Drought that ravaged US crops likely to worsen in 2013, forecast warns
NOAA predicts tough spring for already struggling farmers as growing demand for water leaves US more exposed dry seasons
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 March 2013 18.12 GMT
The historic drought that laid waste to America's grain and corn belt is unlikely to ease before the middle of this year, a government forecast warned on Thursday.
The annual spring outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted hotter, drier conditions across much of the US, including parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where farmers have been fighting to hang on to crops of winter wheat.
The three-month forecast noted an additional hazard, however, for the midwest: with heavy, late snows setting up conditions for flooding along the Red and Souris rivers in North Dakota.
"It's a mixed bag of flooding, drought and warm weather," Laura Furgione, the deputy director of NOAA's weather service told a conference call with reporters.
Last year produced the hottest year since record keeping began more than a century ago, with several weeks in a row of 100+degree days. It also brought drought to close to 65% of the country by summer's end.
The cost of the drought is estimated at above $50bn, greater than the economic damage caused by hurricane Sandy
The drought area has now fallen back somewhat to 51% of the country. But even the heavy snowfalls some parts of the country have seen were not enough to recharge the soil, the NOAA scientists said.
The agency was forecasting above-normal temperatures in the south-west and other parts of the country, with only the Pacific north-west expected to experience below-normal temperatures.
It said drought conditions were likely to remain in the central and western parts of the country, and could expand in California, the south-west, the southern Rockies and Texas. The Florida panhandle should also anticipate drought conditions, according to the forecast.
Scientists warned of an increased risk of wildfires, because of the dry conditions, for parts of Minnesota and northern Iowa.
Other areas of the country however were in line for floods, with the most significant along the Red and Souris Rivers in North Dakota. NOAA said it was also expecting some 20,000 acres of farm land to be flooded in the Devil's Lake area of North Dakota.
Some flooding was also expected along the upper Mississippi into southern Wisconsin, northern Missouri and parts of South Dakota and Iowa.
Meanwhile, a poor snowpack suggests the drought will persist in the Rocky Mountain states and California.
"The drought that we accumulated over the last five or six years in the middle part of the country and also the south-west is going to take a long time to remove," said Furgione. "The deficits in the soil and very unlarged, and it is very unlikely the seasonal mean precipitation will ameliorate that."
Farmers had been anticipating a poor start to the growing season, especially in the south-west and areas such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where the drought has not relaxed its grip.
Farmers in some areas did not even bother to plant winter wheat this year.
The prospect of another dry year caused concern along the Mississippi where low levels held up barge traffic last year. A coalition of mayors from towns along the river visited Washington this week to press for funds to keep the waterway open.
"If the river is shut out, that's $300m a day that is affected by that in economic losses because you can not shift the traffic up and down the river," said Hyram Copeland, mayor of Vidalia, Louisiana.
Communities across the wheat and corn-growing areas, that took the brunt of last year's drought, had been looking for heavy snows and rains this winter to prime the land for the next planting season.
"The bottom line is we need a big spring because we do not have the buffer or carryover we did coming into 2012," Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told a forum on Wednesday.
However, the forecast suggests that big spring will not materialise.
The scientists also note a growing demand for water – for cities, for agriculture – is leaving the country even more exposed to hotter, drier years like 2012.
"We have seen changes to our vulnerability to drought," Svoboda said. "More straws in the drink is putting more demand on a finite water resource."
Study: Ancient megavolcanoes killed half the world’s species
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 21, 2013 14:48 EDT
New rock dating techniques have helped narrow the timeframe of a chain of massive volcanic eruptions that wiped out half the world’s species 200 million years ago, a study said Thursday.
The result is the most precise date yet — 201,564,000 years ago — for the event known as the End-Triassic Extinction, or the fourth mass extinction, said the study in the journal Science.
The eruptions “had to be a hell of an event,” said co-author Dennis Kent, a paleomagnetism expert at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
They may offer a historic parallel to the human-caused climate change happening today, by showing how sharp increases in carbon dioxide can outpace vulnerable species’ ability to adapt, researchers said.
The new analysis winnows the estimated date from its previous range of up to three million years to 20,000 years at most, a blink of an eye in geological terms.
The eruptions caused an already hot Earth to become even more stifling, killing off plants and animals and making way for the age of the dinosaurs — before they, too, were obliterated some 65 million years ago, possibly by another volcanic event combined with a devastating meteorite strike.
Volcanoes roiled the Earth in a time when most of the land mass was united in one big continent, spewing some 2.5 million cubic miles of lava that, over time, split the terrain and led to the creation of the Atlantic Ocean.
For the study, scientists analyzed rock samples from Nova Scotia, Morocco and outside New York City, all of which came from this once-united landmass known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.
An analysis of the decay of uranium isotopes in the basalt, a type of rock left by the eruptions, offered researchers more precise dates.
The eruption in Morocco was the earliest, followed by Nova Scotia about 3,000 years later and New Jersey 13,000 years later.
Sediments that lie below that time hold fossils from the Triassic era. Above that layer, they disappear, the study said.
Some of the lost creatures include eel-like fish called conodonts, early crocodiles and tree lizards.
“In some ways, the End Triassic Extinction is analogous to today,” said lead author Terrence Blackburn, who carried out the study while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but is now with the Carnegie Institution.
“It may have operated on a similar time scale. Much insight on the possible future impact of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide on global temperatures, ocean acidity and life on earth may be gained by studying the geologic record.”
March 21, 2013
As Pollution Worsens in China, Solutions Succumb to Infighting
By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — China’s state leadership transition has taken place this month against an ominous backdrop. More than 16,000 dead pigs have been found floating in rivers that provide drinking water to Shanghai. A haze akin to volcanic fumes cloaked the capital, causing convulsive coughing and obscuring the portrait of Mao Zedong on the gate to the Forbidden City.
So severe are China’s environmental woes, especially the noxious air, that top government officials have been forced to openly acknowledge them. Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, said she checked for smog every morning after opening her curtains and kept at home face masks for her daughter and herself. Li Keqiang, the new prime minister, said the air pollution had made him “quite upset” and vowed to “show even greater resolve and make more vigorous efforts” to clean it up.
What the leaders neglect to say is that infighting within the government bureaucracy is one of the biggest obstacles to enacting stronger environmental policies. Even as some officials push for tighter restrictions on pollutants, state-owned enterprises — especially China’s oil and power companies — have been putting profits ahead of health in working to outflank new rules, according to government data and interviews with people involved in policy negotiations.
For instance, even though trucks and buses crisscrossing China are far worse for the environment than any other vehicles, the oil companies have delayed for years an improvement in the diesel fuel those vehicles burn. As a result, the sulfur levels of diesel in China are at least 23 times that of the United States. As for power companies, the three biggest ones in the country are all repeat violators of government restrictions on emissions from coal-burning plants; offending power plants are found across the country, from Inner Mongolia to the southwest metropolis of Chongqing.
The state-owned enterprises are given critical roles in policy-making on environmental standards. The committees that determine fuel standards, for example, are housed in the buildings of an oil company. Whether the enterprises can be forced to follow, rather than impede, environmental restrictions will be a critical test of the commitment of Mr. Li andXi Jinping, the new party chief and president, to curbing the influence of vested interests in the economy.
Last month, after deadly air pollution hit record levels in northern China, officials led byWen Jiabao, then the prime minister, put forward strict new fuel standards that the oil companies had blocked for years. But there are doubts about whether the oil companies will comply, especially since oil officials resisted a similar government order for higher-grade fuel four years ago. State-owned power companies have been similarly resistant. The companies regularly ignore government orders to upgrade coal-burning electricity plants, according to ministry data. And as with the oil companies, the power companies exert an outsize influence over environmental policy debates.
In 2011, during a round of discussions over stricter emissions standards, the China Electricity Council, which represents the companies, pushed back hard against the proposals, saying that the costs of upgrading the plants would be too high.
“During the procedure of setting the standard, the companies or the industry councils have a lot of influence,” said Zhou Rong, a campaign manager on energy issues for Greenpeace East Asia. “My personal opinion is even if we have the most stringent standards for every sector, the companies will violate those.”
On Feb. 28, Deutsche Bank released an analysts’ note saying that China’s current economic policies would result in an enormous surge in coal consumption and automobile sales over the next decade. “China’s air pollution will become a lot worse from the already unbearable level,” the analysts said, calling for drastic policy changes and “a strong government will to overcome the opposition from interest groups.”
The report estimated that the number of passenger cars in China was on track to hit 400 million by 2030, up from 90 million now.
For the most part, Chinese automakers have supported upgrading cars with cleaner technology, which makes them more marketable worldwide, environmental advocates say. But better technology cannot operate properly without high-quality fuel, and this is where the bottleneck occurs.
The system of forging fuel standards has led to fierce bureaucratic infighting.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection is the main government advocate for both higher fuel standards and better automobile technology. It has the power to force automakers to use new technology by issuing stricter tailpipe emissions standards, but it cannot unilaterally impose new fuel standards or enforce compliance from the oil companies. Instead, it can merely lobby other relevant ministries or agencies to take action.
