Thursday, August 31, 2006

Powerful Coalition Petitions Supreme Court to Order EPA to Obey the Law

Sierra Club, Nineteen States and Cities, and Numerous Others

File Opening Briefs Seeking Enforcement of Clean Air Act

(Washington, DC)--Today a vast coalition of the Sierra Club, states, cities, political leaders, other environmental groups, and utilities filed opening briefs with the Supreme Court in the most far-reaching global warming case to be heard by the nation’s highest court. The Court’s decision in the case, Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al., could have a potentially decisive impact on federal, state, and local efforts to tackle global warming. The Sierra Club, the twelve states involved, and the numerous other petitioners have taken this case to the high court to force EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act’s provisions requiring it to regulate any air pollutant that "endanger[s] public health or welfare."

"For six years, the Bush administration and its friends in Congress have fought tooth and nail to avoid doing anything to fight global warming," commented Carl Pope, Sierra Club’s Executive Director. "We cannot wait for EPA to start following the law and take the important steps it must to fight global warming. We are confident that the Court will tell EPA to stop making excuses and rewriting the law as the administration sees fit and start working to protect the American people."

A Wide Coalition of Groups Come Together to Fight EPA’s Refusal to Protect the Public

This case has brought together a powerful coalition that is committed to compelling EPA to follow the law. Because the case includes a challenge by the auto industry and others to the strict clean car laws enacted by California (and subsequently adopted by eleven other states), those states (Ore, Wash., Conn., Ill., N.M., Maine, Vt., N.J., N.Y., R.I., and Mass.) are also party to the case. Joining those states are New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The Sierra Club, International Center for Technology Assessment, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have been leading the coalition of thirteen environmental groups that are also parties to the case.

"The City of New York is proud to have joined in this appeal as part of my commitment to heed science - not political science - and try to counteract global warming," said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "Climate change, rising sea levels, and increased storm surges attributable to growing greenhouse gas emissions put New Yorkers and New York's infrastructure at risk and pose serious challenges for our City's future. Global warming threatens New York City and every city, and it is our duty to use this case and every other opportunity we have to prevent the situation from getting even worse."

A similarly impressive coalition has also joined the case as amici/friends of the court. Six additional states (Ariz., Iowa, Minn., Wis., Md., and Del.), as well the U.S. Conference of Mayors are part of this group. Understanding that market uncertainty represents a significant threat to their business, two utilities--Calpine and Entergy--have also joined. The other amici include a diverse array of groups and individuals, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, four former EPA administrators, Alaska tribal groups, hunter and angler groups, religious groups, the Aspen Skiing Company, and many others.

EPA Plays Word Games with the Clean Air Act

The case hinges on EPA’s specious claim that the Clean Air Act does not give it the authority to regulate global warming pollutants like carbon dioxide--and, as a backup, that even if it did that it would not be a good idea. As the petitioners’ brief states, this argument is clearly contradicted by the plain language found in the statute. The statute explicitly states that effects on "weather...and climate" are two of the many criteria that define a negative impact on the public’s welfare. The petitioners’ brief also assails the EPA for attempting to rewrite the law by misdefining or redefining various terms within the statute, including simple words such as "any," "including," and "climate."

"Global warming clearly poses an extraordinary danger to public health and welfare," said David Bookbinder, Sierra Club Senior Attorney. "The Clean Air Act makes it quite clear that greenhouse gases are pollutants and that EPA must take steps to protect the public’s health and welfare from air pollutants. We are not asking for radical action by the Court; we are simply asking it to make EPA to live up to its obligations under the law."

History and Background of the Case

This case has been working its way through the courts since 2002. In 1998, the EPA’s General Counsel found that it had the authority to regulate CO2 as an air pollutant. The CTA, Sierra Club and a coalition of groups then petitioned the EPA in 1999 to set emissions limits for CO2. The EPA failed to respond after 3 years, resulting in the 2002 lawsuit. After the EPA issued a decision denying the petition to regulate CO2, the case moved to the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. An odd 2-1 decision in favor of the EPA--with one judge concurring simply because since global warming impacts everyone, the Sierra Club et al. could not establish standing due to "particularized injury"--was issued in July 2001. The Sierra Club and the other parties to the case appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case June 26, 2006.

