Friday, August 11, 2006

Class 5 Typhoon Heads to China

Lest we believe that North America is the only continent blessed with extreme weather events, here is Planet Ark's report on Saomai, which is a Class 5 typhoon that made landfall on Thursday Early reports of deaths from typhoon :

BEIJING - More than 1.3 million Chinese have fled their homes in the path of a super typhoon, the strongest to threaten the country in 50 years, as it churned relentlessly towards the southeast coast on Thursday.   

Saomai, one of three storms to have hit East Asia in the past few days, has already dumped heavy rain on Taiwan and was just hours from an expected landfall between Hong Kong and Shanghai, just south of the booming city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province.  Storm tracker Tropical Storm Risk ( graded Saomai a category five "super" typhoon -- its highest category. Chinese state media said it was the most powerful storm system to threaten the country since August 1956, when a typhoon hit Zhejiang, triggering a tsunami that killed more than 3,000. "Some meteorologists said that the typhoon might grow stronger," the official Xinhua news agency said, adding that it could be fuelled by remnants of the weakening, west-headed tropical storm Bopha. "Saomai is packing winds of 216 km per hour (134 mph) and has outpaced forecasts," Xinhua quoted Li Yuzhu, head of the Zhejiang provincial observatory, as saying. The centre of Saomai was 120 km (75 miles) southeast of Wenzhou at 0600 GMT and was less than 100 km from the nearest coastline, moving northwest at 20 kph.  

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August 11, 2006 in Asia, Climate Change, Governance/Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Environmental Law Case Summaries

Findlaw summaries:

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Noe v. Henderson (08/07/06 - No. 05-3244)
The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), 16 U.S.C. sections 703-712, and federal regulations promulgated thereunder, do not preempt Arkansas regulations governing activities involving captive-reared mallard ducks.

Atl. Research Corp. v. US (08/11/06 - No. 05-3152)
A private party which voluntarily undertakes a cleanup for which it may be held liable, thus barring it from contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) section 113, may pursue an action for direct recovery or contribution under section 107, against another liable party.

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Sarei v. Rio Tinto, PLC (08/07/06 - No. 02-56256, 02-56390)
Dismissal of an Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) action brought by plaintiffs, residents of Papua New Guinea, against defendant-mining corporation claiming numerous violations of international law is reversed in part where the district court erred in dismissing all of the plaintiffs’ claims as presenting nonjusticiable political questions, and in dismissing the plaintiffs’ racial discrimination claim under the act of state doctrine.

N. California River Watch v. City of Healdsburg (08/10/06 - No. 04-15442)
A judgment in favor of an environmental group in litigation under the Clean Water Act (CWA) challenging a city's discharge of sewage from its waste treatment plant into a body of water is affirmed where the body of water at issue was subject to the CWA since it and its wetlands possessed a "significant nexus" to navigable waters, and neither a waste treatment system nor an excavation operation exception applied to the discharges.

Earth Island Inst. v. Ruthenbeck (08/10/06 - No. 05-16975)
In an appeal arising from a judgment enjoining Forest Service regulations governing review of decisions implementing forest plans, the district court's invalidation of 36 C.F.R. section 215.12(f) and a nationwide injunction against its enforcement is affirmed, but the judgment and injunction is remanded to be vacated with respect to the remaining regulations for lack of a controversy ripe for review.

U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals

State of Nevada v. Dep't of Energy (08/08/06 - No. 04-1309)
Nevada's petition for review of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for a repository for nuclear waste and a portion of the Record of Decision (ROD) the Department of Energy issued governing the transportation of nuclear waste from the production sources to the repository location is denied where some of the state's claims were unripe for review and the remaining claims were without merit.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. US (08/09/06 - No. 05-5033)
A decision finding that the U.S. was not liable to plaintiff under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution for the alleged taking of its leasehold interest in certain land is vacated where plaintiff's takings claim accrued not later than February of 1994, it did not file its complaint until over six years later, and thus, the claim was barred by the statute of limitations and the Court of Federal Claims lacked jurisdiction to consider it.

August 11, 2006 in Cases | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Science of Global Warming: Oops, There Goes Another Ice Sheet....

Science has published a study by Chen indicating that the Greenland ice sheet is melting and sliding faster than previously thought -- and the rate may be accelerating.  Chen measured Greenland's ice sheet mass with NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data between April 2002 and November 2005.  The ice melt rate had tripled compared to the rate other scientists had calculated from data collected by Earth-observing satellites between 1997 and 2003.  As Science explained:

Something ominous may be happening beneath Greenland's vast ice sheet. For nearly 50 years, the world's second largest ice cap has inched inexorably downhill toward the ocean, but at a stable rate. Now, the sheet seems to be melting and sliding seaward much faster, and the rate seems to be accelerating--a condition that could eventually endanger coastal populations and affect Earth's climate.


When glaciers begin to melt, water works its way down to the bottom of the ice. There it lubricates the glacier, which will pick up its downhill pace. Why worry? Greenland holds about 10% of the world's ice, so if it melts completely--though an unlikely prospect--it would raise global sea level about 6.5 meters. That's enough to flood all of the planet's coastal cities and displace billions of people.

August 11, 2006 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, International, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

House Committee Plays Dogpile on BP

MSNBC reports that the House Resources Committee will undertake an investigation of BP's decision to shut down production at its Prudhoe Bay field -- questioning whether the shutdown was a "market strategy" to manipulate the oil market.

