Veterans Back Renewables, Senators Back Biodiesel, Megatons to Megawatts Ends, Refuge Frogs, Tern Island Plastic
Veterans Fight Repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard … Senators: ‘Fragile’ Biodiesel Industry Deserves Support … U.S.-Russia Megatons to Megawatts Program Concludes … Frogs on Wildlife Refuges Healthier Than Expected … Superfunding Possible for Tern Island, Awash in Plastic
Veterans Fight Repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard
WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2013 (ENS) – The fight to retain and strengthen the national Renewable Fuel Standard shifted today with the announcement by VoteVets.org, the 360,000+ supporter veterans group, that they support renewables, particularly ethanol, and especially cellulosic ethanol made from agricultural waste.
Together with the progressive group Americans United for Change, VoteVets.org says they have “joined the counteroffensive against Big Oil’s lies about the renewable fuel industry’s job-growing, money-saving, environmentally-friendly record.”
Jon Soltz, co-founder and chairman, VoteVets.org, told reporters on a conference call today, “For those who served, this is a really simple issue. It’s imperative that we, as a nation, move off of oil. The more oil we use, the more the world prices go up, and the more those oil-rich nations who target us, our troops, and our allies benefit.”
“Ethanol is an important part of reducing our oil consumption, and that is good for our troops and our security,” said Soltz. “We will do everything we can to ensure that decision makers in Washington hear that message loud and clear, from our over 360,000 supporters.”
Brad Woodhouse, president, Americans United for Change, said, “The Renewable Fuels Standard, which was signed into law with wide, bipartisan support by President George W. Bush, has helped cut America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil. Because of this commonsense law, we now get almost 10 percent of our fuel from clean and renewable sources.”
Soltz and Woodhouse and their groups are fighting the oil industry that they say has made a top priority of repealing of the national Renewable Fuel Standard.
“One of the dirtiest industries is now trying to pollute the public discourse on biofuels including ethanol because they hate having to compete with cheaper, cleaner burning renewable fuels that saves consumers tens of millions of dollars a day that would otherwise be sent overseas,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“Big Oil’s misinformation campaign against the RFS is not just a threat to our economy, but a threat to our national security and our environment,” they warn.
Soltz and Woodhouse quote the U.S. Department of Energy estimate that for every one billion gallons of ethanol produced, 10,000 to 20,000 jobs are added to our domestic economy.
They point to research by economics professors at the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University showing that in 2011, ethanol reduced wholesale gasoline prices by an average of $1.09 per gallon.
They believe the many studies showing that ethanol production has almost no impact on food prices and the Renewable Fuel Standard has had only modest impacts on crop prices and no meaningful impact on retail-level food prices.
Senators: ‘Fragile’ Biodiesel Industry Deserves Support
WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2013 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reduced production and consumption requirements for renewable fuels next year. The proposed rules, issued on Friday, are now open for public comment.
The EPA’s proposal lowers the required consumption of conventional renewable fuel to 13.01 billion gallons, from the current level of 13.8 billion gallons, despite the law mandating consumption of 14.4 billion gallons.
The 2014 volume requirements provide that biodiesel production standard remain at 1.28 billion gallons, a move that some U.S. senators warn will undermine this growing but fragile industry.
A bipartisan group of 32 U.S. senators from across the country sent a letter Thursday asking the Obama Administration to support growth in the biodiesel industry next year by raising the production requirement under the national Renewable Fuel Standard, RFS.
The senators called on the heads of three federal agencies to establish a volume requirement of at least 1.7 billion gallons, consistent with this year’s projected production.
Addressed to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the letter says, “We urge you to continue to support this fragile and growing industry with a reasonable increase in the RFS volume requirement for 2014.”
Led by two Democrats, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray and Senator Al Franken, and two Republicans, Senator Roy Blunt and Senator Chuck Grassley, the coalition says biodiesel has exceeded the RFS targets of all previous years and is poised to do so again this year.
The biodiesel industry has demonstrated “impressive growth” and now contributes nearly $17 billion to the U.S. economy and supports more than 62,000 workers, they said.