When fuel standards do not keep pace with vehicle technology, the environmental ministry has to delay issuing new tailpipe emissions standards, and so cars do not get upgraded.
Fuel standards are issued by the Standardization Administration of China, which convenes a committee and a subcommittee to research standards.
They each have 30 to 40 members, almost all of whom are from oil companies, said Yue Xin, a scientist who sits on one of the groups on behalf of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The members from the oil companies “will represent more of the company’s interests,” Mr. Yue said. Sinopec and PetroChina, two of the biggest oil companies, have insisted that consumers or the government pay to upgrade their refineries to produce cleaner fuel, and they have delayed approving higher standards unless there is consensus on who pays.
“Sinopec for years has never argued against the need to improve China’s standards,” said David Vance Wagner, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation who used to work under the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection. “They’ve just argued about the finance of it.”
In late January, Fu Chengyu, chairman of Sinopec, acknowledged that the oil companies bore some responsibility for air pollution, but he also argued that the government’s fuel standards were not high enough, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. What Mr. Fu failed to explain was that oil company representatives on the committees researching fuel standards have been the main impediment to pushing through better standards.
Mr. Yue and others say that because of constant haggling by the oil companies, the government for years delayed issuing upgraded China IV diesel standards that are on par with European standards. On Feb. 6, after the uproar over record-breaking air pollution, the State Council, China’s cabinet, smashed the gridlock by putting out guidelines that called for a nationwide adoption of the new China IV diesel standards by the end of 2014.
It also set deadlines on the issuing and phasing in of even cleaner China V standards. The next day, the Standardization Administration of China issued the upgraded China IV diesel standards that the oil companies had been trying to delay for years.
But the costs of upgrading could still lead the oil companies to ignore the new standards, which is what they did when the State Council in 2009 ordered a phase-in of the China III diesel standard.
In the Feb. 6 announcement, the State Council said the government needed to create a fiscal policy to support the refinery upgrades, but the Ministry of Finance has yet to make the policy.
Another big concern lies in the debate over the cleaner China V gasoline standard, which the State Council said must be issued by December and phased in by the end of 2017. In the committee debates, Sinopec argues that it is expensive to meet the requirements for sulfur levels.
Oil company representatives did not reply to requests for comment. In public, oil company executives are trying to shift the blame. Mr. Fu told reporters this month that “in fact the biggest killer is coal.”
Beijing officials have said that vehicle emissions account for 22 percent of the main deadly particulate matter in the air, known as PM 2.5, and another 40 percent is from coal-fired factories in Beijing and nearby provinces.
In February, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued stricter factory emissions standards for six coal-burning industries. First on the list is the power industry, which accounts for about half the coal consumption in China.
But compliance by the state-owned enterprises could be a problem. The environmental ministry publishes annual lists of factories that have violated emissions regulations. A review shows that the factories are all run by the biggest power companies.
The annual lists represent only a fraction of the plants in violation, since installation by the factories of monitoring equipment is spotty, and the equipment readings can be manipulated, said Kevin Jianjun Tu, an energy scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Another problem is the low penalties: fines are generally capped around $16,000, not much of a deterrent, said Ms. Zhou, the Greenpeace representative. She said the violating factories “should be required to stop production temporarily — that would then force companies to take this seriously.”
Mia Li and Amy Qin contributed research from Beijing, and Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
03/21/2013 06:19 PM
Bogus Bloc: Why Joint European Votes Are Bad for Wildlife
By Luke Dale-Harris
Earlier this month, an abstention by EU member countries was a factor in the scuppering of a global ban on the trade of polar bear products. Under muddled EU bloc voting guidelines, Denmark and Greenland, a satellite state with 55,000 residents succeeded in holding the vote hostage.
Each year the Inuit population of the Arctic Circle hunt around 800 polar bears. The meat feeds the hunters and their families, while the skin, paws and teeth are shipped off around the world to satisfy the high demand for them as luxury accessories.
It may not sound like much, but many say that the 800 bears lost to the hunt are more than the polar bear population can sustain. With the threat of climate change predicted to wipe out two-thirds of the 25,000 polar bears left in the Arctic by 2050, the hunt is one added strain that could be immediately avoided. This was the argument put forward by the United States earlier this month, and then voted on at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok.
What may have seemed like an obvious proposal was ultimately scuppered under an opposition led by Canada and Greenland which, on the shaky grounds that "the relationship between sea ice loss and polar bear declines is subject to uncertainty," gathered momentum in the days running up to the vote. Critically, however, there was another factor in its failure that sprung not from evidence or conjecture, but the byzantine workings of the European Union's bloc voting system.
The logic behind the EU vote is simple. By having all 27 member states adopt a common position over a proposal, either by consensus or by qualified majority, the vote can then be cast en-masse on the global stage, dramatically increasing Europe's influence over the proceedings. Given that a two-thirds majority is needed for proposals within CITES to pass, the EU's 27 votes make up a significant chunk of the voting block; in many cases enough for the whole proposal to hinge on.
Shaky and Ambiguous
When Europe is playing the good guy, as it did over the marine species proposals at the CITES summit in Bangkok last week, the bloc vote gives it strength enough to outweigh the self-interested opposition of other countries, and it can act as a genuine force for good. But as soon as the interests at stake are those of an EU member state, the agreement gets shaky and the rules ambiguous.
This was what happened over the polar bear proposal. Within the EU, a clear majority of member states, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and more, supported the ban. Denmark, arguing for the right of its satellite state Greenland to hunt the bears, led the opposition in Europe alone.
Yet the European Commission dropped the vote and proposed its own compromise -- that the ban would not include the trade in polar bear skins, the body part that makes up the vast bulk of the trade. The compromise failed to gain the necessary support, so the commission withdrew it and requested that all member states abstain from voting on the proposal at all. All agreed, with the exception of Denmark, which went ahead to cast its vote against the ban.
On its own, the loss of 26 votes in favor the proposal -- the vast majority of which would have been for it -- constitutes a major loss of support for the polar bear. But there are other factors as well. The way the EU votes has a huge influence over other countries, both those reliant on its trade links and those looking to gain accession to the EU. All together, explains Marton Kelemen of CEEweb, a network of environmental NGOs spanning 20 countries, "the might of the EU's influence against the polar bear proposal extends far beyond Europe, but in no way signifies the opinion of the people it's meant to represent."
55,000 Greenlanders Hold EU Vote Hostage
How is it then, that the interests of 55,000 Greenlanders can hold the whole EU vote hostage, and through that play such a large role in dictating the outcome of a vote that spans the whole world?
Chris Butler-Stroud, CEO of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, puts it down to the exploitation of ambiguities in the EU voting practice created by the Lisbon Treaty. "They rushed Lisbon through," he says. "Until then, the member states would talk as a whole but vote individually. But Lisbon demanded a focus on sincere cooperation, which has been interpreted as that you've always got to come up with a common position."
Meanwhile, the question of what constitutes a common position is open to interpretation. On environmental issues, a qualified majority vote of 73 percent (calculated under a system that assigns each country a number of votes according partly to their population size) is enough to decide the bloc vote. But on trade, the European Commission retains the right to conclude international agreements, meaning that whatever the voting majority chooses, the commission can overthrow it and issue its own proposal. CITES, a convention about the impact of trade on the environment, of course covers both areas. In this case, it was the commission's decision to call for an abstention, rather than the ability to form a qualified majority, that contributed to failure to pass the ban.
On being asked which category the CITES vote fell into, a representative of the European Commission replied, "well, both," before going on to state that he believed it was covered under the stipulations of the trade agreement.
The reality, it seems, is that the category used depends on the issue at stake. "This ambiguity is being used opportunistically, to establish new power bases and further exercize the authority of the commission itself," said Butler-Stroud. "The confusion in interpretation allows for the majority vote to be effectively ignored."
Did Arctic Resources Motivate Abstention?
Peter Pueschel, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), agrees that it was the political interests of the European Commission, not its member states, which pushed the EU vote into abstention over the polar bear issue. "The commission was under pressure from Canada and the Arctic states not to support the proposal. With the wealth of resources newly available in the Arctic, the European Commission is dependent on good relations with the Arctic states, and for this reason was keen not to appear as hostile. This, in my view, is what broke the back of the polar bear proposal."
But the polar bear isn't alone in paying the price for the EU's misrepresentation of its member states. In recent years, proposals to regulate the trade of both the highly endangered blue fin tuna and North Atlantic whales have been thrown out after a blocking minority forced the EU bloc to abstain from voting.
Officials at the environmental law group ClientEarth have been challenging the legality of the voting practice since 2010. They claim that "any pressure put on the member states to abstain from voting simply because a minority of states does not agree, has no basis in EU law." To have their case heard, however, they must go through the long and protracted legal process of getting access for an NGO to the European Court of Justice, the EU's top court, a process that is still ongoing.