In a scathing letter sent to Lord Browne, BP chief executive, on Friday, Joe Barton, the powerful chairman of the House energy committee, suggests the Alaska shutdown could be part of a wider strategy by BP to influence the market, particularly in light of recent allegations by US regulators that the company engaged in illegal trading in the propane gas market. The company has denied those allegations.

Mr Barton this week said he would hold a September 7 hearing to examine BP's management of severe corrosion in its oil transit lines. In his letter, Mr Barton says evidence of BP's "chronic neglect" of the pipeline, and the subsequent damage that the shutdown has imposed on American consumers and the US economy is "not excusable".                   

Although Mr Barton, a Texan who is seen traditionally as a staunch defender of the oil industry, has not indicated whether he will call on Lord Browne to testify, the seriousness of the shutdown at a time when Congress wants to be seen as responsive to high petrol prices means that either the BP chief or another senior BP executive will probably have to face Mr Barton's wrath personally.

The lawmaker is understood to be incensed particularly by the shutdown because staff at the energy committee received reassurances from BP just a few months ago that a March oil spill, the result of a corroded pipeline, was "an anomaly".

"Following on the heels of the BP refinery disaster that killed 15 people in Texas City in 2005, and the oil spill . . . this latest incident once again calls into question BP's commitment to safety, reliability, and the responsible stewardship of America's energy resources," Mr Barton said.          

BP said it would assist the committee in its inquiry. The letter represents the latest sign that pressure is growing on the company in the US capital.

Apart from Mr Barton's committee, BP is under investigation by the Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The probes and heightened criticism by lawmakers fly in the face of attempts by BP to craft carefully its image in the US as a responsible and eco-friendly oil company, in contrast to US oil giants.

Separately, BP said it would make a decision later in the day on whether to close the western portion of the Prudhoe Bay field after the transportation department found it was not necessary.

August 11, 2006 in Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, North America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pipeline May Have Been Corroded by Bacteria

Link: Bacteria Likely Cause of Pipeline Snafu.  AP reports that BP suspects its pipelines leaked crude onto the tundra because oil-eatting bacteria produce an acid that corrodes the pipeline.

"That's our primary suspect at this moment. We'll know when we remove the pipe and have a good look at it," Craig Wiggs, a North Slope oil field manager, said on Friday as he led visitors on a tour of the Prudhoe Bay operations, a 333-square mile puzzle of pipelines and oil processing stations several miles from the bleak shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Early tests show that oil-eating bacteria may have caused the corrosion that caused the shutdown of much of the operation that supplies 8 percent of the nation's daily dose of oil.

Excrement from the microbe colonies inside the pipes produces an acid that eats through carbon steel designed to withstand temperatures that dip to 60 degrees below zero and oil that exits the ground at 160 degrees.

Telltale holes detected during ultrasound tests were most likely made by bacteria, rather than water, Wiggs said.

Sludge buildup on the inner walls of the pipe shelters the bacteria from anti-microbial fluids that oil companies are supposed to pour into the North Slope's zig-zagging network of pipeline 250 miles inside the rim of the Arctic Circle.

"That's what happens when you don't send cleaning pigs through," said Lois Epstein, who sits on a federal advisory committee for the Office of Pipeline Safety. Cleaning pigs are bullet-shaped scrapers released into the pipeline to slough off sludge and other solids.

A 210-gallon spill in one of the pipelines leading directly to the trans-Alaska pipeline led BP to announce earlier this week that it was shutting down its 400,000 barrel-a-day operation at Prudhoe Bay. The company was still deciding on Friday whether it could manage to keep half the field open.

Since then, the oil giant has been peppered with questions over why it hadn't detected the corrosion leading to this spill and another one in March. The spring spill ranks as the North Slope's largest, with up to 267,000 gallons leaked.

"None of this should have been a surprise to anyone related to the oil industry. It's made up of a lot of sophisticated people and the technology of internal corrosion is well-known throughout the industry," said Rick Kuprewicz, president of Accufact Inc., a pipeline energy consulting firm, based in Redmond, Wash.

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August 11, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mercury Boomerang

What goes around, comes around: recycled mercury exported from the US is returning in the form of drifting air pollution -- undermining our efforts to eliminate mercury from the environment.  CT mercury article 

Tons of toxic mercury from U.S. recycling programs are funneled each year to loosely regulated industries in developing countries, where much of the hazardous metal is released into the atmosphere.  Scientists say some of that air pollution can drift back to this country and contaminate lakes and rivers, undercutting aggressive efforts to keep mercury out of the environment.  The federal government estimates that U.S. firms exported at least 276 tons of mercury last year. It moves overseas through a little-known network of purifiers and brokers that operates without government oversight and faces few questions about what happens to the silvery metal once it is sold.  Environmental regulators acknowledge they know more about used motor oil and scrap tires than they do about the mercury trade, in part because it is considered a commodity and isn't subject to the same handling and tracking laws as hazardous waste.  But as policymakers become more aware of the dangers of mercury exposure, particularly for young children and women of childbearing age, they are focusing more attention on curbing sources of mercury pollution.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) introduced legislation that would bar American mercury exports.  "This is a problem that is impacted by things happening all over the world," Obama said in a recent interview. "But we can make an enormous difference."  Combined with a European Union proposal to block mercury exports, the U.S. effort could shrink global supplies of the metal and drive up the cost enough to encourage alternatives, Obama said. 

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August 11, 2006 in Air Quality, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)