WASHINGTON–A Canadian firm said it will consider alternatives to avoid sending a controversial pipeline through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills of Nebraska.
Last week, President Barack Obama backed the decision by his State Department to delay until 2013 a ruling on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Opponents of the project, which would bring oil produced from tar sand in Canada to Oklahoma and Texas, see the move as at least a temporary win.
“The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded,” Bill McKibben, pipeline opponent and founder of 350.org, wrote on the website TarSandsAction.org. “There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.”
Tar Sands Action opposes the project because of potential environmental impact to wetlands and because of higher levels of greenhouse gas produced by burning tar sands. A State Department report estimated an increase of between “3 and 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually” from using fuel from tar sand instead of crude oil.
Sunday thousands of opponents to the project protested at the White House, according to published reports.
The State Department, which is responsible for reviewing presidential permits for international pipelines, decided to postpone a final ruling in order to evaluate an alternative route to avoid an environmentally sensitive area in Nebraska, according to a statement.
“The concern about the proposed route’s impact on the Sand Hills of Nebraska has increased significantly over time, and has resulted in the Nebraska legislature convening a special session to consider the issue,” the statement read.
The State Department expects to complete a review of alternative routes as soon as early 2013, after next year’s presidential election.
Obama supported the decision.
“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” he said in a statement.
TransCanada will work with the State Department to review alternative routes, according to a statement.
“We remain confident Keystone XL will ultimately be approved,” TransCanada president Russ Girling said in the statement.]]>
Occupy DC protesters lined up for sweet treats from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of the Burlington, Vt. ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s. Cohen and Greenfield handed out free ice cream to the protesters as a way to show their support for the movement. “I got ice cream, that’s what I can do is give it to them,” Cohen said.
WASHINGTON – Nearly 40 years ago, the Endangered Species Act passed the Senate with a vote of 92-0, but lately its efficiency has been under attack.
On Thursday, a House subcommittee considered the connection between science and policy in the Endangered Species Act.
“Using science to conserve species has become more difficult over the last 20 years because although the science and management has improved, the Endangered Species Act has not been updated,” said, Neal Wilkins, director of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the NOAA Fisheries can put possibly endangered species on the list for assessment, or an individual or organization can petition to request one of these agencies add a species.
It must meet one of five criteria: natural or manmade factors inhibit its future existence, its population is in decline because of disease or predation, its habitat is being threatened, there aren’t enough existing regulations in place or it is being overused for educational, scientific or recreational purposes.
There is a 90-day screening process, and if the agency decides to continue consideration, it has the rest of the year to continue study and make a determination.
Wilkins said the 12-month review period allotted for listing and de-listing species imposes deadline pressure when trying to evaluate the science behind decision-making.
Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act says, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall make determinations … solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available,” but Wilkins said that this is a problem because decisions often rely on previously collected information. The statute accepts former scientific assumptions based on legislative record. What may have been the best available science at one time isn’t necessarily the case today.
Other witnesses agreed the scientific process behind listing decisions is lacking.
“We believe there needs to be increased scientific rigor applied in ESA decisions,” said Douglas Vincent-Lang of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And the decision-making shouldn’t be left only to the federal government, he said.
“When passing the act, Congress clearly identified a unique role for states in all Endangered Species Act decisions … including the application of science in these decisions,” Vincent-Lang said. “Unfortunately, states are not being given equal deference on science during the implementation of the act.”
Wilkins offered suggestions for improving the statute, including allowing states to manage the recovery plans that identify goals, tasks, finances and time needed to save a species.
Additionally, Wilkins said the quality of science can be improved by standardizing independent peer-review of information used in listing determinations as well as removing the 12-month deadline on the listing process and instead working based off of scientific priority.
That doesn’t mean the decision-making would be solely scientific or that it would disregard the policy driving endangered species protection.
“The ESA exists at the confluence of science, law and policy,” said Craig Manson, general counsel for the Westlands Water District in California. “It is not a purely scientific decision scheme. Nonetheless, its decision contexts must be science-informed. They also may be policy-informed and this must not be mistaken for improper or unlawful political influence.”]]>
WASHINGTON – Like other states that have suffered from epic rains in recent months, Vermont is looking to improve the way it handles flood control.