Until that time, this backdoor hijacking of European democracy on environmental issues will continue, and the polar bear threatens to be only the latest, but not the last, casualty.
Gov. Perry’s water board still won’t acknowledge climate change as Texas faces dire drought in 2013
By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, March 22, 2013 14:27 EDT
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Two top environmental officials in the state of Texas told Raw Story this week that not only is the state ill-prepared to face a summer this year even hotter than the record-breaking drought of 2011, it has largely neglected to begin planning for the unprecedented drought conditions forecast for the next several decades by the U.S. government’s 2013 National Climate Assessment.
The situation is so dire that if fundamental changes are not made to how water is conserved in Texas, the clashing trends of climate change and population growth threaten to utterly strangle the Texas economy over the coming 20-30 years as water costs soar, and activists warn that Gov. Rick Perry (R) is doing nothing but making the problem worse.
“Because the folks on the Texas water board are appointed by Rick Perry, they tend to fall in line with what Rick Perry believes when it comes to climate change,” Alyssa Burgin, executive director of the Texas Drought Project, told Raw Story. “There are many people whose jobs are on the line when it comes to talking about climate change. A mention of it did appear in the most recent state water plan, but any discussion given to it was rudimentary and symbolic, as if they didn’t wish to be accused of being ignorant as scientists… Most of our reservoirs are already in dire need and we’ve not even begun the really hot months. Taken together, it’s going to look like the dust bowl of Oklahoma.”
Reacting to a prediction by the state’s climatologist that 2013 is likely to be the hottest year on record, Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator of Texas Water Development Board and a key figure in the state’s water conservation efforts, said that the most immediate effect of the anticipated water shortages will be rising rates.
The state’s top environmental regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), refused to comment on this article, telling Raw Story they have no opinion on climate change and insisting that “causes of the drought” are not within their purview. The same agency unilaterally deleted all mentions of climate change from a 2011 scientific report on the health of the Galveston Bay estuary, and ultimately sought a Texas Attorney General’s ruling in order to deny Raw Story’s information request for the names of the individuals involved in the censorship.
But just how bad could it get? The Texas AgriLife Extension Service found that the 2011 drought cost farmers more than $7.6 billion in 2011 — so take that for a baseline. Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, told Raw Story he’s concerned that agricultural and drinking water supplies will face unprecedented and systemic strain again in 2013, and that heat-related damages could be worse than 2011.
And if that short-term problem sounds challenging, consider the long-term implications: “Water plans look out 50 years in the future,” Mace said. “So, our plan is focused on a repeat of the drought of record [in the 1950s]… We take a look at what we think our population is going to do, and we think our population is going to almost double in the next 50 years.”
That anticipated population growth poses a serious problem, and one that many state officials aren’t even aware of. The 2013 National Climate Assessment says that climate change has already “doubled” the likelihood of another extremely severe heat event, which the state got a taste of in 2011 (PDF) during the worst single year drought on record. Now with reservoirs running dramatically low statewide, Texas faces a crucial test of its water security in the coming months, and the dire long-term problem of how it can keep a future population of more than 52 million people hydrated when supplies are only expected to diminish from here.
That new type of drought — created both by environmental and socioeconomic factors — will not just impact farmers: it will impact consumers, the government and industry through rising food and fuel costs. But most importantly, it is rising water costs that could become the noose that strangles the state’s economy.
Mace said that some communities experience “sticker shock” when they get their water bills — like the town of Flower Mound, just north of Dallas, which for years has fought the Upper Trinity Water District over rates and proposals to replenish supplies. The district currently appears set on constructing a wholly new lake at a cost of $464 million, funded largely by rate increases.
“So far, most local politicians and rate payers, when faced with that choice, they’ve been making the right decisions and saying, ‘We’re going to pay more now to make sure we have any water at all,’” Mace added.
However, therein lies another problem that’s particular to the state of Texas: those choices are largely tied to building above ground reservoirs, which become less and less effective as the average temperature rises. The National Climate Assessment predicts Texas will experience 3-5 degrees of warming over the coming century even with significant steps taken to reduce heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere, and 6-9 degrees if current trends continue. “Climate change is going to take a very serious toll on Texas, and we’re already seeing that added evaporation from higher temperatures is a serious problem,” Texas Drought Project’s Burgin said. “So what does the state of Texas propose to do? Oh yes, build a lot more reservoirs.”
“I haven’t talked to many legislative members who understand water is going to become that much more expensive,” she added. “What I see happening are powerful political interests becoming part of privatized water systems… I also see a lot of policymakers who are afraid to anger constituents. They feel if they tell folks that historical water rights might have to draw to a close as we adopt more fair [regulations] for water use, they fear that loss of support from special interests in the state.”
The TCEQ is now poised to take launch the state’s first-ever greenhouse gas permitting process, provided Republicans on the Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee can convince their colleagues to pass a bill authored by authored by Rep. Wayne Smith (R) that preempts the EPA’s own permitting process, which the agency has yet to fully roll out.
Perry aide Josh Havens told Raw Story that the TCEQ, along with the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Division of Emergency Management “continue to work with communities and utilities across the state to assess ground and surface water supplies, and identify measures to trigger conservation efforts before sources hit critical levels. State agencies are also working with partners at the local and federal levels to identify ways to access alternative supplies and clear regulatory hurdles that may be impeding a communities access to water.”
Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com
Big Oily Disgrace: 17 Senate Dems Join Republicans In Passing Measure Supporting Keystone XL
By: Jason Easley
Mar. 22nd, 2013
Seventeen Senate Democrats ignored the facts about Keystone XL, and joined with Republicans to pass a measure urging the construction of the pipeline.
The Hovan Amendment (494) passed the Senate by a vote of 62-37. 17 Democrats joined with Republicans in getting the non-binding measure passed.
The amendment repeated all of the Big Oil lies about Keystone XL, “The Hoeven-Baucus measure established a formal recognition by the U.S. Senate that the Keystone XL pipeline, a major energy infrastructure project, will boost the nation’s economic growth and contribute revenues to the United States Treasury. Just prior to passage of the Hoeven-Baucus Amendment, a second amendment that attempted to put delays and restrictions on the project was defeated by a vote of 33 to 66, making it very clear that the Administration should not delay or put more restrictions on the Keystone XL pipeline.”
The amendment was co-sponsored by Democrats Baucus (D-MT), Manchin (D-WV), Heitkamp (D-ND), Landrieu (D-LA), and Begich (D-AK). Besides coming from states where oil plays a big role in the economy, each of these Democrats have also taken hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from Big Oil.
According to The Price of Oil,
Senator Baucus has received more than $680,000 from fossil fuel interests
Senator Manchin has received more than $1 MILLION from fossil fuel interests
Senator Heitkamp has received $47,450 from fossil fuel interests (in just one Senate race in a small state)
Senator Landrieu has received more than $1.25 MILLION from fossil fuel interests
Senator Begich has received more than $212,000 from fossil fuel interests (in just one Senate race)
The five Democratic co-sponsors were joined by Democrats, Bennet (D-CO), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Coons (D-DE), Donnelly (D-IN), Hagan (D-NC), Johnson (D-SD), McCaskill (D-MO), Nelson (D-FL), Pryor (D-AR), Tester (D-MT), Warner (D-VA).
Sen. Heitkamp repeated the falsehoods that Keystone XL will be a job creator that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, “I support this amendment because the Keystone XL pipeline will create good-paying American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. This project has undergone a thorough review and it is time to approve construction of the pipeline.”
The truth is that these seventeen Democrats chose to vote in favor of a lie, instead of going home and telling their constituents the truth about Keystone XL. They didn’t want to have to defend a no vote on this amendment by admitting that Keystone XL won’t create jobs. The pipeline won’t boost our economy, and since all of the oil will belong to the oil companies, it won’t help our country become more energy independent.
Some of the same Senate Democrats that many of you worked hard to elect have taken Big Oil’s money, and turned their backs on their supporters. The good news is that the amendment was non-binding, but these Democrats have made their intentions clear. Keystone XL will only help Big Oil get richer, while America will be stuck with a the ticking time bomb of pipeline that will be an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
March 22, 2013
The Sly Coyote Becomes a Bounty Hunters’ Target in Utah
By MELENA RYZIK
OGDEN, Utah — Spencer Glauser, who started hunting as a boy perched on his father’s shoulders, is an unabashed coyote hater. “One’s too many” to have roaming the mountains and encroaching on towns, he said.
Mr. Glauser is not alone in his aversion or in his desire to do something about it. Last year, the Utah Legislature enacted a “Predator Control” incentive program as a way to jointly curb coyotes and safeguard their occasional prey, the mule deer. Under the law, the state now pays civilians to hunt coyotes.
