This Week in Eco News - February 1, 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].


Letter to the Editor: 'Voluntary' Water Quality Measures Are Not Working
The voluntary Iowa Water Quality Nutrient Reduction Strategy is doing little to curb agricultural pollution and subsequent degradation of the ecosystem and community surrounding the Des Moines River. In a state so central to the industrial system of US agriculture, concerned citizens and advocates wonder when the state and federal government will finally put the health of its citizens and environment over the demands of Big Ag. [Des Moines Register]

In Ads, Coke Confronts Soda's Link to Obesity
Earlier this month Coca-Cola premiered a new advertising campaign that goes on the offensive to confront Coke's connection to obesity. Public health advocates are dismissing the ads as pure public relations. They argue the ads aren’t about changing the product but confusing the public while downplaying the serious health effects of drinking too much soda and making it sound like balancing soda consumption with exercise is the only issue, when there are plenty of other reasons not to consume too much of these kinds of products. [New York Times]

Antimicrobial Resistance in Fish Pathogenic Bacteria and Other Bacteria in Aquatic Environments
A new study has found that just as with the overuse of such drugs on livestock, antibiotic use in farmed fish can cause antibiotic resistant bacteria that can affect humans, posing a threat to public health. [The Fish Site]

Reduce Food Waste Dramatically With Simple Acts, Says UN
This week, the United Nations launched a campaign to reduce global food waste, estimated at 1.3 billion tons a year. The campaign, "Think-Eat-Save," calls on consumers to take logical steps (making shopping lists, avoiding impulse buys, freezing leftovers, donating to food pantries) to change wasteful habits. [The Guardian]

The Agricultural Fulcrum: Better Food, Better Climate
Last week, the government released "The National Climate Assessment" which highlights how climate change and weather extremes negatively impact crops and our food system. As many advocates and scientists agree, this is just one part of a vicious cycle – our industrialized system of agriculture is a key player in greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. [The Atlantic]

EU Freezes Approval of New GMO Crop Cultivation
The European Commission has temporarily banned approval of new GM crops pending an agreement on legislation that would allow individual countries to decide whether to grow or ban such plants. Currently, only two crops are approved for cultivation in the EU where opposition from wary consumers and environmental groups remains strong. In comparison, more than 90 varieties of GM crops are approved for cultivation in the US. [Euractiv]

Common Pesticides 'Can Kill Frogs Within an Hour'
A new study published in Scientific Reports concluded that commonly used pesticides can kill frogs within an hour. This frightening revelation suggests that the chemicals may play a role in the alarming global decline of amphibians, with more than a third of all species rapidly approaching extinction. [The Guardian]

McDonald's New Sustainable Fish is – Surprise! – Not So Sustainable
Last week McDonald's said it will be rolling out its new "Fish McBites," also announcing that the bites and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches will be made from sustainable, wild-caught Alaska pollock, with the Marine Stewardship Councils stamp of approval. However, lets not all cheer for Mickey D's yet—Alaskan pollock is not as sustainable as the fast food giant would have you believe. [Grist]

Mexico: Hunger Strike Against GM Maize
Leaders from the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations (UNORCA) in Mexico have begun a hunger strike to protest the planting of GM maize in their country. If approved, the planting of the GM crop would impact the rights of peasants, reduce the country’s lush maize biodiversity and aggravate the country's industrial food dependency. [La Via Campensina]

Anti-Whistleblower (AgGag) Laws Threaten Human Health, the Environment and Animals
Ag-gag whistleblower laws are rearing their ugly head again. Two new proposed laws would protect factory farms from being prosecuted for illegal and unethical activity. One criminalizes undercover agents misrepresenting themselves to gain access to a facility, and the other requires any witnessed illegal activity to be reported to authorities and all video documentation turned over immediately. [The Huffington Post]


EPA Changed Course After Oil Company Protested
Onlookers wondered why the EPA rescinded an emergency order for oil and gas company, Range Resources, to stop operations in Weatherford, Texas after the company was implicated in fracking-caused methane well water contamination. It now seems that the EPA dropped the order and a court case against the company because Range refused to work with the EPA on its comprehensive fracking study if regulators proceeded. [AP]

Report Fails to Settle Concerns Over Oil Spill Risk to Ogallala Aquifer
A report produced by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality on what might happen if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline ruptures and spews highly corrosive tarsands oil (i.e., bitumen) into the state's primary water source, the Ogallala Aquifer, was not thorough enough to capture potential impacts, according to scientists. TransCanada, the pipeline's owner, says otherwise. [Inside Climate News]

Survey Shows Americans Support Water Reuse
A General Electric-conducted survey of people in the US, China and Singapore found that most favor water reuse for non-drinking water uses, but not for "toilet-to-tap" purposes, to which the ick factor still remains. Another finding: "31 percent of Americans don’t know where their water comes from…" [Earth 911 ]