States in the Midwest and South experienced unprecedented flooding caused by snowpacks triple the normal size and rainstorms resulting in 500-year floods.
“The flooding was epic, there’s no doubt about that,” Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. said Tuesday at a Senate environment committee hearing to evaluate the Army Corps of Engineers response to flooding and its plans for next year.
“Floods are natural events,” said Gerald E. Galloway, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland. “Absolute control is not possible,” he told the committee.
Rather than attempting concrete control, the goal should be flood risk management, involving a mix of traditional structures as well as open and green areas like wetlands, Galloway said. He urged senators to move forward with a national flood management plan, to be coordinated with local and state agencies.
Aging, privately owned dams, like those in Vermont and other Northeastern states, have no central system design, said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works. An integrated management plan is needed to manage flood control along rivers with such dams, Darcy said. The Corps can give technical assistance to state and local agencies that are looking to come up with management plans, she said.
In response to the catastrophic flooding in Vermont, the state is evaluating the network of communication between the entities that operate flood control dams, according to David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We need to look at some of the communication protocols,” Mears said in a phone interview Tuesday. “To make sure everybody is in sync.” Experiences during Irene flooding, like the crossed lines of communication at the Marshfield Dam, show that a plan is needed, Mears said.
The Vermont Division of Emergency Management, the DEC and the Army Corps are involved in coming up with such a plan, he said. The Army Corps is involved because it operates some control dams in the state and the DEC is responsible for state-owned dams and high-risk dams that pose a hazard because of age or condition, he said.]]>
WASHINGTON — As the “Occupy” movement spreads across the country, the chief criticism of the protesters seems to be: What do they want?
Everyone from President Barack Obama to labor unions seem to realize that the protests, which started on Sept. 17 in New York and have popped up around the nation, are born from frustrations many Americans are feeling about unemployment and economic inequalities.
Yet the protesters still don’t have a list of demands. While individuals have their own grievances, at the macro level their unrest seems unfocused.
To understand the movement, though, you have to get on the ground level to see how “Occupy” organizes. It’s less about listing grievances, and more about establishing a process of incorporation — for now.
Forget about demands, at least until everyone involved feels their voice has been heard – the opposite feeling they’re getting from the “real” government.
“The point is for everybody to bring their ideas forward, and find where there’s common ground,” said Paul Taylor, a member of “Occupy DC” who has been participating in Washington since the group’s formation on Oct. 1. “Until we get a broad coalition of a bunch of individual ideas, we don’t know where the common ground is to work on.”
The protesters see it as using democracy to fix democracy.
“I believe this …”
If “Occupy” lacks a central voice, it’s by design, at least in Washington. The media committee asks participants to say, “I believe this” when speaking to the media, rather than “Occupy DC believes that.” The committee only functions to give out facts—when and where demonstrations will occur—not ideological statements.
It distances the movement from extreme views. It also intentionally keeps it from having a clear central voice.
Members can discuss even the smallest details at length. At a recent general assembly at McPherson square, Occupy DC headquarters, there was lengthy debate about whether there should be marshals during marches, followed by a second conversation over whether or not the marshals would wear bright orange vests. It lasted more than 30 minutes.
It’s Occupy policy that decisions can’t be made without the support of everyone in the group.
“The consensus process can sometimes look unwieldy and you know maybe it takes a little bit longer,” said Eddy Samara, a participant from North Carolina. “But the idea is that everybody’s voice counts and that people get heard.”
The group adheres strongly to one of its most-used cheers: “This is what democracy looks like.”
Clearly uneasy with establishing leadership, the movement looks for ways around it. Without an identified leader or point of view, the members believe the focus will stay on the collective and its eventual demands.
Leadership roles in the Occupy DC movement are constantly rotated, a tactic Julius Hobson, a politics professor at George Washington University who participated in the Civil Rights movement, says, “doesn’t allow for an attack on individuals as a means of discrediting the issue itself.”
“When you can formalize your process like this, it helps you to retain control,” Hobson said. “You have to keep your focus on what got you started. The moment you lose the focus on that, you lose your ability to try and convince people on your particular issue.”
But as is the nature of democracy, the more voices that come together, the harder it will be to come to consensus.