So this winter, when Mr. Glauser, 18, spotted a coyote on a patch of ice, he ably called it to him, and shot it. Then he made his way with the carcass to a Division of Wildlife Resources office here, where a government pickup truck served as a repository for parts. Ears, jaws, scalps and nose-to-tail pelts were deposited in an iced-over flatbed as hunters pulled up with garbage bags carrying the animals’ remains. In orderly fashion, their hauls were documented.
One veteran trapper came with a cargo of a dozen skins. Others, like Mr. Glauser, proudly carried one capture. They lined up to qualify for their bounty: $50 per coyote.
Coyotes are considered a persistent menace in the West, where they and a highly adaptable neighbor, humans, have been encroaching on each other’s territory for decades.
“I’ve seen them pull down animals, and they’re vicious,” said Chase Hufstetler, 29, who has been hunting coyotes for 15 years. “I think they are a nuisance.”
He arrived at the collection point here, one of dozens around the state, with numbered brown paper bags containing the remains of eight coyotes.
The new bounty program represents one of the nation’s largest hunter-based efforts to manage predatory wildlife. Though no one knows how many coyotes there are in Utah, the law allows for as many as 10,000 animals to be killed. (The state is also home to the country’s only coyote research facility financed by the government.) By early March, six months into the collection, the remains of 5,988 coyotes had been turned in.
Utah residents pride themselves on the state’s natural beauty, its wildlife and the acumen of its hunters, and so the bounty program also represents an experiment in managing the competing agendas of conservation and culture, scientific and economic development. So far, hunters are enthusiastic, environmentalists are crying foul, and state wildlife administrators are stuck in the middle.
“I want to have these predators on the landscape,” said John Shivik, the mammal program coordinator for the state’s Division of Wildlife Resources. “We’re not trying to kill them all off, but we’ve got to figure out ways to manage the damage they do, to keep them tolerated.
“Is it going to work? We don’t know,” he added. “But what we’re doing is, we’re giving it the best shot. Nobody’s tried anything this big before.”
Officially, the aim of the program is to protect the mule deer, a symbol of Utah. Larger than white-tailed deer, with distinctive oversize ears and impressive antlers, the mule deer is a favorite of hunters and hikers here. Coyotes prey on the fawns, so the Mule Deer Protection Act allots $500,000 for bounties. Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, signed the bill last March at a shop that manufactures hunting bows, as a way to emphasize the $2.3 billion that hunting and wildlife appreciation bring to the state economy.
But environmentalists argue that there is little scientific evidence that curbing the number of coyotes actually helps mule deer rebound. (A six-year study published in 2011 found that coyote removal did not effectively increase the mule deer population in neighboring southeastern Idaho.)
“The argument that coyotes have much impact on mule deer populations is speculative,” said Mark Clemens, the manager of the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club. His organization, along with the state Humane Society and the Western Wildlife Conservancy, opposed the bill. “It was a terrible bill, we’re really distressed by it,” Mr. Clemens said. “It’s mainly about protecting livestock owners.”
Carl Arky, a spokesman for the Humane Society, went further, suggesting that the program was an economic boondoggle with an intentionally misleading name.
“It’s just a way to sell it,” he said. “And honestly, who’s going to care? The coyote is not an animal that a lot of people have a lot of sympathy for.”
Ranchers are keen to swap stories of coyotes taking out an entire herd of young sheep or cattle, and some have complained to legislators about coyote attacks. But the animals are unpredictable creatures, and not all prey on livestock, said Julie K. Young, a supervisory research biologist for the federal Department of Agriculture.
Count Dr. Young, who has spent her career studying coyotes, as a defender. She runs the coyote research facility in Logan, Utah, where 100 adult coyotes are studied in every aspect from behavior and reproduction to whether they are right- or left-footed. (It is relevant for trapping, and they are about half and half.) Along with scientists from Brigham Young University, Dr. Young, who is also a professor at Utah State University, is involved in a four-year study, independent of the bounty program, on how curbing coyotes affects mule deer. The study is largely financed by the Division of Wildlife Resources, which is also separately collecting data from hunters.
Though coyote populations are notoriously hard to track, estimates put the number of mule deer at about 300,000, a decline from a generation ago, said Anis Aoude, the big-game program coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. Aside from factors like weather, the biggest threat to mule deer is not predation, he said, but changing habitats.
Still, hunters relish the opportunity to eliminate coyotes to give mule deer a better chance.
“We’re just doing what we can to help the deer population and be responsible stewards of the land,” said Blake Downey, 28, a hydrogeologist who came to the collection point in Ogden toting the jaws, ears and scalp of a coyote he bagged while bird hunting with his dog.
Mr. Hufstetler, who sold the pelts of his eight coyotes to a fur company, is keen to get them off the land — except, he said, “I love to hunt them.”
And Mr. Glauser, who is involved with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a nonprofit lobbying group, saw the coyotes’ natural predation on fawns as a threat to a Utah way of life. “At some point, I want my kids to be able to hunt deer, and be able to kill big deer,” he said.
The incongruity of killing one animal to spare another, only to kill the second animal for sport (or food), is not recognized here. More confounding are studies that suggest that coyotes are so hardy, and so reproductively able, that they will rebound even from large-scale slaughter. Killing coyotes may not result in fewer coyotes. As Dr. Young put it, “The only truth about coyotes: they’ll make a liar of you every time.”
By and large, though, the public does not seem to want more coyotes. “The public wants more deer,” Dr. Shivik said. Nature may not cooperate, but authorities parsing legislation must.
Wildlife management, Dr. Shivik said, “is as much about managing people.
“And sometimes,” he added, choosing his words with care, “what people want isn’t easy to do, biologically.”
Ecuador auctions off Amazon to Chinese oil firms
Indigenous groups claim they have not consented to oil projects, as politicians visit Beijing to publicise bidding process
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 March 2013 17.16 GMT
Ecuador plans to auction off more than three million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, angering indigenous groups and underlining the global environmental toll of China's insatiable thirst for energy.
On Monday morning a group of Ecuadorean politicians pitched bidding contracts to representatives of Chinese oil companies at a Hilton hotel in central Beijing, on the fourth leg of a roadshow to publicise the bidding process. Previous meetings in Ecuador's capital, Quito, and in Houston and Paris were each confronted with protests by indigenous groups.
Attending the roadshow were black-suited representatives from oil companies including China Petrochemical and China National Offshore Oil. "Ecuador is willing to establish a relationship of mutual benefit – a win-win relationship," said Ecuador's ambassador to China in opening remarks.
According to the California-based NGO Amazon Watch, seven indigenous groups who inhabit the land claim that they have not consented to oil projects, which would devastate the area's environment and threaten their traditional way of life.
"We demand that public and private oil companies across the world not participate in the bidding process that systematically violates the rights of seven indigenous nationalities by imposing oil projects in their ancestral territories," a group of Ecuadorean organised indigenous associations wrote in an open letter last autumn.
In an interview, Ecuador's secretary of hydrocarbons, Andrés Donoso Fabara, accused indigenous leaders of misrepresenting their communities to achieve political goals. "These guys with a political agenda, they are not thinking about development or about fighting against poverty," he said.
Fabara said the government had decided not to open certain blocks of land to bidding because it lacked support from local communities. "We are entitled by law, if we wanted, to go in by force and do some activities even if they are against them," he said. "But that's not our policy."
Amazon Watch said the deal would violate China's own new investment guidelines, issued jointly by the ministries of commerce and environmental protection last month. The third clause of the guidelines says Chinese enterprises should "promote harmonious development of local economy, environment and community" while operating abroad.
Fabara said he was not aware of the guidelines. "We're looking for global investors, not just investors from China," he said. "But of course Chinese companies are really aggressive. In a bidding process, they might present the winning bids."
Critics say national debt may be a large part of the Ecuadorean government's calculations. Ecuador owed China more than £4.6bn ($7bn) as of last summer, more than a tenth of its GDP. China began loaning billions of dollars to Ecuador in 2009 in exchange for oil shipments. More recently China helped fund two of its biggest hydroelectric infrastructure projects. Ecuador may soon build a $12.5bn oil refinery with Chinese financing.
"My understanding is that this is more of a debt issue – it's because the Ecuadoreans are so dependent on the Chinese to finance their development that they're willing to compromise in other areas such as social and environmental regulations," said Adam Zuckerman, environmental and human rights campaigner at Amazon Watch. "The message that they're trying to send to international investors is not in line with reality."
Last July the inter-American court on human rights ruled to prohibit oil developments in the Sarayaku, a tropical rainforest territory in southern Ecuador that is accessible only by plane and canoe, in order to preserve its rich cultural heritage and biodiversity. The court also mandated that governments obtain "free, prior and informed consent" from native groups before approving oil activities on their indigenous land.
A TV news report broadcast by the US Spanish-language network Telemundo showed members of Ecuadorean native groups – some wearing traditional facepaint and headdresses – waving protest banners and scuffling with security guards outside the Ecuadorean government's roadshow stop in Houston.