Keeping the 2014 targets the same as 2013, rather than gradually allowing the biodiesel industry to grow, “could leave 400 million gallons of biodiesel potentially unused – roughly 25 percent,” the senators warned in their letter. “Such a cut could result in nearly every small facility shutting down and permanently ceasing production of biodiesel, leading to the loss of some 7,000 jobs.”
Senator Grassley, who represents the farm state of Iowa, called the EPA’s proposal “short-sighted and irresponsible.”
“The federal government made a commitment to homegrown, renewable energy when Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard. The proposed rules released by the Environmental Protection Agency undermine that commitment,” Grassley said Friday. “These misguided rules could cost jobs and create dirtier air, while protecting the stranglehold Big Oil has on the country’s fuel supply.”
Daniel Oh, president and CEO of the top North American biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group, said, “”We are disappointed by the proposed numbers that are not consistent with the goals of the EPA, the White House, nor Congress when it created RFS2,” said Oh.
“The proposed numbers do not reflect the positive results the biodiesel industry has provided in terms of record production levels of advanced biofuels, job creation, rural economic development, energy and food security, and environmental benefits,” he said.
Biodiesel is a domestically produced alternative diesel fuel processed from vegetable oil or animal fat.
Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100) or blended at any ratio with petroleum diesel for economy and improved cold weather performance. Most biodiesel is sold as B20, a blend that is 80 percent conventional diesel. B20 fuel can be used to fuel large trucks, buses, boats and power generation equipment without engine modification. This blend is easy and inexpensive for a fueling station to sell because it can be stored in diesel tanks and pumped with diesel equipment.
Biodiesel is considered a clean fuel because it is nontoxic, biodegradable, and less polluting than petroleum diesel. The use of biodiesel fuel results in lower emissions of almost every pollutant: carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates, carbon monoxide, air toxins and unburned hydrocarbons.
U.S.-Russia Megatons to Megawatts Program Concludes
WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2013 (ENS) – A U.S.-Russia 20-year partnership is completing the final step in the process of converting 20,000 Russian Nuclear Warheads into fuel for U.S. electricity.
The final shipment of low enriched uranium, or LEU, derived from Russian weapons-origin highly enriched uranium, HEU, left St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz today announced.
Senior U.S. and Russian government officials, along with senior representatives from the United States Enrichment Corporation and Techsnabexport, or Tenex, the U.S. and Russian executive agents for the program, observed the departure of the final LEU shipment.
As executive agents, USEC and Tenex managed all commercial aspects and logistics of the uranium deliveries and shipments.
Under the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement, commonly known as the Megatons to Megawatts Program, Russia downblended 500 metric tons of HEU, equivalent to 20,000 nuclear wearheads, into LEU.
This LEU has been delivered to the United States, fabricated into nuclear fuel, and used in nuclear power plants to generate nearly 10 percent of all U.S. electricity for the past 15 years.
It fueled the generation of roughly half of all commercial nuclear energy produced domestically during that time.
“For two decades, one in 10 light bulbs in America has been powered by nuclear material from Russian nuclear warheads,” said Secretary Moniz. “The 1993 United States-Russian Federation Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement has proven to be one of the most successful nuclear nonproliferation partnerships ever undertaken.”
Deliveries of LEU produced from Russian-origin HEU now are complete. The U.S. Energy Department’s 20-year effort to monitor the HEU-to-LEU conversion process in Russia is in its final stages.
“The completion of this ‘swords to ploughshares’ program represents a major victory both for the United States and Russia,” Moniz said.
A final milestone event is planned for December 10, 2013, when U.S. and Russian government officials and industry partners will observe the final delivery of Russian LEU depart the Port of Baltimore bound for USEC’s Paducah facility in Paducah, Kentucky. The LEU will remain subject to peaceful use requirements throughout its lifecycle.
The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration monitored the Russian HEU-to-LEU conversion process to provide confidence that all of the LEU delivered to the United States under the agreement was derived from Russian HEU of weapons origin. The United States concluded transparency monitoring in Russia at the end of October.
Frogs on Wildlife Refuges Healthier Than Expected
WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2013 (ENS) – An unprecedented 10-year-study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published today shows encouraging results for frogs and toads on national wildlife refuges.