Avoiding protest pitfalls
Every general assembly, the “town square” of sorts, starts off with an introduction to the consensus process — the engine of the “Occupy” movement. Members aren’t counted as single votes; they show support collectively through “twinkling”—a noiseless, jazz-hand like applause.
If members have qualms with something being debated, they are allowed to make friendly amendments or proposals. If they still don’t like it, they can be a “stand-aside:” someone who doesn’t really believe in the item, but it won’t cause them to drop out of the movement.
If a person is completely against an idea, they are allowed to block a proposal—a rare gesture, according to “Occupy DC” members.
Through this process, “Occupy DC” has formed a number of committees and subcommittees, including teams to cover sanitation, legal, medical and media. The regular stuff of government.
The process can be long and arduous, but members insist it’s this careful process that will keep them around for the long haul.
This focus on control can be seen in the way “Occupy DC” interacts with other activist groups.
Hundreds of activists for varying causes gathered this weekend in Washington for the “Stop The Machine” rally in Freedom Plaza, steps from the White House. Though the two groups’ headquarters were just blocks away, “Occupy DC” made pains to both act in solidarity and also maintain its individuality.
“Occupy DC” tries to avoid the pitfalls of other protests — one member navigated a march around Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington, rather than through it, in fear that “the groups who have failed” will ruin the groundwork “Occupy DC” has laid.
That’s “tactical wisdom,” according to Joseph McCartin, a history professor at Georgetown University who is an expert on political and social movements.
“That’s part of what the jazz hands and the consensus model does is it breaks away from that other model which is more about existing organizations coming together in a coalition to try and move an agenda,” McCartin said. “What this movement is trying to be is a movement of people, not of organizations.”
What’s next for the “Occupy” movement?
There’s a chance “Occupy” could get too big, according to GWU professor Hobson.
If it does, protesters may have to find an even-more focused management structure. Especially since the movement isn’t slowing down.
Georgetown’s McCartin attributes its rate of growth to underlying dissatisfaction that many Americans are feeling about the nature of their country.
“People have felt that there are big wheels in motion rearranging the world and they don’t really have a say in much of any of that,” McCartin said. The “Occupy” movement, he says, is a way for people to finally feel like they’re finally being listened to.
But why protesting? What motivates a person to take action on the streets or camp out in a park?
“Being part of a protest is a very powerful thing,” said Jennifer Hadden, a University of Maryland professor who studies social movements and who just returned from “Occupy Wall Street” in New York.
“I think its about solidarity for people who are trying to be politically engaged. At a personal level it is very fulfilling and emotionally intense.”
Will they be here through winter?
The question remains: Is this approach to protesting sustainable? Can “Occupy” focus on procedure now and demands later and be successful?
“Occupy DC” has already experienced that control can’t always be absolute. Many activists at the Freedom Plaza event identified themselves with the Occupy movement — they held up cardboard signs with the hashtag #occupyDC on them. They shouted similar cheers.
And not everybody wants to wait for consensus — one general assembly started with 120 people, but filtered down to 70 or so as the meeting hit the 90-minute mark. It’s tedious.
“If you look at a movement like this, it’s quite diverse,” Hadden said. “Getting them beyond the point where you agree on what you don’t like can be quite the challenge.”
What’s the forecast, then, for a group still finding its voice?
“Their success will depend on whether or not they can sustain it, and whether or not they understand they are in a marathon and not a sprint, ” Hobson said. “When the weather changes, will they still be there?”
A few weeks into the “Occupy” movement, the critics are right: It doesn’t know what it wants.
But that’s exactly where it wants to be.
WASHINGTON — Recognized for his work in evolutionary robotics, University of Vermont researcher Joshua Bongard was honored with the highest award given by the U.S. government to young scientists, the second faculty member in UVM history to win the award.
President Barack Obama named Bongard among 94 people to win the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on Monday. The award comes with $500,000 to support Bongard’s research over the next several years.
“I feel greatly honored to receive this award and also heartened that we have leadership in Washington that supports basic research,” Bongard said in a telephone interview. “Scientific discoveries not only create new technology and new jobs, but also inspire us all. Humans always were — and still are — explorers.”
Bongard, 37, grew up in Toronto but now lives in Jericho, Vt., with his wife, Jessica.
While this is the highest award he has received, Bongard is no stranger to national recognition.