Market-based Programs for Watershed Improvement Double Globally
Doubling since 2008, watershed payment programs – or water quality programs where direct payments to property owners are given to "change their land use behavior" – have largely been successful because the "cost savings of natural resources protection are significant compared to built infrastructure," says Reed Watson, environmental entrepreneurship researcher. (Go to the Ecosystem Marketplace report.) [Circle of Blue]

Water Scarcity in the San Joaquin Valley: Challenges and Opportunities
The agriculturally important yet water-scarce San Joaquin Valley, California, has witnessed farmers switching to hardier crops like pomegranates and pistachios, but more water efficient technology, like drip irrigation and real-time data sensors, must be adopted for Valley farmers to thrive. [Guardian]

Greece Sees Gold Boom, but at a Price
Economically depressed, Greece sees open pit mineral mining, particularly for gold, as a bright spot moving forward. The problem is that the environmental pollution that follows mining – like acid mine discharges into waterways – could have long-lasting, negative impacts if shortcuts are taken and adequate waste management measures are not applied. [New York Times]

Cemex [Cement Company] Launches Water Methodology
You know that water footprinting and water use efficiency are important concepts catching on when the world’s largest cement company – Mexico-based Cemex – is committed to implementing them. [Environmental Leader]

The Stress Nexus
As the exclusive World Economic Forum kicked off last week, Peter Voser, the CEO of multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, continued to warn of the dangers if the "stress nexus" – or an unbalanced food-water-energy nexus – is ignored. [Project Syndicate]

Hydropower Dams Hamper Migrating Fish Despite Passage Features, Study Finds
Northeastern US-based hydropower dams frequently block fish as they migrate from the ocean to upriver spawning grounds despite advanced fish-passage features, a recent study finds. The upshot is that fish restoration programs are not useful and that dam removals are the only way to ensure healthy fish populations. [UA News]

Laos' Mekong River Hydro Dam Riles Neighbors
The Mekong River in is one of the most fertile freshwater fisheries in the world, yet the country of Laos has decided to become "the battery of Southeast Asia" by constructing a series of cascading hydropower dams which could harm the health of the fishery and crimp other nation's flow of water, making neighbors Cambodia and Vietnam concerned. [Vancouver Sun]


Obama to Confront Oil Pipeline, Climate Change
When it comes to energy, Obama's second term will likely look like his first term with items like renewable energy, climate change and the potential approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline still on his agenda. [SF Chronicle]

Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage
Climate change made its way into President Obama's inauguration speech. The president will likely increase controls of emissions of coal fired power plants while also increasing energy efficiency standards. [New York Times]

NE Governor Notifies Federal Officials He Approved New Canadian Pipeline Route Through State
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman notified the Obama administration that he approves the new pipeline route for the Keyston XL pipeline. The new route avoids the Sandhills, but still crosses part of the Ogallala Aquifer. [Washington Post]

Leaky Valve Shuts Down Plymouth Nuclear Plant
A nuclear power plant located 35 miles outside of Boston had to close for the second time in two weeks due to a leaky valve. These shutdowns have occurred eight months after the NRC renewed the plant's operating license for another 20 years.  [Boston Globe]

Reduce Food Waste Dramatically With Simple Acts, Says UN
About one-third to one-half of all food produced is wasted. A UN-led campaign "Think.Eat.Save" shows that consumers, retailers and supermarkets can make a big difference in reducing the amount of waste. [The Guardian]

Nuclear Power Plant Produces Snow in Southwest Pennsylvania
More proof that human activities shape the environment: the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant generated a band of snow last week. "The ultra cold air streaming in from the northwest interacted with the hot steam emitted from the plant resulting in condensation, cloud formation and precipitation." [Washington Post Blog]

Sting Operations Reveal Mafia Involvement in Renewable Energy
"As the Italian government began offering billions of Euros annually in subsidies for wind and solar development, the potential profitability of such projects also soared — a fact that did not go unnoticed by Sicily’s infamous crime families." [Washington Post]

Why India's Waste-to-Energy Industry Won’t Catch Fire
Waste-to-energy projects have been popping up all over southern Asia - except for India, where layers of bureaucracy and lack of incentives have prevented projects from getting off the ground. [New York Times Green Blog]

As Shell's Arctic Drilling Hopes Hit Snags, Its Rivals Watch
Operations haven’t been going so well for Shell in the Arctic and the Feds are taking note. Any additional mistakes could grind arctic drilling to a halt. [New York Times]

LEDs Emerge as a Popular 'Green' Lighting
Once confined to niche applications, energy efficient LEDs are becoming rapidly popular and more affordable. Currently, they make up about three percent of the residential market and could be up to sixteen percent by 2015. [New York Times]