On average, less than two percent of frogs and toads sampled on 152 refuges had physical abnormalities involving the skeleton and eyes – a lower rate than many experts feared based on earlier reports. Extra limbs were exceedingly rare – just 0.025 percent of all frogs sampled.
This indicates that the severe malformations such as missing or extra limbs repeatedly reported in the media during the mid-1990s were actually very rare on national wildlife refuges.
“Frogs and toads are strong indicators of wetland and environmental quality. What affects them affects a broad range of other species,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “This research significantly advances our understanding of amphibian abnormalities while amassing one of the world’s largest datasets on the issue.”
The study found areas of the country with more abnormal frogs than expected. These areas, termed hotspot clusters, warrant further research to determine their causes.
These regional hotspot clusters were found in the Mississippi River Valley, northeast Missouri, Arkansas and northern Louisiana, in California’s Central Valley, and in south-central and eastern Alaska.
In these places, the frequency of abnormalities often exceeded the national average of two percent, affecting up to 40 percent of emerging amphibians in some individual samples.
Concern about amphibian abnormalities became widespread in 1995 when middle school students discovered frogs with misshapen, extra or missing limbs at a Minnesota wetland.
Since then, scientists have continued to report frogs and toads with severe abnormalities and documented global amphibian population declines, disease outbreaks and an increased rate of species extinctions.
In 2000, Congress asked agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the Service and U.S. Geological Survey, to address growing concerns about the health of amphibians in the United States.
In response, the Service launched a 10-year study, the largest ever of its kind, to determine the distribution and severity of amphibian abnormalities within the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The research effort, called the National Abnormal Amphibian Program, sampled more than 68,000 frogs on 152 refuges, and in the process, compiled one of the world’s largest databases on amphibian abnormalities.
The study was published today in the peer-reviewed online journal “PLOS ONE.”
Superfunding Possible for Tern Island, Awash in Plastic
SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 19, 2013 (ENS) – A petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity has succeeded in persuading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess tiny Tern Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to see if it should be declared a Superfund site.
The EPA’s Superfund program is designed to identify and clean up the country’s most polluted areas. This is the first time in its 33 year history that the agency has considered using the Superfund to address an area contaminated by plastic.
The agency will be assess the extent of plastic contamination on Tern Island, a remote airstrip and one of the largest tropical seabird rookeries in the world.
“The EPA intends to evaluate potential and observed releases of hazardous substances from Tern Island, including hazardous substances that absorb to plastic marine debris in the surrounding surface water,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, who heads the agency’s Region 9, the Pacific Southwest.
The agency will focus on the toxicity threats posed by plastic debris to wildlife living in the area.
“It’s great that the EPA is going to investigate the dangers to wildlife from plastic pollution,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and seabirds beyond number are hurt and killed by the thousands of pounds of waste littering this beautiful island,” said Jeffers. “We have to take action now.”
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, whose reefs and shores are blanketed by plastic debris, had long been a haven for marine wildlife.
Designated as a National Monument by President George W. Bush in 2006, this 1,200-mile chain of scattered islands and atolls is inhabited by more than 7,000 marine species, one quarter of them found nowhere else on Earth.
Tern Island, with an area of 26.014 acres, has a landing strip and permanent houses for a small number of people. It is maintained as a field station in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But Tern Island is swept by the Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of litter in the Pacific Ocean, larger than the state of Texas.
Plastic debris kills or injures thousands of seabirds, marine mammals and turtles every year. Some wildlife are entangled and drowned; others are strangled or suffer from lacerations and infection.
Others starve after consuming plastic because it creates false feelings of satiation.
Plastic is also a source of toxic chemicals that, after being consumed by fish and birds, move up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. These toxic substances can be passed to humans when they eat top predatory fish like swordfish and tuna.
“The EPA is taking a very important first step toward assessing the nature and extent of plastic pollution on Tern Island,” said Jeffers. “We hope that what it learns from this investigation will lead to cleanup of the islands – and ultimately to policies that reduce the flow of garbage into our oceans.”