In addition to EPA, a group of the usual suspects and some laggard states make up the respondents. Groups fighting to prevent action on global warming include: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealer’s Association, a coalition of electric utilities, and ten states (Texas, Mich., Utah, Idaho, N.D., S.D., Alaska, Kan., Neb., and Ohio).

Following today’s filings, oral arguments will likely be heard in December. A decision is expected in the spring.

'Sustainable (casino) tourism' destroying Bimini

BIMINI, Bahamas (29 August 2006) -- For decades, all it has taken to lure tourists to this Bahamian island 48 miles east of Florida has been clear water, world-class fishing and the lack of just about everything else.

So Lloyd ''Duda'' Edgecombe, a Bimini district council member, questions the wisdom of Miami developers who want to build a 250-room hotel, 18-hole golf course, 550-slip marina and glitzy casino on a flattened strip of sand once thick with marshes and mangroves.

The project, the Bimini Bay Resort and Casino, is far from the largest development in the Bahamas, but it's massive by Bimini standards. It will ultimately cover a tenth of the island, and developers promise it will create jobs for the entire population of 1,700.

But some critics worry it's also an example of how such mega-projects threaten the environment and the traditional island lifestyle that beckons visitors to places like Bimini in the first place.

Just a two-hour journey by fast boat from South Florida, or a 20-minute flight, Bimini has always been a world away. Over the years, personalities such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and author Ernest Hemingway -- who wrote of its ''gin clear'' waters -- have been lured by Bimini's island vibe and sportfishing culture.

Now the world is coming to Bimini. Led by RAV Bahamas, a subsidiary of Miami's Capo Group, the $850 million project will eventually cover about one square mile of this 9.5-square-mile island. The upscale resort will include a hotel managed by the Conrad Hilton chain, a shopping court with a Starbucks and a casino with a 10,000-square-foot gambling floor.

About 140 houses and condos have already been built -- and sold -- as part of the development, and the construction site is teeming with earthmovers and backhoes racing to build about 350 more. There is a two-year waiting list to purchase homes.

Read the whole article here.

Warming waters

This hurrican season has started very slowly, however, the water has warmed significantly in the past month, as indicated by the figures below, courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory:

In early August, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised downward slightly their early-season predictions of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. Citing atmospheric and oceanic conditions less conducive to hurricane formation than they initially expected, the National Hurricane Center decreased its predictions of named storms (12-15 instead of 13-16), hurricanes (7-9 instead of 8-10), and major hurricanes (3-4 instead of 4-6). The revised prediction is still above-normal compared to the long-term average.

This pair of images from Japan’s Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows areas where sea surface temperatures were hurricane-ready on August 14, 2006 (top), and August 1 (bottom). Sea surface temperatures warmer than a threshold of about 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit) are one of the required ingredients for hurricanes to form. Areas where waters have reached the hurricane-ready threshold are yellow or red in these images, while areas where waters are generally too cool to support hurricanes are blue. Coastal areas where temperatures were not measured are light gray.

The expanse of hurricane-ready water between Africa and the Gulf of Mexico grew over the two-week period. The color of the Gulf of Mexico became a deeper red, as well; any storms steered into the region would find ample warm water to keep them going. According to NOAA, although sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic did not warm as much as originally forecasted, they are nevertheless still above long-term average conditions, which will likely contribute to above-average hurricane activity from August-October.

Among the other factors that NOAA expects to contribute to hurricane activity over the remainder of the 2006 season is a hurricane-favorable configuration of the African easterly jet, a strong easterly (from the east) wind in the middle levels of the atmosphere over West Africa. Waves of turbulence spin off this jet and head westward over the Atlantic; some of these easterly waves spawn hurricanes. Hurricanes that arise from African easterly waves are sometimes called “Cape Verde storms.” In mid-August 2006, NASA, NOAA, university, and international scientists will converge on the Cape Verde Islands to conduct a major field research campaign to study these easterly waves. Using satellites, and ground- and aircraft-based instruments, the scientists will gather data that will help explain why some easterly waves intensify into hurricanes while others do not, as well as how and why the strength, location, and frequency of easterly waves change from year to year. Among the key questions is how dust sweeping over the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert influences hurricane formation.

