Conor Burns responds to article in Private Eye about Navitus Bay ‘bias’

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MP Conor Burns has responded to an article implying he has opposed the Navitus Bay wind farm for personal gain.

The article, which appeared in fortnightly journal Private Eye, notes that the Bournemouth West MP “receives regular payments” from Trant Construction Ltd, an engineering firm connected with the oil and gas industry – including Wytch Farm oil field in Poole Harbour.

The company is listed in Mr Burns’ register of interests.

The article says Navitus is proposed for beds “thought suitable for oil and gas drilling”, and that despite opposing the wind farm partly on the grounds of its potential impact on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Mr Burns has not “spoken up” against plans by Infrastrata to drill for oil and gas in Swanage.

Responding to the article, Mr Burns said: “I have seen a mischievous article related to my position on Navitus.

“Any financial interest any Member of Parliament has is openly registered and made public. The only interest I have to declare on Navitus is the interest of my constituents who are overwhelmingly opposed to it.

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These Beautiful, Translucent Barriers Quiet Traffic—And Generate Power At The Same Time

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Where could this be? The Netherlands of course, where it seems like all such clever plans start (solar bike path, anyone?).

And this has to be one of the best Dutch ideas yet—roadside noise barriers that also generate solar power. Not only that, they work on cloudy days, and one kilometer (0.62 miles) provides enough electricity to power 50 homes.

The plan seems so obvious, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. But the key is a new kind of solar panel. They’re cheap, they’re transparent, and they use a different light-gathering tech that works under the gray skies of Northern Europe. They’re called luminescent solar concentrators (LSC), and they’re translucent sheets which bounce light internally to the edges of the panels, where it is beamed onto regular solar panels “in concentrated form.”

The LSC panels can be made in different colors, so the result is something like an oversized stained-glass window. Because light can shine through them, they could be used in urban areas, shielding noise without making either pedestrians or motorists feel cut off.

The test, which launched on June 18, along the A2 highway near Den Bosch, includes regular solar panels as a control, and also to see how both kinds of barrier fare in the outside world, when subjected to real life and real vandalism.

The project is being run by researcher Michael Debije, at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Debije’s breakthrough is this new kind of LSC panel. Regular LSC panels reabsorb light as they channel it to the solar arrays at their edges. Debije’s panels fix this. Added bonus: they also look good.

Seven remaining residents: The town of Centralia the real inspiration for Silent Hill….

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The Centralia area has grown to be a tourist attraction. Visitors come to see the smoke on Centralia’s empty streets and the abandoned portion of PA Route 61 where it detours around the former site of Byrnesville. But this was not always the case, once upon a time Centralia was a functioning town with a population of 2,761 nowadays it’s population numbers seven. The rest of the town was compulsorily purchased by the state as a means of obliging people to move out of a town that had become subject to dangerously high levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Well, you may say, what type of disaster could possibly have forced all the residents of Centralia to pack up their bags and leave? The answer to that appears to be incredibly simple and yet incredibly complex. Joan Quigley argues in her 2007 book The Day the Earth Caved In that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit.

She noted that borough council minutes from June 4, 1962, referred to two fires at the dump, and that five firefighters had submitted bills for “fighting the fire at the landfill area”. The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer,but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier incomplete.

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This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and light the subsequent subterranean fire. In addition to the council minutes, Quigley cites “interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses” as her sources.

In short, negligence in fireproofing two landfill sites led to hot coal ash being tipped onto a coal seam, and this triggered off a subterranean coal-mine fire that has continued to burn from 27 May 1962 until the present day.

One would have thought that the residents could have sued Centralia Borough for its negligence. But the minute disaster hit, it became apparent that the borough had covered its own ass, minutes were produced proving that the council had voted to close down the landfill site, although the minutes did not describe the proposed procedure. Nonetheless, the Centralia council had set a date and hired five members of the volunteer firefighter company to clean up the landfill, according to the minutes.

Subsequent action that was taken to put out the mine fire was insufficient because to all intents & purposes officials were far too concerned with covering up the extent of the problem.

Until that is 1984, when, with the help of congress, families still residing in this carbon-monoxide-bound hell where able to accept a buyout offer and move to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. 

So there the town of Centralia, with its seven residents, abides, along with the town of Byrnesville, a few miles to the south, which has also had to be abandoned and levelled due to the spread of the subterranean mine fire.