In 2007, shortly after he joined the faculty at UVM, Bongard was awarded the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship. The same year, MIT Technology Review named him one of its “Top 35 Innovators Under 35.”
Bongard has understood the possibilities of computer science since he was a teenager.
“My parents bought me my first computer when I was 13, and I quickly learned that, with enough hard work, you could get a computer to do anything,” Bongard said.
Now, he uses computers to run genetic algorithms, which simulate evolution in robots to automatically become better and more efficient over time.
Longtime friend Mike Brock said that every time he tries to explain Bongard’s research, his answer changes depending on the detail needed.
“He’s trying to see how robots teach themselves, and adapt their capabilities and even their physical makeup to do new things,” Brock said is the clearest response. “It has great potential to further development in numerous fields, like space exploration and medicine.”
When Bongard first discovered the field, “it seemed like magic to me, and to this day, still does,” he said.
His research over the past several years “grew out of an interest in ‘embodiment’ — the idea that intelligence always requires a body,” said Bongard’s former Ph.D. adviser, Rolf Pfeifer, who is now director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “So if you want to evolve creatures, you have to evolve the body and the brain at the same time. Josh is a pioneer in this field.”
Bongard’s discipline is a mix of computer science, mechanical engineering and biology. Evolutionary roboticists must have strong interest and skill in all three areas.
“He sees things that other people haven’t and has this unique blend of interest that allows him to go places other people haven’t seen or aren’t aware of,” said Hod Lipson, an associate professor at Cornell University, where Bongard did his postdoctoral research.
Brock said Bongard has always been interested in trying new things and pushing the limits of what he can do.
“He loves what he does, and he’s really passionate about learning it and sharing it with everybody,” Brock said. “He’s exploring the boundaries of what we know about how things evolve and how we can make things better.”
Bongard will be in Washington Oct. 13-14 to receive the award and attend a recognition ceremony at the White House.
“The PECASE award will allow my students and I to further explore how evolution can be simulated in a computer and used to evolve smarter robots,” Bongard said.
He also will use the funds to develop a website that will allow anybody to practice their own simulated robotics experiments online.
“The benefit for the user is that they can learn, hands-on, about evolution, neuroscience and robotics,” he said. “The benefit for us is that we have more people contributing to the discovery process.”]]>
WASHINGTON – Vermont’s percentage of same-sex households ranks among the highest in the country, following a pattern for states that have legalized gay marriage, according to new Census Bureau data released Tuesday.
Vermont had 2,143 same-sex households according to revised data, or 0.84 percent of the state’s total households.
Nationally, same-sex couple households increased from 0.56 percent to 0.77 percent of total households from 2000 to 2010.
When the data were reported in 2010, five states and the District of Columbia handed out marriage licenses to same-sex partners. The states were Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Also in 2010, three states – Rhode Island, New York and Maryland – recognized same-sex marriage from states that had legalized it.
This latest census data showed Vermont trailed only the District of Columbia with the highest percentage of same-sex households. Among those in the next tier, with percentages from 0.80 percent and lower, were Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and California.
“It shows gay people are in every part of the country: in every county, in every community,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
Of the 2,143 Vermont same-sex households, one-third were male and two-thirds were female.
Of the 718 male households, two-thirds reported being unmarried, and only 3 percent of those reported having a child. One-third of men in same-sex households reported being married; of those, 16 percent have at least one child, according to the data.
Among the female households, 65 percent were unmarried; 13 percent of those had a child under 18 years old. Nearly 30 percent of married female households had children.
Unlike Vermont, the ratio for male and female same-sex households is nearly even on a national level, the data showed.
After speaking with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, groups and consultants, the Census Bureau decided not to break down the data further than the state level for fear of undermining individuals’ privacy in small communities, census official Martin O’Connell said Tuesday.
While Vermont’s married gay couples are recognized legally within the state, Wolfson said they are still discriminated against because their relationships are not recognized at the federal level.
Sheryl Rapée-Adams, chair of the organization’s volunteer task force in Vermont, the Vermont Freedom To Marry, agreed that the couples her volunteer group represents have a hard time in terms of equal legal status. This difficulty can occur both in and outside the state of Vermont.
“In Vermont, even though a same-sex couple has marriage equality under the state, when they step outside Vermont’s borders, legally, they might be strangers to each other,” she said. One example: A couple travels to visit family in a state where gay marriage is not legal. During the visit, one spouse becomes ill and is hospitalized. The healthy spouse has no legal rights, in that state, to visit the ill partner in the hospital and, in terms of medical care and treatment authorizations, the two are not legally recognized as family members.
Same-sex couples also live with this sort of uneven equality because of federal restrictions. In Vermont, for example, couples can file state taxes jointly, but they must file federal taxes separately because the federal government does not recognize gay marriage.
Indeed, the Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act, stating that marriage is limited to a union between a man and a woman. DOMA, as it is known, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. For federal employees, Rapée-Adams said, this declaration means that federal health care benefits and other forms of benefit coverage cannot be extended to a same-sex spouse, even if the couple is legally married.
In addition to unveiling the latest state-by-state numbers, census officials released a new set of data for same-sex households that more accurately captures the number of households in each state, O’Connell said.
Census officials realized in late 2009 that there were problems with the data from some states because people had mischaracterized themselves due to confusion with the forms.
Previous data and the American Community Survey (completed more often but with less accuracy) capture major trends in growth, O’Connell said, but misreported raw data at a state level in some cases.
Despite that glitch, Vermont’s data remained consistent with previous census reports. Both Vermont and the District of Columbia’s data changed the least. Original 2010 census data reported 2,798 same-sex households in Vermont, or 1.1 percent, but revised data reported 2,143 households at 0.84 percent. The District of Columbia ranked highest in the country with 1.81 percent of households.
O’Connell said respondents may have been more comfortable declaring themselves to be in same-sex partnerships if they lived in states that legally recognized their marriages and partnerships.
People from states that do not recognize same-sex partnerships may have declared themselves spouses after living together or engaging in a domestic partnership or civil union, he said.
The census does not collect marital history, so statisticians were unable to track when the marriages occurred or whether couples were married in Vermont or moved from another state.]]>
WASHINGTON—The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved three cybersecurity bills, one of which was sponsored by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, that would toughen penalties for cybercrimes and require businesses to strengthen data security and notify customers of breaches.
The bills were approved last week along party lines. Leahy, a Democrat who is chairman of the committee, said the concepts in the bills had received bipartisan support in the committee in the past, and wondered why the support faded.
“I have no idea why. Unless there’s been business pressure by someone who doesn’t want to comply,” he said. “When I see Republican support in the past, and now they don’t support it, that bothers me.”
The data security requirements would apply only to businesses with personal information on 10,000 people or more, but Leahy said it’s a starting point and he’d like to expand the legislation in the future to apply to all businesses that keep electronic personal information.
“As a consumer, you have a right to expect some privacy in your dealings,” he said. “We in Vermont enjoy our privacy.”
Despite the lack of Republican support in the committee, Leahy will push for full Senate consideration of the bill.
Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the committee who has in the past expressed concern about data security, led his party’s committee members in opposition.
The bills “could cause a lawsuit explosion on all businesses, large and small,” the Iowa Republican said at the Judiciary Committee hearing.
In the committee hearing, Grassley also expressed concern that a customer notification for every security breach would cause an inundation of notifications that would lead to desensitization that he called “a boy who cried wolf situation.”
Because most states have data-breach notification laws, companies are already sending the alerts, but a single federal law would simplify things, said David Sohn, senior policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, nonprofit that advocates for a free-operating Internet and worked the committee to support the bill.
“In terms of protecting consumers, this essentially is a step sideways,” he said. “At the end of the day, right now, when data breaches happen companies are feeling like they have to notify.”
Sohn also said the bill is worded in such a way that data-breach notifications would not be required if accessed data were encrypted or if the company could determine that there was no risk of harm, so he did not foresee an inundation of notifications.
One amendment in the Leahy-sponsored bill did receive bipartisan support. It would clarify an ambiguous section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The law can be interpreted to mean that violation of any terms-of-service agreement (i.e. the long-winded legal jargon that you neglect to read before clicking “agree”) or breaking an employer’s computer-use policy could be punishable.
Some say this could be something as trivial as creating a social media account under a pseudonym or checking Facebook at work.
“Some courts have interpreted to make employees who violate computer-use policies subject to civil and criminal penalty,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“It gives too much power to the people who write these policies,” he said.
