In today’s On the News segment: The Obama administration proposes opening up new areas along our coastline to fossil fuel extraction; the state of Maine may be stuck with Gov. Paul LePage for another four years, but at least they’ve got a coal-free university system; North Dakota’s oil industry is tired of all those pesky regulations; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of….science & green news…..
You need to know this. While environmental groups work tirelessly to end offshore oil drilling, the Obama administration proposes opening up new areas along our coastline to fossil fuel extraction. Last week, President Obama released his five-year plan for offshore drilling, which includes a proposal for more drilling off our Atlantic Coast. Although this plan would provide new protections for a few environmentally sensitive areas near Alaska, it would open a new section of the continental shelf that stretches from Georgia to Virginia. That area has been off-limits to oil drilling for three decades partly because of the potential havoc a spill in that region could have on our environment and our economy. According to EcoWatch.com, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster affected more than 1,000 miles of coastline. If a similar spill was to occur off our Atlantic coast, it would wash up on shores from Savannah to Boston. And, despite the massive devastation caused by that blowout in the Gulf, very little has changed in the form of government regulation. According to Elizabeth Brinbaum, who oversaw government regulation of the offshore drilling industry back in 2010, the Obama administration hasn’t even implemented most of the safety recommendations made by their own experts. Ms. Birnbaum said that she “would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like [the BP disaster] from happening again.” And, that certainly means that no one could have imagined that we would expand drilling before implementing more regulations. The fact is, there is no such thing as safe offshore drilling, and no such thing as a good way to burn fossil fuels. There is no upside to increasing oil drilling off our coastlines, but there is a whole lot of risk. It’s great that President Obama wants to protect more of the Arctic, but that doesn’t excuse putting our Atlantic coastline at risk for the next drilling-related disaster.
Even if you’re not a fan of spiders, science says that we may have a lot to learn from our eight-legged friends. According to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters, some spiders use electrostatic charges to spin the silk fibers that make up their web. Not only do feather-legged lace weaver spiders use electric charges, they also have the ability to spin fibers that are only a few nanometers thick, which is much thinner than other species. Scientists decided to study the lace weaver spiders to help researchers develop new technologies for weaving nano-scale filaments. They discovered that weaver spiders funnel the raw material, called “silk dope,” through long, narrow ducts before forming it in to silk. The spider then combs out the silk filaments using hairs on its hind legs, which gives the fibers a static charge. One of the co-authors of the study explained, “If we could reproduce its neat trick of electro-spinning nano-fibers, we could pave the way for a highly versatile and efficient new kind of polymer processing technology.” It just goes to show that we may make technological advances, but there are some things that nature perfected long, long ago.
The state of Maine may be stuck with Gov. Paul LePage for another four years, but at least they’ve got a coal-free university system. Last week, the state-wide University of Maine became the first university system in the country to divest its fossil fuel holdings. After years of organizing, the student group Divest UMaine finally succeeded in their fight to make their university stop financing the destruction of our planet. They are celebrating the victory, but say that their end goal is still not complete. When the board of trustees voted to dump direct holdings in coal companies, they did not divest the university from funds that include some coal stocks. One of the Divest Umaine organizers said, “We have to take victories as they come, but the end goal is complete fossil fuel divestment, and we will keep working towards that.” The students at this public, land grand institution have already been successful, but they’re not giving up until their university is 100 percent green.
North Dakota’s oil industry is tired of all those pesky regulations. Oil drilling companies in that state want to weaken regulations that force them to pay big bucks to dispose of their radioactive waste. Currently, the oil industry pays about $10,000 per truckload to send tons of radioactive waste to landfills in other states, but they think that’s cutting too far into their profits. The proposed change would save the oil industry about $120 million every year, but there’s no telling how much of that cost would be shifted on to taxpayers. Activists attended the recent hearings about the proposed rule change and carried signs reading “Protect Health Not Oil’s Wealth.” Despite industry claims, there is no safe way to dispose of radioactive waste. Protestors and environmentalists realize this, but they’ll have to push hard to make sure that state regulators do as well.
And finally… When you think “energy assistance program,” you probably think heating subsidies, but the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance is looking to change that. The Minnesota-based organization wants to provide low-income families with a way to get their energy from solar instead of fossil fuels. Jason Edens, the founder and director of RREAL, said, “Utilities are among the single biggest beneficiaries of energy assistance.” He added, “Frankly, energy assistance is yet another fossil fuel subsidy.” Mr. Edens plans to allocate shares in his company’s solar garden to families who receive federal energy assistance. The project has already received a grant from the McKnight Foundation to get up and running, and Eden hopes that he can quickly expand the program beyond Minnesota to “transform the way that our nation delivers energy assistance.” People who need a little help with their electric bills shouldn’t be forced to subsidize Big Oil, and this is a great way to expand our use of solar energy. The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance could be a win-win for our nation, our environment, and our neighbors, and it’s the kind of idea that will help us move to a cleaner, greener future.
And that’s the way it is for the week of February 2, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.