"What the government's been saying as they have been offering up our territory is not true; they have not consulted us, and we're here to tell the big investors that they don't have our permission to exploit our land," Narcisa Mashienta, a women's leader of Ecuador's Shuar people, said in the report.
Peru declares environmental state of emergency in its rainforest
Government reports high levels of barium, lead, chrome and petroleum-related compounds in region that is home to oil field
Dan Collyns in Lima
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 March 2013 18.42 GMT
Peru has declared an environmental state of emergency in a remote part of its northern Amazon rainforest, home for decades to one of the country's biggest oil fields, currently operated by the Argentinian company Pluspetrol.
Achuar and Kichwa indigenous people living in the Pastaza river basin near Peru's border with Ecuador have complained for decades about the pollution, while successive governments have failed to deal with it. Officials indicate that for years the state lacked the required environmental quality standards.
A new law published on Monday that sets out, for the first time, environmental quality standards setting acceptable limits for contaminants in soil, may be a key advance, say officials.
Peru's environment ministry has given Pluspetrol 90 days to clean up the affected areas and reduce the risk of contamination to the local population.
In declaring the state of emergency, Peru's environment ministry said tests in February and March found high levels of barium, lead, chrome and petroleum-related compounds at different points in the Pastaza valley.
Pluspetrol, the biggest oil and natural gas producer in Peru, has operated the oil fields since 2001. It took over from Occidental Petroleum, which began drilling in 1971, and, according to the government, had not cleaned up contamination either.
Several multimillion dollar fines have been levied against Pluspetrol in recent years. The company has appealed against all of the fines in the Peruvian courts, including an $11m (£7m) fine levelled in January for failing to complete an environmental clean-up of an oil block located inside Peru's largest national park, Pacaya Samiria, in the Loreto region.
"We know that there has been bad environmental behaviour by the company in the past because there were no regulations but also in the present because it's not acting responsibly and it's not giving the correct information about what's happening in the zone," Peru's environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said of Pluspetrol to local media.
In a statement, his ministry said the government began administrative actions against Pluspetrol in March 2012 over contamination at block 1AB, Peru's biggest crude oil field in the adjacent Corrientes river basin. The ministry says further environmental checks will be carried out on the upper Marañón, Tigre and Corrientes river basins where Pluspetrol also operates.
"Serious attention to the environmental disaster in the northern Peruvian Amazon is long overdue. The Peruvian health ministry registered unacceptable levels of lead and cadmium in the blood of Achuar children almost seven years ago," Andrew Miller, lead Peru campaigner for Amazon Watch told the Guardian.
"Yet only following years of community-based environmental monitoring, pressure from indigenous federations, and the recent visit of Peruvian members of congress has the political will been created for the government to take appropriate action."
The Peruvian government plans to auction a further 29 new oil and gas concessions this year.
A spokesman for Pluspetrol said the company was "evaluating the situation" but refused to comment
China's exploitation of Latin American natural resources raises concern
Economic benefits countered by environmental damage and fears over lopsided nature of trade relations with Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 March 2013 19.55 GMT
Amazonian forest cleared in Ecuador, a mountain levelled in Peru, the Cerrado savannah converted to soy fields in Brazil and oil fields under development in Venezuela's Orinoco belt.
These recent reports of environmental degradation in Latin America may be thousands of miles apart in different countries and for different products, but they have a common cause: growing Chinese demand for regional commodities.
The world's most populous nation has joined the ranks of wealthy countries in Europe, North America and east Asia that have long consumed and polluted unsustainably. This has led to what author Michael T Klare calls "a race for what's left" and its impact is particularly evident in the continent with much of the untapped, unspoiled natural resources.
Even more than Africa, Latin America has become a major focus of Beijing's drive for commodities. A study last year by Enrique Dussel Peters, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, found that the region has been the leading destination for Chinese foreign direct investment – mostly for raw materials and by big government-run companies such as Chinalco and CNOOC.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, China has also become the main lender to the region. In 2010, it provided $37bn (£24bn) in loans – more than the World Bank, Inter-American Bank and the US Import-Export Bank combined. Most of this has gone to four primary exporters – Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador – for mining or transport infrastructure.
The economic benefits have been enormous. Trade between China and Latin America was just $10bn in 2000. In 2011, it had surged to $241bn. While the distribution has varied enormously from country to country, this helped Latin America avoid the worst of the financial and economic crises that gripped much of the developed world and provided extra revenue for poverty alleviation programmes that have eased the region's notorious inequality. It also played a major part in bolstering left-leaning governments that are seeking an alternative to neo-liberal prescriptions from Washington and Wall Street.
Venezuela and Ecuador, which have been unable to access international capital markets since defaulting, have received hefty loans from China. Argentina is seeking similar treatment.
But giving up one kind of dependency can lead to another. Repayments to China are guaranteed by long-term commodity sales, which means a commitment to push ahead with resource exploitation – often with dire consequences for the environment and indigenous communities.
"China is shopping worldwide for natural resources. We're in the midst of a process of commodity accumulation by them. In that context, they lend money to Ecuador and the government pays with oil through anticipated sales. We have committed sales to them up until 2019," said Alberto Acosta, who served as energy minister but has since challenged the government of President Rafael Correa. He estimates his country's debts to China at $17bn.
The lopsided nature of China-Latin America trade is also questioned because while it is good in terms of GDP quantity, it has not been so beneficial in developmental quality. Commodity suppliers are delighted at the Chinese demand for their exports, but manufacturers complain of a flood of cheap Chinese imports that undermine their competitiveness.
The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, wants to change the nature of her country's relationship with China by putting more emphasis on science, technological and educational co-operation as well as soy, iron and oil. This follows signs that Brazil's recent economic growth masks a de-industrialising trend as primary producers account for a rising share of GDP.
Mexico, which has fewer commodities to sell but a big domestic market, has made some of the sharpest criticisms of the trend, albeit in private.
"We do not want to be China's next Africa," Neil Dávila, head of ProMéxico, a foreign trade and investment promotion agency, was quoted as saying in a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. "We need to be owners of our own development."
Pollution and heavy resource extraction are not new to Latin America, which has been carved up and exploited since the arrival of Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama. Nor are the Chinese state firms necessarily any worse than private western companies (Chevron faces a $19bn lawsuit for its pollution of the Ecuadorean Amazon), but they are an additional source of pressure on a region that already looks strained by the environmental weight of the world.
Peru’s engineers ‘make’ their own drinkable water in response to shortages outside of Lima
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:46 EDT
The message emblazoned on a billboard outside the Peruvian capital sounds almost too good to be true: drinkable water for anyone who wants some in this arid village.
Even more intriguingly, the fresh, pure water on offer along a busy road in this dusty town some 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Lima, has been extracted, as if by magic, from the humid air.
Within the enormous, raised, double-paneled billboard inviting all takers is concealed a tube, wires and mechanical equipment that draws the water from the air and purifies it.
Inhabitants from far and wide who flock here toting liter bottles and buckets say this purified water is a wonderful alternative to the stagnant well water that used to be the only water source for many in this town.
“The water that we get in our houses very often is dirty. By contrast, here we have good water that we can use and drink without having to worry,” Francisco Quilca, 52 told AFP.
His wife Wilma Flores says that it gives her peace of mind, “knowing that the water is disinfected. We can drink it and we can use it to wash our vegetables in,” she said.
The United Nations on Friday marked its World Water Day initiative which aims to cut water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery and diarrhea around the world.
It is a perennial problem in Lima and the surrounding area, where about one million of the more than eight million people lack reliably clean water.
Faced with the ongoing water shortage, some innovators at Peru’s University for Engineering and Technology hit upon the novel idea.
“If the problem is water, we’ll make some,” said Alejandro Aponte, one of the people who worked on the project, which was both an engineering feat and a marketing challenge.
Enough water is sucked from the air by this huge contraption located on the edge of a busy highway in Peru to fill a 100-liter tank each day.
The system required a location where the humidity was at least 30 percent — not a problem in Lima, where the dewpoint sometimes hits an unbearably sticky 98 percent, despite the barren landscape where there is very little evident vegetation and not very much actual rainfall.
The interdisciplinary effort required figuring out not only how to draw moisture from the air on a large enough scale, but how to let people know that the water was available for their consumption.
Engineers on the project have installed five generators to suck moisture out of the air and convert it into liquid. The purification structure is sandwiched between two huge billboards which advertise the availability of the water.
Once they had worked out the mechanics of extracting the moisture from the air, “the university asked us to think up this panel,” said Aponte, who is creative director of the Mayo Draft ad agency.
He said the project — part water generator, part advertising billboard — has filled a real need here, as “there are many people who have no access to clean water,” he told AFP.
“We have seen that this has a huge potential if you get to use it in other areas of Lima, or even other countries that have many water problems,” said Aponte, who said he has received overseas queries about the project.
Carlos Cardenas, who works as a driver and travels regularly by the Pan-American Highway that runs along Peru’s coast, stops alongside the sign, taking several glasses of water before moving on.