Experts say putting Asian carp on menus could curb river threats

PEORIA, Ill. - Experts say there could be a simple cure for growing schools of high-jumping, food-hogging Asian carp that are threatening native fish along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Eat them.

"China doesn't have a problem because we have a lot of fishermen to catch these fish and the people like to eat them," said Zhitang Yu, a Chinese professor who has studied his country's native fish since the 1960s.

In the U.S., the negative perception of eating carp could be a drawback, Duane Chapman, a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said during a two-day conference in Peoria this week that drew 200 scientists seeking ways to curb carp problems.

But the once-foreign fish, which Chapman calls "excellent eating," could land on more dinner plates through creative marketing, said Robert Rice, president of The Native Fish Conservancy. If silver carp were renamed silver cod, Rice said, it could become America's newest food fad.

Yu said hooking diners would promote commercial fishing, thinning the Asian carp population. Catching the fish before they spawn also help even more by limiting reproduction.

Experts say Asian carp populations have exploded over the last decade as floods transplanted them from fish-rearing ponds in the southern U.S., where they were used to clear algae, to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and other tributaries.

Unchecked, Asian carp threaten native fish because they multiply so rapidly that they take over the food chain, experts say. They also endanger people because of their propensity to jump out of the water at the sound of a motor.

At 40 mph in a boat or on skis, people have suffered broken noses, cracked teeth or been knocked unconscious after colliding with a 10- to 20-pound carp, experts say.

"It's just a matter of time before we have a fatality," Rice said.

Whetting Americans' appetites for Asian carp isn't the only possible cure, experts say.

They say floodwater structures could be considered to keep the fish from making their way from backwater lakes to rivers. Scientists also could develop chemical controls, such as one used to keep sea lampreys in check in the Great Lakes, though none is yet available.

Regardless, any control efforts - including commercial fishing - need to be carefully evaluated to gauge their potential effect on native species, said Greg Conover, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"What we do to control Asian carp could have a negative impact on our native fish, too," Conover said. "The more pressure that's out there, the more likely we are to harvest native fishes."

This is an interesting way of looking at nuisance species. In the Peconics of Long Island, we have a native species whose population has exploded, Crepidula fornicata, and may be to blame for disappearing eelgrass beds and lack of bay scallop recovery. However, we propose the same thing, eat them. They are so abundant and you can eat them raw, I actually tried one a couple weeks ago. It wasn't bad at all!

More tropical fish sighted in R.I. water

NEWPORT, R.I. - An unusually large number of tropical fish have been spotted this summer in Rhode Island waters by divers, fishermen and environmentalists.

Among the fish seen so far: juvenile orange filefish, snowy grouper and lookdowns. A local lobsterman pulled up a large trigger fish in one of his traps.

"We're always catching tropicals during the summer months, but I mean there are a lot more. Probably about double the amount," Jean Bambara, an aquarist at Save the Bay's Exploration Center in Newport, told The Providence Journal.

The fish being seen are normally found in the warm waters off the southern states, just like the Portuguese men-of-war that invaded southern New England waters earlier in the summer and the manatee that was spotted this week in Warwick and North Kingstown.

Scientists said a change in the pattern of the Gulf Stream is likely a major reason for the number of warm-water visitors this summer. The Gulf Stream moves north from Florida along the East Coast before turning east toward Europe. Scientists say the turn is usually south of Delaware, but this year it's a more north than usual.

John Torgan, baykeeper with Save the Bay, said the average water temperature of Narragansett Bay has increased three degrees over the past few decades. He said this could cause cold-water species like cod and haddock to move further north and warm-water fish to move in.

"What's different is we've seen warmer water and we're seeing an increased sighting of these rare or accidental species in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound," Torgan said.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Typhoon Saomai

Typhoon Saomai formed in the western Pacific on August 4, 2006, as a tropical depression. Within a day, it had become organized enough to be classified as a tropical storm and earn a name: Saomai, which is the Vietnamese name for the planet Venus. The storm continued to gather strength, becoming a typhoon on August 6. As of August 10, it was poised to strike mainland China as a Category 4 super typhoon, making it the eighth storm to come ashore in China in 2006, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

This photo-like image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on August 10, 2006, at 1:05 p.m. local time (05:05 UTC). Typhoon Saomai possessed a well-defined, closed (cloud-filled) eye at the center of the storm, with tightly wound spiral arms. Thunderstorm systems particularly close to the eyewall were sending up tall cloud towers, which cast shadows onto the surrounding lower clouds (see large, full-resolution image). Around the time MODIS captured this image, Typhoon Saomai had sustained winds of around 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour), according to the University of Hawaii’s Tropical Storm Information Center.