In one case, United States of America v. Nosal, an employee accessed company files at work that he was not authorized to access but could obtain without hacking. He was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Leahy’s proposal would state that the law does not apply to service agreements or computer-use policies with Internet service providers, websites or private employers.]]>
WASHINGTON — Vermont environmentalist Bill McKibben and Vermont Law School professor Gus Speth were among 65 protesters arrested Saturday in front of the White House, where activists began a two-week demonstration against the proposed mining and transportation of tar sands.
Each day for the next two weeks, environmentalists will stage sit-ins here, coordinated by the Tar Sands Action organization. The protests are timed to the pending release of a State Department final analysis of the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would transport the tar sands, also known as oil sands, from Canada to Texas. Each day will bring a new wave of activists to participate in the sit-ins, a coordinated attempt to be arrested, which organizers say will draw national attention to the issue.
On Saturday, the Tar Sands Action sit-in began at 11 a.m. as protesters who had volunteered to be arrested lined up and sat on the sidewalk in front of the White House. Other protesters who had not signed up to be arrested remained across the street in Lafayette Park.
The protesters in the sit-in held signs that read “Climate change is not in our national interest” and “We sit-in against the XL pipeline. Obama, will you stand up to big oil?” They chanted slogans, too, yelling, “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Keystone oil has got to go!”
Organizers say the two-week protest will be the largest civil disobedience action taken by environmentalists in the U.S. Leaders said more than 2,000 people have signed up with the Tar Sands Action group to participate in the ongoing protest.
McKibben, a nationally known environmentalist and author from Ripton, was one of the protest leaders and is founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org.
“I think it’ll send a message that there’s deep and powerful support for Obama to do the right thing,” McKibben said Saturday, prior to his arrest.
The protest, he said, is an effort to compel President Obama to fulfill a campaign promise. The president, McKibben said, “proclaimed, the day he was nominated, that with his arrival ‘the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.’ This is his opportunity to show that he meant it.”
The proposed pipeline has attracted much controversy and attention. It would carry a type of oil produced from oil sands, starting at its Canadian extraction site in the Alberta province and traveling southward to Texas. Environmentalists say that mining and drilling for the oil sands requires an enormous use of energy resources, far more than is needed to drill for liquid oil. Additionally, they said, the petroleum that is produced from the sands is highly corrosive and would cause leaks in the pipeline. Because of all the energy required to extract the oil from the sands, the process has a much larger carbon footprint and produces more greenhouse gases than does regular oil, environmentalists say.
But TransCanada, the company that would build and operate the pipeline, and the American Petroleum Institute – the American oil and gas industry trade association – cite studies saying the oil is no more corrosive than oil the U.S. has used for years, and greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands are less than 1 percent of estimated global greenhouse gas emissions. TransCanada also plans to use the newest technologies to prevent leaks in the pipeline, and to continuously monitor the system to shut it down if they detect a drop in oil flow because of a leak.
TransCanada filed its proposal for the pipeline with the State Department in 2008. The agency will make its final ruling later this year. If other agencies object, Obama would make the final decision.
Both the oil and gas industry and environmentalists have issued calls for action from Obama.
The American Petroleum Institute says granting approval for the project would allow the president to deal with another pressing problem: the 9 percent unemployment rate. “You’re looking at a project that has the ability to bring (20,000) jobs,” said Cindy Schild, refining issues manager for the American Petroleum Institute. “President Obama was out on his bus tour talking about being ready to sign off on projects that are going to create jobs. Here’s the opportunity to do that.”
But McKibben disagreed. “There are so many more jobs to be created the day we get serious about getting off fossil fuels,” he said. “Everybody knows that wind and sun are where the jobs are . . . . If we go whole hog producing our power from the sun, we’re talking about jobs that number in the millions, if not tens of millions.”
On Saturday, shortly after the sit-in began, the U.S. Park Police issued three warnings over a megaphone, each warning three minutes apart. Then, at about 11:40 a.m., they started arresting protesters. By 1:15 p.m., all 65 participants in the sit-in, including Vermonters McKibben and Speth, had been arrested.
The mood was calm and dignified throughout the day, even during the arrests. In fact, the protesters were almost cheerful. The Tar Sands Action website had requested that volunteers be “dignified in dress and demeanor – these are serious issues, and we want to be taken seriously.”