“I often stop here to get water because it is quite good, and not nearly as polluted as it seems to be in other places,” he told AFP.
March 26, 2013
Petrobras, Once Symbol of Brazil’s Oil Hopes, Strives to Regain Lost Swagger
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s oil production is falling, casting doubt on what was supposed to be an oil bonanza. Imports of gasoline are rising rapidly, exposing the country to the whims of global energy markets. Even the nation’s ethanol industry, once envied as a model of renewable energy, has had to import ethanol from the United States.
Half a decade has passed since Brazilians celebrated the discovery of huge amounts of oil in deep-sea fields by the national oil company, Petrobras, triumphantly positioning the country to surge into the top ranks of global producers. But now another kind of energy shock is unfolding: the colossal company, long known for its might, is losing the race to keep up with the nation’s growing energy demands.
Saddled with a nationalist mandate to buy ships, oil platforms and other equipment from lethargic Brazilian companies, the oil giant is now facing soaring debt, major projects mired in delays and older fields, once prodigious, that are yielding less oil. The undersea bounty in its grasp also remains devilishly complex to exploit.
Now, instead of symbolizing Brazil’s rise as a global powerhouse, Petrobras embodies the sluggishness of the nation’s economy itself, which, after racing ahead at 7.5 percent in 2010, slowed to less than 1 percent last year, eclipsed by growth in other Latin American nations like Mexico and Peru.
Until recently, Petrobras was second in value only to ExxonMobil among publicly traded energy companies. But its fortunes have tumbled to the point that it is now worth less than Colombia’s national oil company. That fall has accentuated an increasingly bitter debate here over President Dilma Rousseff’s attempts to use Petrobras to shield the Brazilian population from the nation’s economic slowdown.
“Petrobras was once thought indestructible, but that is no longer the case,” said Adriano Pires, a prominent Brazilian energy consultant. “Petrobras is now a tool of short-term economic policy, used to protect domestic industry from competition and fight inflation. This disastrous process will intensify if it is not reversed.”
Ms. Rousseff, like her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has relied heavily on state companies like Petrobras to create jobs and spur the economy. As a result, the president and her top advisers argue, unemployment remains near historic lows, an approach in economic management that contrasts sharply with Europe and the United States.
In a recent speech, Ms. Rousseff explained that her government’s priority was lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty.
“Those betting against us,” she warned, “will suffer serious financial and political losses.”
To bolster Ms. Rousseff’s approval ratings going into a presidential election in 2014, Petrobras is building new refineries, pursuing offshore oil and buying most of its equipment from Brazilian companies, all of which have created tens of thousands of jobs and delivered some tangible political benefits.
“My life is better,” said Adinael Soares Silva, 38, a welder at a Petrobras refinery under construction in Itaboraí, a city near Rio de Janeiro. He said he was pleased with his salary of about $800 a month. “Where I was, I didn’t have enough to have a savings account,” he said. “Now I do.”
But while Petrobras has helped keep Brazil’s unemployment low, around 5.4 percent, a growing chorus of critics points to the obvious problems at the company, including its backlog of projects and an inability to satisfy the country’s thirst for oil, forcing it to import foreign gasoline and sell it at a loss.
After Brazil made its deep-sea oil discoveries in 2007, the government pushed to put Petrobras firmly in control of the new areas, a move that critics say could strain the company even further. It was a marked departure from the 1990s, when authorities ended Petrobras’s monopoly as part of a radical restructuring of the economy. Petrobras remained under state control but was exposed to market forces, emerging as a hybrid nimbly competing with foreign oil companies.
Today, Petrobras seems far less nimble. In 2012, its production fell 2 percent, the first such decline in years.
The international energy industry is also changing, especially in the United States, as momentum shifts toward extracting oil and natural gas from onshore shale formations. Brazil is thought to have large shale reserves itself, but the government remains focused on its costly deep-sea megaprojects.
“The United States is redrawing the global petroleum map, while in Brazil euphoria has given way to inertia,” Folha de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s most influential newspapers, said in a recent editorial.
Compounding matters, Brazil’s demand for gasoline surged about 20 percent in 2012, reflecting a car-manufacturing industry that has boomed partly as a result of government efforts to lift production.
Petrobras still lacks enough refineries able to process crude oil, forcing it to buy increasing amounts of gasoline from abroad. And it is still losing money on gasoline imports as the government keeps domestic fuel prices relatively low, to keep inflation from accelerating in a slow-growing economy.
Energy analysts contend that the government is using Petrobras to further its own political objectives. Ms. Rousseff’s administration, for instance, has hewed to measures aimed at reviving the country’s shipbuilding industry, by requiring Petrobras to buy many of its ships and oil platforms from Brazilian shipyards.
But these ventures have struggled with large cost overruns of their own, sometimes delivering vessels late or not at all, cutting into Petrobras’s hopes of meeting ambitious production targets.
Then there are the delays at oil refineries under construction. One such complex, in Pernambuco State, was conceived in 2005 as a way for Brazil to forge closer political ties with oil-rich Venezuela. Eight years later, Venezuela has yet to invest in the project, which has faced various delays as Petrobras shoulders the entire cost of building it.
Describing the accumulation of problems at Petrobras, Exame, Brazil’s top business magazine, bluntly accused the government of “destroying Brazil’s largest company,” accompanying the claim with an illustration of a fuel dispenser from a filling station in the shape of a noose.
The sense of dismay reflects, at least in part, Petrobras’s stature. Founded in 1953, it wields clout from its Brutalist-style headquarters here in spheres well beyond the energy industry, sponsoring everything from literary festivals to the Carnival celebration in Salvador, a city in northeast Brazil.
Despite the challenges it faces, Petrobras remains profitable and much less constrained by political ideology than some other large national oil companies. In Mexico, for instance, Pemex has long retained its monopoly status despite production declines, and now the government is considering opening it to greater private investment.
Petrobras is also far more transparent than Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that President Hugo Chávez, who died this month, transformed into an extremely politicized pillar of his government, purging it of thousands of employees after a bitter strike and forcing it to focus on new tasks like food distribution.
Maria das Graças Foster, the chief executive of Petrobras, has been exceptionally frank about the company’s problems. In recent conference calls with analysts, she said that oil production should remain steady this year or perhaps even decline slightly again. But she also responded sharply to critics, claiming that output from the new deep-sea fields had reached 300,000 barrels a day. By 2020, the company expects to double overall production to 4.2 million barrels a day.
Other executives at the company have similarly sought to temper expectations that Brazil will enter a robust phase of energy independence.
José Carlos Cosenza, a Petrobras executive, has warned that Brazil may need to import large amounts of fuel for almost another decade. Moreover, gasoline demand is expected to climb even higher as Brazilians buy more cars.
Taylor Barnes contributed reporting.
Philippines turns trash into ‘clean energy’ windfall
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:01 EDT
Teresita Mabignay does her ironing using free of electricity on the slope of a garbage dump, an unlikely beneficiary of efforts to turn the Philippines’ growing rubbish problems into a clean-energy windfall.
Mabignay lives at the base of one of Manila’s largest landfills, which was the first in the country to have its methane gas converted into power as part of a United Nations’ program aimed at tackling climate change.
Decomposing rubbish produces methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming, and turning it into electricity saves it from rising up into the atmosphere while reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.
The methane is captured with pipes that are dug into the landfill, similar to wells that extract gas from under the ground or ocean. Methane is then sucked down to a power station at the bottom of the dumpsite and pumped into generators to make electricity.
For the past few years Mabignay and other housewives from the slum community at the bottom of the Payatas landfill have been given free access to the power at a hall built at the dumpsite.
“It really helps because it cuts down on our electricity bills… sometimes we use the savings to buy food,” said Mabignay, 50, whose husband earns the equivalent of about $200 a month working as a security guard at the dumpsite.
The company behind the project, Pangea Green Energy Philippines, could afford to be generous with its electricity as it was earning hundreds of thousands dollars to capture and convert the gas.
Under the UN program, industrialized countries can meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to cut greenhouse gas output by funding projects that reduce emissions in developing nations such as the Philippines.
Companies in developing countries earn credits for reducing emissions, each equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide. The credits are then sold to companies, institutions or governments in industrialized countries to offset their emissions.
Pangea president Jennifer Fernan Campos said the Payatas energy project was set up to take advantage of the UN scheme, with the first kilowatts generated in 2008.
“We are also very gratified to be helping the environment and the community. In our own little way we are mitigating greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
Thousands of renewable energy projects in developing countries have been registered under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism since it began in 2005, including wind farms, solar stations and hydropower dams.
There have also been many waste-to-energy projects, with four others in the Philippines starting up after the pioneering Pangea operation, according to industry websitewww.cdmpipeline.org.
However the market price for each ton of greenhouse gas that companies save started dropping sharply in 2010, partly because of the economic meltdown in Europe which was the biggest source of revenues.
“Our rate is a floating one so when the market collapsed, we suffered,” Fernan Campos said, explaining they made the mistake of not locking in a higher price when they had the chance.
Industry experts have warned the carbon trading scheme is in danger because of the collapse in prices, and many clean-energy projects face an uncertain future.
However Fernan Campos said the Payatas project had become commercially viable without the UN-channelled money.
She said Pangea this month expanded capacity from 200 kilowatts to one megawatt, and began selling directly onto Manila’s electricity grid.
Previously the electricity generated at Payatas had just been used to power operations at the landfill and for the nearby slum communities via the ironing project and neighbourhood street lights.
The amount of greenhouse gases that are now being saved at Payatas is the equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off Manila’s roads, according to Fernan Campos.
She said the project had a host of other environmental benefits, including less direct air pollution for people living close by. The extracted methane gas could also no longer contaminate the water system.
Nevertheless, Greenpeace and some other environment groups oppose waste-to-energy projects, arguing their green credentials are often exaggerated and that they create a financial incentive for more rubbish to be dumped.
“The only way to address the issue of methane generation from waste is to stop the rubbish going to the landfill in the first place,” Greenpeace Philippines programme manager Beau Baconguis said.
“Having such projects in place encourages the generation of waste, rather than eliminating it, because you need waste to run the facility.”
Baconguis said there was no vision from the Philippine government to reduce waste, and that Manila’s roughly 12 million residents were producing between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of rubbish every day.
However Fernan Campos insisted Pangea was not lobbying for, or encouraging, more waste to be dumped at Payatas.
She said the local government had implemented recycling and other waste-reduction policies in recent years that had seen the amount of rubbish going into the landfill drop from 1,800 tons a day to 1,200.
“We are just clearing whatever is there, and helping the environment at the same time,” she said.
Chameleons migrated from Africa to Madagascar by sea 65 million years ago: new study
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:13 EDT
Chameleons took to the waves to migrate from Africa to Madagascar about 65 million years ago, said a study published on Wednesday that seeks to resolve a roiling biological debate.
Chameleons are famous for the extraordinary ability of some species to change colour, and for a lightning-fast talent to catch prey with their tongue.
Biologists, though, are bemused by a wider question: Where on Earth did chameleons come from?
The vast majority of the 195 chameleon species today are found in Africa and Madagascar, both once part of a supercontinent called Gondwana that broke apart some 120 million years ago.
During that split, the African continent and the island of Madagascar became separated by a sea trough that today is 400 kilometres (250 miles) wide.
Fossil evidence suggests the first chameleons only showed up after the breakup — but scientists have long disagreed about where.
The new study, based on a genetic analysis of 174 chameleon species, says the migration came from Africa.
It was led by lizard pioneers who probably hitched a ride on rafts of floating debris washed downstream in big African rivers during floods, suggested its authors.
“What we did was estimate the time period when various related chameleons on Africa and Madagascar diverged,” said lead author Krystal Tolley at the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Cape Town.
“We found out this was probably first, in the late Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, and then again in the Oligocene period, about 45 million years ago,” Tolley said in an email to AFP.
“We concluded that (both dispersal events were) more likely to be from Africa to Madagascar but we then also backed this up by using information on the direction of oceanic currents in those very same time periods.”
During the late Cretaceous and the Oligocene, currents actually flowed from Africa toward Madagascar, the opposite of today’s flow, a discovery that was “the icing on the cake, as far as we were concerned”, she said.
Another big study on chameleon origins, published in 2002, had concluded the lizards originated in Madagascar.
Ancestral lizards crossed the present-day Mozambique Channel to Africa, where they underwent species differentiation, evolving in habitat niches shaped by climate and landscape change, the authors of that study had said.
Those findings were based on DNA analysis of about 40 percent of chameleon species and used a technique called the molecular clock to estimate the pace of evolution and reconstruct the ancient family tree.
“(…) (We) were a bit suspicious of this line of thought, and decided to investigate their origins more closely,” said Tolley of the Madagascar-to-Africa theory.
Raft dispersion by animals and plants, sometimes across hundreds of kilometres, is a known if rare phenomenon, she added.
“It would be a difficult journey, so it probably does not happen often and the currents have to be in the right direction, too. For chameleons, it has likely occurred only a few times. Between African and Madagascar, we think it only has occurred twice.”
Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, chameleons had travelled from Africa to the Seychelles Islands on one occasion, and in the Atlantic they managed to make it to Bioko Island in the Gulf of Guinea, said Tolley.
Scientists study world’s largest creature by tracking its song
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:20 EDT
An Australian-led group of scientists has for the first time tracked down and tagged Antarctic blue whales by using acoustic technology to follow its songs, the government said Wednesday.
The blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, is rarely spotted in the Southern Ocean but a group of intrepid researchers were able to locate and tag some of the mammals after picking up on their deep and complex vocals.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the researchers, who spent seven weeks working from small boats in freezing Antarctic conditions, were captivated by the remarkable behaviour of the whales they saw.
“The Antarctic blue whale can grow to over 30 metres in length and weigh up to 180 tonnes, its tongue alone is heavier than an elephant and its heart is as big as a small car,” Burke said.
“Even the largest dinosaur was smaller than the blue whale.”
The scientists collected 23 biopsy samples and attached satellite tags to two of the whales.
“The tags transmitted never-before obtained data on rapid longitudinal movements during their summer feeding season and their foraging behaviour in relation to the edge of the Antarctic ice,” tagger Virginia Andrews-Goff said.
“This method of studying Antarctic blue whales has been so successful it will now become the blueprint for other whale researchers across the world.”
The inaugural Southern Ocean trip of the Antarctic Blue Whale Project involved deploying acoustic buoys west of the Ross Sea to pick up blue whale songs, which can be detected from hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.
They recorded 626 hours of songs, with 26,545 calls of Antarctic blue whale analysed in real time, said lead acoustician Brian Miller.
“The researchers were then able to triangulate the position of the whales from their vocalisations and direct the ship to the target area,” he said.
Burke said the study proved it was not necessary to kill whales to conduct scientific research, a reference to Japan’s annual whale hunt in the Antarctic, which is conducted in the name of scientific research.
“The Antarctic blue whale barely escaped extinction during the industrial whaling era in the 1900′s when around 340,000 whales were slaughtered,” Burke said in a statement.
“This research reinforces Australia’s commitment to non-lethal research of whales.”
Climate change models predict remarkably accurate results
By The Guardian
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 15:24 EDT
By Duncan Clark, The Guardian
Analysis of climate change modelling for past 15 years reveal accurate forecasts of rising global temperatures
Forecasts of global temperature rises over the past 15 years have proved remarkably accurate, new analysis of scientists’ modelling of climate change shows.
The debate around the accuracy of climate modelling and forecasting has been especially intense recently, due to suggestions that forecasts have exaggerated the warming observed so far – and therefore also the level warming that can be expected in the future. But the new research casts serious doubts on these claims, and should give a boost to confidence in scientific predictions of climate change.
The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience, explores the performance of a climate forecast based on data up to 1996 by comparing it with the actual temperatures observed since. The results show that scientists accurately predicted the warming experienced in the past decade, relative to the decade to 1996, to within a few hundredths of a degree.
The forecast, published in 1999 by Myles Allen and colleagues at Oxford University, was one of the first to combine complex computer simulations of the climate system with adjustments based on historical observations to produce both a most likely global mean warming and a range of uncertainty. It predicted that the decade ending in December 2012 would be a quarter of degree warmer than the decade ending in August 1996 – and this proved almost precisely correct.
The study is the first of its kind because reviewing a climate forecast meaningfully requires at least 15 years of observations to compare against. Assessments based on shorter periods are prone to being misleading due to natural short-term variability in the climate.
The new research also found that, compared to the forecast, the early years of the new millennium were somewhat warmer than expected. More recently the temperature has matched the level forecasted very closely, but the relative slow-down in warming since the early years of the early 2000s has caused many commentators to assume that warming is now less severe than predicted. The paper shows this is not true.
Allen said: “I think it’s interesting because so many people think that recent years have been unexpectedly cool. In fact, what we found was that a few years around the turn of the millennium were slightly warmer than forecast, and that temperatures have now reverted to what we were predicting back in the 1990s.”
He added: “Of course, we should expect fluctuations around the overall warming trend in global mean temperatures (and even more so in British weather!), but the success of these early forecasts suggests the basic understanding of human-induced climate change on which they were based is supported by subsequent observations.”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Clouds of blue and green phytoplankton swirl and twine in the waters of the Bay of Biscay in this NASA Terra satellite image obtained in 2004. German researchers on Wednesday said they had evidence that sowing the ocean with iron particles sucks up and stores carbon dioxide (CO2), preventing the gas from stoking dangerous climate change. (AFP Photo/)
Study: Pesticides scramble bees’ brain circuits
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 14:47 EDT
Pesticides used by farmers to protect crops or bee hives can scramble the brain circuits of honeybees, affecting memory and navigation skills needed to find food, scientists said Wednesday.
This in turn threatened entire colonies of bees whose pollinating functions are vital for human food production, they wrote in the journal Nature Communications.
The team observed honeybee brains in the lab after exposing them to neonicotinoid pesticides used on crops, and organophosphates, the most widely used group of insecticides in the world — in this case coumaphos — sometimes used to control mite infestations in beehives.
Exposed to similar concentrations of the two pesticides as they would encounter in the environment, the learning circuits of the bee brains soon stopped working, said the researchers.
“Together, the two classes of pesticide showed a greater negative effect on the bee brain and are predicted to inhibit honeybee learning,” co-author Christopher Connolly of the University of Dundee’s Medical Research Institute told AFP.
“Pollinators perform sophisticated behaviours while foraging that require them to learn and remember floral traits associated with food,” added colleague Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University’s Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.
“Disruption in this important function has profound implications for honeybee colony survival because bees that cannot learn will not be able to find food.”
The finding comes amid a fierce debate on the continuing use of neonicotinoids.
Two weeks ago, European nations rejected a proposed two-year ban on the brain-targeting group of insecticides following opposition by the agrochemical industry.
Beekeepers in Europe, North America and elsewhere are worried by so-called colony collapse disorder — a phenomenon in which adult bees abruptly disappear from beehives — which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides or a combination thereof.
Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.
The researchers said their findings should prompt a rethink of pesticide use.
“Our data suggests that the widespread use of coumaphos as a miticide is an unnecessary risk to the health of honeybees,” said Connolly, and proposed organic acids may be more appropriate for hive mite control.
“In terms of crop protection pesticides, it is claimed by the agrochemical industry that alternatives to the neonicotinoids would be more toxic to bees.
“A direct comparison of the alternatives appears to be the only way forward” to find the least harmful alternative, he said.
Commenting on the study, apiculture (beekeeping) professor Francis Ratnieks of the University of Sussex said the concentrations used in the study appeared to be high.
“It is no surprise that insecticides at high concentrations are harmful, but we don’t know whether the low levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in the nectar and pollen of treated plants… are harmful in the real world.”
Furthermore, coumaphos was not legal for use in much of Europe and not widely used in the United States, said Ratnieks, quoted by the Science Media Centre in London.
[Bee via Shutterstock]
Obama Can’t Fix Congress’ Monsanto Giveaway with an Executive Order
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 27th, 2013
The “Monsanto Protection Act” (section 735) was attached (anonymously) as a rider to a short term spending bill (HR 933). President Obama signed it into law on March 26th.
Food activists (and generally sane people) are outraged, as they should be. 250,000 voters signed a petition opposing the act and others called for Obama to strike the Monsanto provision (aka, “biotech rider”) from the spending bill.
“Passing the Monsanto Protection Act is the last straw for millions of Americans who are tired of being betrayed by their elected officials,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “We’re calling on President Obama to stand up for family farmers and the Constitution and veto the Monsanto Protection Act.”
The problem is that the President does not have line item veto power; it’s all or nothing. This is called a poison pill. As part of the short term spending bill, President Obama had to sign the resolution in order to prevent the federal government from shutting down today, March 27, when the current funding was set to expire. He doesn’t get to cherry pick what parts he signs into law. He either lets the goverment shut down or he signs the poison pill.
The Monsanto Protection Act is outrageous to anyone who pays attention to our current food safety issues. It essentially temporary deregulates genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to override a judicial ruling stopping the planting of a genetically modified crop, and thus grants temporary permits for farmers to plant and grow genetically modified crops.
Food Democracy Now! issued a statement, “If leadership in Washington, D.C. can betray the public behind closed doors, it’s time that the American public gain the right to transparency about what they are eating and feeding their families every day.”
Transparency regarding our food would be great. It hardly seems like we’re asking for too much on this one. Just tell us what crap you’re putting in the stuff we put into our bodies, so we can make our own choices. It’s telling that the corproate food industry fights so hard against identifying clearly what’s in our food.
Food activists are now calling for the President to issue a signing statement and/or executive order to label our food, “Today we’re calling on President Obama to issue an executive order to call for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” A signing statement would have been issued while signing the legislation, and would have claimed that part of the law was unconstitutional. However, it wouldn’t have changed how the law was implemented.
An executive order cannot make new law; only Congress can do that. An executive order tells a President’s administration how he wants a law implemented; it gives direction to officers and agencies of the executive branch. But here’s the real kicker: Even if President Obama were to sign an executive order to label our food (we have no indication as to whether he would be inclined to do so), Congress could deny funding its execution, just as they have with his order to close Gitmo.
When it comes to laws, it always comes back to Congress. Our food safety has been severely compromised by corporate lobbyists’ ever-tightening control over our representatives. If people really want things to change, they need to be able to identify the individuals behind these cowardly acts.
Here’s a hint: Republican Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) takes the most money from pro-GMO PACs in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where this dastardly rider was secretly attached (this time, that is. We have a certain House Republican who tries to attach a similar amendment to almost every bill that touches his greedy fingers). Democratic Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) tried to get the amendment taken out of the spending bill to no avail.
While HR 933 expires in six months, I have little hope that we will see any major changes in food safety while our Congress is controlled by big ag/corporate money. The AP reported on Maplight’s analysis, “Current members of Congress have received $7,450,434 from the PACs of these organizations.”
No matter who is in the White House, Congress controls the purse strings and makes the laws, and they are more than adept at using current crises (manufactured by them, of course) to attach corporate giveaways to big spenders.
This is yet another beyond frustrating poison pill.
People should still protest and sign petitions, because that is the only power the people have to get their voices heard on issues. But our Corporate Congress will continue protecting the profits of their funders until we find a way to stop it.
In the USA...
March 28, 2013
Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms
By MICHAEL WINES
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.
“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”
In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.
In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”
Following a now-familiar pattern, bee deaths rose swiftly last autumn and dwindled as operators moved colonies to faraway farms for the pollination season. Beekeepers say the latest string of deaths has dealt them a heavy blow.
Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.
“We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,” he said in an interview here this week.
“They looked beautiful in October,” Mr. Adee said, “and in December, they started falling apart, when it got cold.”
Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.
Annual bee losses of 5 percent to 10 percent once were the norm for beekeepers. But after colony collapse disorder surfaced around 2005, the losses approached one-third of all bees, despite beekeepers’ best efforts to ensure their health.
Nor is the impact limited to beekeepers. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.
Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation’s almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion-dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives.
This past winter’s die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Tex., said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened.
“But California was short, and I got a call in the middle of February that they were desperate for just about anything,” he said. So he sent two truckloads of hives that he normally would not have put to work.
Bee shortages pushed the cost to farmers of renting bees to $200 per hive at times, 20 percent above normal. That, too, may translate into higher prices for food.
Precisely why last year’s deaths were so great is unclear. Some blame drought in the Midwest, though Mr. Dahle lost nearly 80 percent of his bees despite excellent summer conditions. Others cite bee mites that have become increasingly resistant to pesticides. Still others blame viruses.
But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests.
While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths.
The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths.
Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.
Older pesticides could kill bees and other beneficial insects. But while they quickly degraded — often in a matter of days — neonicotinoids persist for weeks and even months. Beekeepers worry that bees carry a summer’s worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that, eaten once or twice, might not be dangerous.
“Soybean fields or canola fields or sunflower fields, they all have this systemic insecticide,” Mr. Adee said. “If you have one shot of whiskey on Thanksgiving and one on the Fourth of July, it’s not going to make any difference. But if you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver’s gone. It’s the same thing.”
Research to date on neonicotinoids “supports the notion that the products are safe and are not contributing in any measurable way to pollinator health concerns,” the president of CropLife America, Jay Vroom, said Wednesday. The group represents more than 90 pesticide producers.
He said the group nevertheless supported further research. “We stand with science and will let science take the regulation of our products in whatever direction science will guide it,” Mr. Vroom said.
A coalition of beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups sued the E.P.A. last week, saying it exceeded its authority by conditionally approving some neonicotinoids. The agency has begun an accelerated review of their impact on bees and other wildlife.
The European Union has proposed to ban their use on crops frequented by bees. Some researchers have concluded that neonicotinoids caused extensive die-offs in Germany and France.
Neonicotinoids are hardly the beekeepers’ only concern. Herbicide use has grown as farmers have adopted crop varieties, from corn to sunflowers, that are genetically modified to survive spraying with weedkillers. Experts say some fungicides have been laced with regulators that keep insects from maturing, a problem some beekeepers have reported.
Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.
“Where do you start?” Dr. Mussen said. “When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal level, how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?”
Experts say nobody knows. But Mr. Adee, who said he had long scorned environmentalists’ hand-wringing about such issues, said he was starting to wonder whether they had a point.
Of the “environmentalist” label, Mr. Adee said: “I would have been insulted if you had called me that a few years ago. But what you would have called extreme — a light comes on, and you think, ‘These guys really have something. Maybe they were just ahead of the bell curve.’”