This Week in Eco News

Happy Friday! Here is a compilation of stories we followed this week. We circulate these internally and publish synopses throughout the week as Eco News, which you can find all week long — in real time — in the column to the right. You can also find them at this link, and you can sign up to receive them via email each Thursday. If you see a story you think we should include, drop us a line at [email protected].


Is Our Daily Cup of Coffee Under Threat?
Arabica coffee beans could be extinct in the wild by 2080 because of climate change, according to a new study by researchers at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Wild Arabica is considered important for the sustainability of the coffee industry due to its considerable genetic diversity. [Kew]

EPA May Take Over Enforcing Water Act in Iowa
Analysis of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulation of livestock operations show that the agency is going too easy on factory farms that pollute the state’s waterways with manure. As a result, the US EPA has let the state know that it may take over enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act unless the Iowa DNR steps up its game. Big time. [Des Moines Register]

The Problem Is Clear: The Water Is Filthy
In California’s Central Valley, the people in farm worker communities who grow our food can’t drink the water because it is contaminated with chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifer. Many residents and workers are forced to spend up to 10 percent of their income on bottled water. [New York Times]

New Research: Cow Pee Can Spread Antibiotic Resistance Through the Soil
As if the danger of antibiotic resistance wasn’t palpable enough, scientists have recently discovered that antibiotics given to cows get into their urine and feces and then find their way into the ground. The findings mean at the very least, farmers are going to have to be more careful about where they toss cow excrement. Although what they should be doing is not dosing cows with unnecessary antibiotics. [Discover Magazine]

CDC Warns About Rampant, Dangerous Use of Antibiotics on Livestock
The Centers for Disease Control is spearheading “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week” and pledging to work with the food industry to “promote the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals.” This is awesome, however the CDC has no real regulatory power. Now if the FDA were to jump on board, that would be something. [Grist]

This Thanksgiving, Be More Grateful than Wasteful
This Thanksgiving Americans will throw out $282 million of uneaten Turkey, contributing to the $165 billion in uneaten food wasted in the US each year. [NRDC]

Outdoor Sows Have Better Immunity Than Indoor Pigs
A new study has revealed that pigs who are raised outdoors and without antibiotics are better able to maintain control of the good bacteria in their digestive tract and have stronger immune systems than pigs who are raised indoors and treated with antibiotics. [Pig Progress]

Bugs Damaging Monsanto Corn May Do Same to Syngenta Crops
Earlier this year it was reported that rootworms throughout the mid-west were showing resistance to Monsanto’s YieldGard corn and now must be sprayed with the chemical pesticides it was modified to avoid. Now it turns out that the rootworm is also resistant to Syngenta AG, another genetically modified corn, making it pretty clear that this GM technology is not only failing, it’s very seriously backfiring. [Business Week]

$500 Million Animal Abuse Settlement Reached
A settlement to the tune of $500 million has been reached in the Humane Society’s lawsuit against Hallmark Meat, more than four years after the biggest meat recall in US history. The California slaughterhouse not only abused sick cows, but then sent the contaminated meat into the food system, putting American consumers at risk. Hallmark is bankrupt, but the federal ruling still counts as a win and serves as a reminder of the importance of exposing cruel and dangerous practices in the meat industry. [ABC News]

USDA Announces First-Ever Round of Farm to School Grants
The USDA has announced the recipients of the first-ever round of Farm to School Grants, and a heartfelt congrats to Growing Power, Community Alliance with Family Farmers and Michigan Land Use Institute. The awards span 68 projects in 37 States and the District of Columbia and total $4.5 million in funding. [NSAC]

Southeast Paying Health Price for High Antibiotic Use
A new report from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy reveals that people in the Southeast US are at a heightened risk for antibiotic-resistant infections. Government and private groups are working together to fight this growing threat, including addressing the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. [USA Today]

How Consolidated Agribusiness Harms The Organic Sector
Big food companies are cashing in on the organic movement, snatching up organic brands and launching their own versions of the popular foods. This consolidation of the organic food sector has resulted in a weakening of the label: the Big Food monopoly isn’t living up to organic standards by capitalizing on consumer enthusiasm for them. [Civil Eats]

USDA Committee Report Leaves GE Contamination Burden on Farmers' Shoulders
Tasked with coming up with a compensation system for farmers who suffer economically by contamination from GE crops, the USDA now recommends that farmers pay into an insurance program. So basically, the USDA is removing all responsibility from agri-giants like Monsanto who profit from the technology that threatens farmers' livelihood. [Common Dreams]

Organic Dairy More Economically Beneficial Than Conventional Dairy – US Study
The organic dairy industry has long claimed that its products have greater nutritional value than conventionally-produced dairy products. Now, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the organic dairy sector can also lay claim to having a more beneficial economic impact. [Food Navigator]

Consumer Reports Investigation of Pork Products Finds Potentially Harmful Bacteria - Most of Which Show Resistance to Important Antibiotics A Consumer Reports investigation that tested ground-pork samples from six US cities found high rates of yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning, especially in children. The majority of the yersinia and as well as a substantial portion of several other bacteria detected were resistant to medically important antibiotics.

Top US Healthcare Giant: GMOs are Devastating Health
Kaiser Permanente, the largest healthcare provider in the United States, has spoken out against GMOs in a recent newsletter which addressed the dangers of GMOs and how to avoid them.


Fracking Fluid Isn’t Likely to Migrate from Shale Wells, Geologists Say
Consensus is building among geologists “that the greatest danger to groundwater is not hydraulic fracturing itself. The threats instead are from improperly cemented and cased new wells and from abandoned wells whose steel casings were stripped out during World War II’s manufacturing rush or from an even earlier era when oil wells were cased in wood.” With hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of abandoned wells around the US, expect more groundwater contamination. [E&E News]

Hurricane Sandy Damage Amplified By Breakneck Development Of Coast
Superstorm Sandy’s devastation to life and property is mainly attributable to the laissez-faire approach taken by local and state government officials and developers in low-lying and flood prone coastal areas up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with New Jersey being especially permissive. [Huffington Post]

Water Supply in a Warming World
A study in Nature shows one positive aspect to the more extreme precipitation events expected with climate change, which is greater groundwater recharge of excessively drawn aquifers. While this study is focused on Tanzania, the concept can be extended to other parts of the world. (Click here for Part 2.) [NY Times]

Ground Water Inundation
We know about climate change and marine flooding associated with sea level rise, but scientists from the University of Hawaii published researchshowing “low-lying coastal areas may also be vulnerable to groundwater inundation” wherein the “water table rises above the land surface” in tandem with rising ocean levels. [Environmental News Network]

America’s Water Mirage
America has always thought of itself as The Land of Plenty with regard to all resources, especially freshwater, and many parts of the country are overexploiting water resources like the Colorado River and the Ogallala Aquifer. The hard truth of water constraints might just end this illusion. [LA Times]

The Problem Is Clear: The Water Is Filthy
Ecocentric has long covered the deplorable groundwater quality for residents in California’s agricultural hub, the Central Valley. Fifty years of pesticides, agrichemicals and poor soil management have left the largely impoverished denizens, who are often farmworkers, without clean, safe drinking water. State and local officials understand they need to create new governance structures for water solutions, but it’s not happening quickly enough. [NY Times]

EPA May Take Over Enforcing Water Act in Iowa
Analysis of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulation of livestock operations show that the agency has been too easy on factory farms that pollute the state’s waterways with manure. As a result, the US EPA has let the state know that it may take over enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act unless the Iowa DNR seriously steps up its game. [Des Moines Register]

New York Fracking Regulations Decision Delayed Into 2013, Governor Cuomo Announces
New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that the state’s fracking regulation will be put off until at least 2013 pending the assessment of the three-expert health panel as part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s overall environmental impact study. This step might lead to a potential public comment period and shows the strength of fracktivists in the state. [AP]

Why Greek Yogurt Makers Want Whey To Go Away
With Upstate New York becoming the center of the national Greek yogurt craze, manufacturers like Fage are scrambling to productively (and economically) use the massive amount of watery whey byproduct that remains. Potential solutions include using it in anaerobic digesters for energy, selling it to farmers for fertilizer and removing valuable sugars and salt for resale. Call it the Greek yogurt-nexus. [NPR]

Low Water May Block Mississippi Barge Traffic
The mighty Mississippi has been brought low (literally) by the severe and persistent 2012 drought, putting the transport by barge of many commodities and goods into crisis if river levels drop much further. With reduced barge traffic “the economic fallout [would] be enormous, potentially forcing job cuts, raising fuel costs, and pinching the nation’s food supply.” [AP]

Water: Enough in the Nile to Share, Little to Waste
The Nile River is so essential to East African countries – as indicated by Egypt’s astounding 95 percent freshwater Nile-dependence – that Egypt’s concern about Ethiopia’s downstream Grand Renaissance Dam makes sense. Hopefully cooperation and an introduction to water efficiency in the 10 Nile-reliant countries will carry the day, because as a new report shows, there’s just enough water to go around. [IRIN]

Contaminated US Groundwater Sites Will Cost $110 Billion to Clean, Report Says
A National Research Council report estimates that it will take $110-$127 billion to clean up 126,000 groundwater sites in the United States that have been contaminated by “underground storage tanks, military installations, and industrial facilities monitored under the federal government’s Superfund program. Ten percent of the Superfund sites threaten drinking water supplies” and for the most part contamination levels aren’t dropping. [Circle of Blue]

Breaking Up Water Monopolies: Costs and Benefits
Globally, the water resource industry is, now and in the future, facing water constraints and climate change-induced “drought and deluge” and are thus in the midst of reorganizing. Here’s a scholarly look at the economic costs and benefits of water treatment and delivery company integration, which shows that in many cases, vertical integration – or “when a single business undertakes a sequence of related functions to serve a particular market” – can be superior to a non-integrated, trans-market model. [Global Water Forum]

Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon
With Amazonian deforestation one the biggest drivers of climate change, scientists are attempting to figure out how to address large-scale environmental problems as numerous upstart Brazilian cities' located in the great rainforest rapidly expand in both population and development. (View a slideshow.) [NY Times]

A Historic Binational Agreement Gives New Life to the Colorado River Delta
For decades, so much water has been withdrawn from the Colorado River by the seven states and Mexico in the Compact that it has run dry before reaching the Gulf of California. As of November 2012, the “United States and Mexico signed a landmark agreement that will return vital flows to the lower Colorado River and its once-bountiful delta and reconnect the river to its final destination.” [National Geographic]

Growing Food in the Desert: Is This the Solution to the World’s Food Crisis?
Sundrop Farms is growing tons of vegetable crops in the deserts of Australia and Qatar by using solar powered-technology to desalinate local seawater to fresh for irrigation in greenhouses. Because of the project’s success – based on its invention by Seawater Greenhouse – many investors, academics and supermarket chains are falling over themselves to join in. [Guardian]


Mobile Solar Generators - One Man’s Odyssey to Bring Power Back to New York
Consolidated Solar, a Pennsylvania distributor for portable solar generators, teamed up with SolarCity to send three 10kW solar units to help provide power to the hurricane Sandy-ravaged -- and still powerless -- Rockaways in New York. [Forbes]

Water Woes Plague Parli Power Plant in Maharashtra
The dependence of power plants on water supplies continues to cause problems in India. One large plant, located in a region facing a drought so grim that it’s dependent on water tankers, may have to shut down in December. [Hindu Business Line] 

EPA Refuses to Waive Ethanol Mandate
The EPA rejected a request from the meat industry and a dozen states (with support from numerous environmental groups) to temporarily waive regulations that require the blending of ethanol into gasoline. Opponents of the fuel mandate say drought-driven spikes in corn prices and reduced harvests should prompt the agency to relax the requirements, which require refiners to blend billions of gallons of ethanol into gasoline. [E2 Wire] 

More Than 1,000 New Coal Plants Planned Worldwide, Figures Show
Coal is maintaining its global popularity, with the World Resources Institute reporting that 1,200 new coal plants are in the works across 59 countries, about three-quarters of them in China and India. [The Guardian]

Hawaii’s Solar Power Flare-Up: Too Much of a Good Thing?
Hawaiian businesses and homeowners now produce an impressive 140 megawatts of electricity through solar, but the state and utilities are now tapping the brakes because of concerns over how this could affect the grid. [LA Times]

There’s Oil On Them Thar Campuses!
Oil and gas companies are eager to tap oil and gas reserves, and colleges and universities are desperate for cash. Sounds like a terrible combination, right? Sure enough, more than a dozen schools across the country are allowing the oil industry to tap into fossil fuel resources under campus grounds. [NPR]

Population Shifts Across US Regions Affect Overall Heating and Cooling Needs
Here’s an interesting analysis explaining how population shifts in the US are affecting energy consumption. More Americans are moving to warmer climates, which means less home heating and more home cooling. Since heating requires more energy than cooling, per-capita residential energy consumption in the US has flattened over the past few decades. [Today in Energy] 

Sandy: An Eye-Opener for the Power Grid
The extended power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy were just part of a series of recent power outages in the metro New York region. It’s time to rebuild the electric grid with more interconnected urban substations so that one failure can’t bring an entire region to its knees. [Huffington Post]

Q. and A.: In a Blackout, Solar Exceptions
While traditional residential solar panels don’t provide electricity during a blackout (keeping them connected while utility workers are repairing downed lines would be extremely dangerous), it’s now possible to hook up panels to batteries that would allow the solar array to act as a mini power plant. [New York Times] 

Water Scarcity Could Further Boost Wind & Solar Development
In 2010, more water – 583 billion cubic meters – than is discharged each year by the Ganges River in India was used to meet the world’s growing energy needs. If we don’t switch to energy sources like wind and solar, which require little water, the world’s demand for water will grow at twice the pace. [Clean Technica]

Mapping Gas Leaks from Aging Urban Pipes
Methane leaks at natural gas wells have frequently been documented, but now there’s increased scrutiny over the amount of methane leaking from pipes that carry natural gas to our homes and businesses. One study recently found 3,300 leaks along Boston’s streets. [New York Times]

Coal Plants Smother Communities of Color
An NAACP report found that the six million people living within three miles of the 378 coal-fired power plants have an average per capita income of $18,400 per year, and 39 percent are people of color. The conclusion: Coal plants place a disproportionate burden on poor and largely minority communities, exposing residents to high levels of pollutants that affect public health. [Scientific American]

Cuomo: State Set to Miss Thursday’s Fracking Deadline
New York State’s environmental agency will have to apply for an extension in its health review of proposed new rules for fracking, likely delaying the process for up to another six months. [WNYC]

Lamar Smith, Global Warming Skeptic, Set To Chair House Science Committee
A Senator who rejects climate science – as he once said, “I'm really more fearful of freezing. And I don’t have any science to prove that.” – will likely chair the House Science Committee. [Huffington Post]