As the arrests were taking place, the action was met with cheers and applause from those in front of the White House and in Lafayette Park. “You’re a hero!” someone called out as a woman was arrested.
The protesters deliberately mobilized in areas that are restricted. The 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue is under the jurisdiction of D.C. Metropolitan Police, but the White House sidewalk and Lafayette Park across the street are the jurisdiction of the U.S. Park Police. Groups larger than 25 or people carrying signs must keep moving along the sidewalk, in order to keep it open for tourists and maintain the scenic value of the area and the White House. Failure to do so can result in arrest.
On Saturday, even environmentalists across the Atlantic found a way to be involved in the protest.
Environmentalists in Germany gathered at the Canadian embassy in Berlin for what they dubbed on Facebook the “Tar Sands Bike Tour,” a tour of oil sands involvement in Berlin, with stops at gas stations, embassies and ministries and finishing with an address aimed at Obama at the Brandenburg Gate.]]>
WASHINGTON – Android users who’ve coveted the long lists of nature, wildlife and environmental apps for iPhone users need envy them no longer. There are now a variety of free apps you can find in the Android Marketplace and use to green up your day – whether it’s taking a walk in the woods or finding your nearest recycling station.
Environmental Terms – If you want to have a studious morning, spend it with this app. This minimalist tool may not have fancy pictures or videos, but it does have a large collection of acronyms, jargon and definitions that users can brush up on. Don’t know what black carbon or CFCs are? This app can provide a solid base.
Skeptical Science – If the basic carbon discussion in Environmental Terms isn’t cutting it for you, download the Skeptical Science app. It organizes the peer-reviewed science behind whether climate change is happening. Topics range from hurricanes and melting ice sheets to potential economic impacts and “climategate.”
Air Quality – Before heading into the great outdoors, check your local air quality with this app. Just enter your zip code and the app will pull up your pollution/particle and ozone ratings. The system is color-coded; green means go for it, red means either put your breathing mask on or stay inside and watch “Volcano” for the 14th time.
My Recycle List – As you head out the door, you might want to dispose of that accumulated recycling. My Recycle List helps you find your closest recycling center. Got a lot of plastic bottles? It can show you where to get rid of them. Old electronics? Those, too. Spent uranium fuel rods? No luck – but why do you have those? Listings include addresses, phone numbers, websites and hours.
EveryTrail – Assuming your air is breathable and your recycling is recycled, it’s time to get outside. EveryTrail lists thousands of trips for sightseeing, hiking, jogging, biking or otherwise touring around both nature and cities. Trips come with maps, tips and stats such as distance, approximate time, and altitude change. You can also track your own trip and upload pictures from the journey for others to use.
iBird Lite – While on the trail, keep an eye out for flying objects. Use the iBird Lite app to identify common species of birds. The app has bird calls, pictures, range maps, links to Birdpedia and Flickr, interesting facts and hints for identifying species. If you’re really keen on telling others about the bird you just saw, you can also upload a picture and tag the location using a different app – Project Noah.
Space Junk – If you’re out hiking past dark, take the opportunity to get back in touch with nature while using the Space Junk app. Space Junk uses your location to show you what stars are in the sky and labels them along with the constellations and satellites. It also has a nighttime mode that uses dim red light so you can look back and forth between the real night sky and your phone. Even if you can’t see stars from where you are, this app is the next best thing.
Locavore – A long day of hiking may leave you searching for something to eat. If you’re into local, organic produce that doesn’t require a lot of fuel to be transported, consider using Locavore. This app tells you what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area and suggests recipes to accompany them. You can also locate nearby farmers’ markets where you can go purchase your grub.
GoodGuide – At the end of your day, you might want to hop in the shower. If you are paranoid or just curious, you can check out the environmental friendliness and safety of your shampoo – or 92,000 other products – using GoodGuide. You can scan the barcode of the product or browse through the categories, which will tell you whether your product has any dangerous chemicals listed in it and how environmentally friendly the company that makes it is.
There are more apps to come: information from the Environmental Protection Agency may soon be accessible in the Android Marketplace. The EPA’s contest to design an app using its environmental and human health data is scheduled to end on Sept. 16.]]>