The high-resolution image provided above is provided at the full MODIS spatial resolution (level of detail) of 250 meters per pixel. The MODIS Rapid Response System provides this image at additional resolutions.

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

Norway fears giant crab invasion

Environmentalists and fishermen in northern Norway are warning of a Russian invasion of alien crustaceans which are threatening to ruin the local sea fauna.

They say the giant red king crab is spreading with alarming speed from Russian waters along the Norwegian coast, destroying everything in its wake.

The crab has few natural enemies, and is considered to be an omnivore, digesting everything from cod larvae to other crabs.

But it is also a sought-after delicacy. Lars Petter Oeye takes gourmet tourists on fjord crab safaris near the border with Russia, high up in Norway's Arctic north.

Here, crabs are picked off the sea floor by divers. Mr Oeye says the fjord is crawling with them.

"It is not abnormal that you might see 10,000 crabs together. It might look scary, because people don't know that this is the way king crabs behave.

"I started to dive in 1987. At that time we had found the first crabs in these waters, but we never saw king crabs in shallow depths or in diving depths at that moment."

Read the whole article here.

Dubai's Man-Made Palm Island Being Readied for Residents; Largest Land-Reclamation Project in the World

Sorry I haven't updated in a while... but this is too cool...

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Aug 9, 2006 09:46 EST) With 14,000 laborers toiling day and night, the first of Dubai's three palm-shaped islands is finally about to get its first residents.

The Palm Jumeirah, a 31-square-kilometer island group, is part of what's billed as the largest land-reclamation project in the world, involving the hauling of millions of tons of Gulf sand and quarried rock over five years.

On November 30, the palm will open to some 4,000 residents, said Issam Kazim, a spokesman for Dubai's state-owned developer Nakheel.

When fully complete by 2010, the Palm Jumeirah will be an offshore city, with some 60,000 residents and at least 50,000 workers in 32 hotels and dozens of shops and attractions, according to Nakheel.

Observers say they are surprised that the fledgling developer has been able to build such a complex project more or less as planned, albeit with several snags that delayed the opening from last year.

"The project has captured people's imagination," said Colin Foreman of the Middle East Economic Digest. "Nothing like it has been done anywhere else in the world."

Nakheel's four island projects, the world's largest land reclamation effort, are reshaping Dubai's stretch of the Gulf coast.

The US$14 billion project is a key part of this booming city's ambitions to rival Singapore and Hong Kong as a business hub and surpass Las Vegas as a leisure capital.

The frenetic pace of development has utterly transformed Dubai from a sleepy trading and pearl-diving village in the 1950s to a flashy metropolis of 1.5 million.

The island's construction has not all been smooth, and most buyers were supposed to get keys to their island homes a year ago.

Some of the new land sank and Nakheel needed an extra year to add more sand and pack it with vibrating land compactors, Kazim said.

Reports from those who have wandered through the island's giant homes describe them as cheaply finished and set uncomfortably close to one another. Nakheel rejected an Associated Press request to visit the island.

Overburdened roads in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach neighborhood are expected to clog further as people begin moving onto the island, accessible, for now, by a single bridge. Those moving onto the Palm Jumeirah this year will have to live with construction for another three years, and then an influx of tourists. Most of the owners are foreigners, with Britons making up the largest group, Kazim said.

Dubai's government expects the Palm Jumeirah to become a signature tourist attraction, bringing in as many as 20,000 daily visitors, Kazim said.

Meanwhile, laborers living in a cruise ship moored offshore are scrambling to finish enormous concrete houses that are crammed together on the palm island's 17 "fronds." The fronds are narrow peninsulas as long as 1.6 kilometers, attached to the island's main trunk. Nakheel will hand keys to owners of 1,350 homes by November 30, Kazim said.

Many observers believe Dubai's frenetic homebuilding will soon outstrip demand. "We've still got a shortage of properties in Dubai, but that's likely to become an excess in next six or 12 months," said Steve Brice, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai.