This Week in Eco News - January 25, 2013

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 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].


Vilsack to Stay as USDA Secretary for Obama's Second Term
Former Governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack will continue to serve as the Secretary of the USDA during President Obama's second term. [Bloomberg]

Monsanto Lawyer Suggests New Standard For Suing Farmers
During testimony for a case against Monsanto now in the US Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit, a lawyer for Monsanto has admitted that in the past, the company has unjustly sued farmers. The suit was brought by a group of (mostly) organic farmers who claim they are being damaged by the possibility that Monsanto might sue them. [NPR]

Insecticide 'Unacceptable' Danger to Bees, Report Finds
The European commission and EU members are finally posed to take a stance on insecticides, hinting last week that they may ban several based on research that concludes that the chemicals cause "unacceptable" harm to bees. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that bees and other pollinators are hugely important for food production and our ecosystem, and their protection is essential. [Guardian]

Can Small Farms Benefit From Walmart's Push into Local Foods?
Two years ago Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced that it would be committing to sourcing more goods locally as part of a larger sustainability platform and a commitment to buy from small businesses. Walmart says that now 11 percent of the produce it sells comes from local farms – up from just 4 percent two years ago. However, small family farms (at least in Missouri) aren't necessarily seeing the benefits. [Harvest Public Media]

California Deep Freeze Continues; Farmers Hard Hit
More bizarre (now commonplace?) weather news out of California. Early this month, temperatures statewide plunged to as much as 20 degrees F below normal. This doesn't bode well for California farmers' crops, especially the state’s $2 billion citrus industry. [LA Times]

How Organic Farming Contributes to a Sustainable Food System
There are many global benefits of organic farming, including its potential to "contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity." Now new research by the Worldwatch Institute shows organic farming is gaining popularity as more and more countries are implementing organic standards. [EcoWatch]

USDA Offers Loans to Farmers Who Grow For Locals
On Tuesday, January 15, the USDA finalized a microloan program to assist veterans, minority growers and small-time farmers in starting up farms. The microloans, up to $35,000 each, will offer relief to farmers who might otherwise have to rely on credit cards to get their farms up and running - usual loans are usually much larger and require lots of paperwork. [AP]

BPA Linked With Potential Heart And Kidney Problems
Another day, another study linking BPA to some horrifying health problem. Researchers at NYU have linked the controversial chemical (still used in food packaging) to a biomarker of higher risk for heart and kidney disease in children and adolescents. [Huffington Post]


Decades of Oilsands Air and Water Pollution Clearly Evident, Say Scientists
A Canadian government-sponsored study finds that lakes in the Alberta region covered by the Oilsands (aka Tarsands) have been polluted in the oil production process, proof that counters the years of denial by the oil industry and its boosters. The contamination comes from hydrocarbons associated with oil production, called PAHs, which are considered carcinogenic. [Edmonton Journal]

Throwdown: Are Water Footprints Environmentally Relevant? (PDF)
For those interested in the scientific development of the water footprint framework, here is a methodological battle in the PNAS journal between the concept’s creator, Arjen Hoekstra, and a chief critic, Bradley Ridoutt, who thinks water footprints are not grounded in environmental relevance. [Water Footprint Network]

On Scale of 0 to 500, Beijing's Air Quality Tops 'Crazy Bad' at 755
Yes, Beijing's air quality reading was "crazy bad" the other day with an off-the-charts of 755, with 500 being the highest. The US Embassy BeijingAir Twitter feed (@BeijingAir) continues to be the most accurate source of information, exposing glaring pollution concerns in fast-growing China. Hopefully, the problem will diminish with economic development. [New York Times]

Climate, Food, Water and Energy — They’re All Connected
Read here for a good analysis of how two new reports – GRACE's own "Know the Nexus" and the federal National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee's 3rd draft report – show how an integrated approach is necessary to face (and solve) many of our societal and environmental challenges. [Green Desert Blog]

2012 Was Hot, Dry and Energy-Shifty in the US
It wasn’t just that 2012 was the hottest on record for the United States, but that it was incredibly dry and drought-plagued, with dry conditions expected to continue. (The post includes many interesting maps and charts.) [Circle of Blue]

Rains Brighten Prospects for Shippers on Mississippi River
Fears of even lower Mississippi River waters and the terrible impacts it would have on the barge transport of many goods were allayed over the weekend after two substantial rains in the river basin raised water levels. (Not floating high yet…) [Reuters]

As Texas Bakes in a Long Drought, Water Becomes a Focus for Legislators
Nothing gets people to move like a crisis, like in Texas where the three-year drought has focused many anti-government legislators to call for government intervention and spending devoted to preserving scarce water resources, which lawmakers now acknowledge is the "building block of society." [New York Times]

Crumbling Pipes and Underground Waste: A Glimpse at Our Ailing Sewer System
America's aging wastewater systems (like its water treatment counterpart) are overall decrepit and failing. There are ways to reduce the burden, as San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has shown by recycling and treating wastewater for uses besides drinking water, an advanced approach by SAWS that is highlighted in GRACE’s new "Know the Nexus" paper. [PBS Newshour]


Why Is Net Metering Under Attack?
Though small, the market for rooftop solar is growing. And as the price of solar drops, utilities are getting worried about having to adapt to a 21st-century energy landscape. [Greentech Media]

First Part of Offshore Wind Power Line Moves Ahead
A major initiative to promote offshore wind on the east coast took its first step with an announcement on its first leg to be situated off the coast of New Jersey. The buried cable will also help maintain grid reliability and help to level electricity prices in the state. [New York Times]

NASA Releases Images of Beijing Air Pollution
Off the chart air pollution in Beijing is causing major public health issues. NASA's Earth Observatory has released new satellite images that show the "cloudy soup" of smog. [CBS News]

Report: A Controversial Solar Program Creates More Benefits Than Costs For Californians
California’s net metering program could provide $92 million worth of benefits for the state residents, according to a new report by the Vote Solar Initiative. [Forbes]

Natural Gas Jumps to One-Month High on Above-Average Supply Drop
The price of natural gas rose to its highest price in more than a month after a new report showed lower than expected stockpiles and projected cold weather in the eastern US. [Bloomberg]

Abu Dhabi's Masdar Starts Renewable Energy Desalination Project
Abu Dhabi's clean energy group, Masdar, is beginning a pilot project to identify potential commercially viable desalination by using renewable energy. [Bloomberg]

Energy Secretary Chu Said to Plan Departure from Cabinet
As the Obama Administration begins its second term, Energy Secretary Chu is expected to step down. He is expected to make announcement next week, which will add him to the list of departing secretaries that includes Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency. [Bloomberg]

Energy Companies Focus on Competing Water Needs
At their recent Innovation Summit, Shell Oil noted the delicate relationship of food water and energy is strained. The company referred to it as the "stress nexus." Sound familiar? []