has Killed 22 Workers

The tragedy is only the latest in a slew of mining catastrophes to have hit the world's biggest coal producer

An accident at a coal mine in southwest China on Tuesday evening killed 22 workers and left two injured. The tragedy at the Yanshitai Coal Mine in Wansheng District, located near the city of Chongqing, is one of a slew of mining catastrophes that have been plaguing the coal-rich country recently. In January, two miners were killed in northern Shanxi province, while 14 workers were killed during a gas explosion at a coal mine in the southwestern province of Yunnan in April.

The Chongqing Municipal Administration of Coal Mine Safety told the state-owned Xinhua news agency that 28 miners were working in a shaft at 5:40 p.m., when a “gas incident” occurred. Six escaped and survived, and the bodies of the 22 fatalities have been recovered.

China’s mines produce the most coal in the world, but maintain the highest fatality rates because of lax safety precautions. News of the accident came on the same day that China, which has the highest levels of pollution partially due to the burning of carbon-releasing coal, vowed to lower carbon emissions.

[Xinhua]

TIME Environment

Republicans Make Hay from Obama’s ‘War on Coal’

Not even 24 hours after the Obama administration announced new EPA rules, the National Republican Senatorial Committee was set to roll out robo-calls Tuesday attacking Democratic senators in energy-rich states

Not even a day after the Obama administration announced proposed new regulations to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions at power plants, Republicans had already planned a new offensive, using the new rules to hammer vulnerable Democrats in states across the country in a bid to retake the Senate.

On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is set to roll out robo-calls in energy-rich states Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado, and Alaska to target four incumbent Democrats in tight races for re-election.

Swing voters in those states will hear variations of this message: “Yesterday President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the new EPA regulations will increase electricity prices and kill thousands of jobs.”

The RNC released a web video Monday morning accusing Obama of continuing a “war on coal,” while Speaker of the House John Boehner called the plan “nuts.”

“Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, John Walsh, Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Pryor, Mark Udall, Bruce Braley, Gary Peters, Mark Warner, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Natalie Tennant all claim to be independent Democrats who stand up to President Obama yet it turns out they are completely ineffective and we will be reminding voters of that throughout the summer and fall,” said NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen.

Democrats acknowledge that the new rules will make it more difficult to compete in a number of coal-country House districts, but argue their impact won’t be felt nearly as much in less parochial—and more consequential—Senate races.

Several of those Democrats are publicly breaking with the White House over the proposal, a move the White House expected. “While it is important to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, this should not be achieved by EPA regulations,” Landrieu said in a statement. “Congress should set the terms, goals and timeframe. Greater use of natural gas and stronger efficiency measures adopted by the industry have already helped us reduce carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years, and this should continue. I will work with leaders of both parties to build on the progress we have already made.”

Others are trying to turn the issue around on Republicans: In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall is firing back at Republican Rep. Cory Gardner’s attacks.

“The Pentagon says climate change is a threat to America¹s military infrastructure and global stability. Yet Congressman Gardner voted to ban the Department of Defense from taking crucial steps to protect our nation in a changing world,” said Udall spokesperson Chris Harris. “Droughts, wildfires, floods, heat waves and storms are driving up the price of groceries, hurting our economy and costing our state billions each year. Gardner’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the facts of climate change is out-of-touch with mainstream Coloradans and will put our state at risk.”

Asked if the President was concerned at the adverse impact on Democrats seeking re-election, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the benefits would speak for themselves — eventually. “The President thinks this is the right thing to do,” he said. “And he’s confident that there will be significant benefits to our health, public health, and to our economy as the years pass.”

The NRSC call scripts:

VA:

Hi, this is ____ calling on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Yesterday President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the new EPA regulations will increase electricity prices and kill thousands of jobs. It’s not surprising Mark Warner stands by Obama’s costly regulations, because he stood with liberal senators in support of a plan that would have imposed a radical cap-and-trade plan on Virginia. A cap and trade agenda that one study said could increase gas prices in Virginia by 64 cents a gallon. Tell Mark Warner higher gas prices and new EPA regulations, just don’t make sense for Virginia.
Paid for by National Republican Senatorial Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-675-6000. 425 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20002.

CO:

Hi, this is ____ calling on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Yesterday President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the new EPA regulations will increase electricity prices and kill thousands of jobs. It’s not surprising Mark Udall stands by Obama’s costly regulations, because he lobbied other senators to support a radical cap-and-trade plan that would have increased Colorado energy prices and hurt jobs. Tell Mark Udall higher electricity costs and new EPA regulations, just don’t make sense for Colorado.
Paid for by National Republican Senatorial Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-675-6000

LA:

Hi, this is ____ calling on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Yesterday President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the new EPA regulations will increase electricity prices and kill thousands of jobs. So why has Mary Landrieu given hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-energy Democrats? Landrieu even claims that she and Harry Reid are a team, even though Reid says “Oil makes us sick”? Tell Mary Landrieu that this war on American energy just doesn’t make sense for Louisiana.
Paid for by National Republican Senatorial Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-675-6000

AK:

Hi, this is ____ calling on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Yesterday President Obama announced new costly environmental regulations. It’s all part of his radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the new EPA regulations will increase electricity prices and kill thousands of jobs. It’s not surprising Mark Begich stands by Barack Obama’s costly regulations, because he supported the same cap-and-trade energy tax plan as Obama. A cap-and-trade energy tax could have killed almost 6,000 Alaska jobs, and reduced disposable income for Alaskan households by more than $1,200. Tell Mark Begich that higher electricity costs, less jobs and these new EPA regulations, just don’t make sense for Alaska.
Paid for by National Republican Senatorial Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-675-6000

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