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Two whole towns have lain deserted for decades, just because of gaping holes in the sides and base of a landfill site that could easily have been filled in and safely lined at very little cost. When you have examples like this to hand, you have to wonder why mountain- top removals have been permitted, and why Shale Oil Fracking has been given pride of place in Pennsylvania.

Green Subsidies? Sustainable Energy? We don’t need them!

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A cabinet source has said that a “big reset” on subsidies paid by consumers, which push up household energy bills, is coming in the autumn.

“There is a hardening view in the cabinet that we’ve got to deal with green subsidies,” the source added.

Last month, the government announced that new onshore wind farms would be excluded from a subsidy scheme from April next year.

Within a few weeks, the solar power industry is expecting its subsidies will be cut.

The issue of renewable energy subsidies was discussed at the weekly meeting of the government’s most senior ministers on Tuesday.

Subsidies to the renewable energy industry, paid for by consumers, are expected to add up to £4.3bn this year.

‘Best deal’

This week, the think tank Policy Exchange said the average household energy bill has risen by £120 over the last five years due to what they called “ill-thought through energy and climate policies”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said:

“Reducing energy bills for hard-working British families and businesses is this government’s priority. We’ve already announced reforms to remove subsidies for onshore wind, and that work to make sure bill payers are getting the best possible deal is going to continue.”

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But the renewable energy industry fears a cut now could seriously damage an industry at a crucial point in its development.

“We are getting very anxious about what might be coming,” Leonie Greene, from the Solar Trade Association, told the BBC.

“The British industry is already very significant today. It employs over 30,000 people and turns over billions of pounds. It is quite clear that globally this industry is going to be worth trillions. So it is incredibly important that in terms of the global race that the prime minister talks about, that we make sure we have a strong solar industry in the UK.”

In a speech last month, the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd warned the renewables industry and campaigners that support for the environment has to be weighed against the impact on energy bills.

“All that support costs money,” she said. “We cannot ignore the fact that, obviously, people want subsidies if they are on the receiving end of subsidies, but we have to ensure that we get the good measure of it.”

And there lies the conundrum for the government: attempting to keep bills low, supporting emerging industries and keeping to climate change targets – with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris just a few months away now in December.

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BBC 2015

UK faces worst power crunch in a decade this winter

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Britain’s electricity supplies will be at their tightest level in a decade this winter, forcing the country to rely on emergency measures to ensure the lights stay on, according to official forecasts.

The closure of three power stations has increased the risk of blackouts since last winter, new analysis by National Grid shows.

The ‘safety buffer’ margin between peak winter electricity demand in and the output from Britain’s ageing power stations is likely to fall to just 1.2 per cent – down from 4.1 per cent last year, it finds.

But an emergency system of backup power plants, first introduced last winter, will be in place again this year to help prevent blackouts, the company said.

Even with the backup plants in place, the effective spare margin last winter was 6 per cent and this year will fall to 5.1 per cent – the lowest since 2007-08, Grid data shows.

The backup power plant operators will be paid £37 million to guarantee they can fire up if needed in an emergency, and more if they are actually called upon.

Cordi O’Hara, National Grid’s director of market operation, said: “It’s clear that electricity margins for that coldest, darkest half hour of winter are currently tighter than they have been, due to power stations closures.

“As system operator, we feel we’ve taken a sensible precaution again this winter to buy some extra services. Together with the tools we already use to balance the network these additional services will significantly increase the energy reserve available this winter.”

The backup measures were not needed last winter because the weather was particularly mild, National Grid said.

Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies, said: “The underlying position of the network is becoming more and more fragile, which is requiring more emergency measures. Only three or four things could go wrong and we would have a serious problem.

“The reason we have this issue is that the new build [power plant] programme is running late and the closure programme is running to time.”

New solar farms had been built but that was “not useful on a dark winter evening”, he said.

Experts have also questioned how much wind can be relied upon, with some of the coldest periods of last winter coinciding with the lowest wind power output.

Offshore-wind-farmExcerpt taken from article written in ‘The Telegraph’ 2015

 

Across The Globe, Wildfire Season Is Lasting Longer

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With 35 active large fires currently burning up and down the West Coast — and with dry, hot conditions sparking an unprecedented number of fires throughout Western Canada — the 2015 wildfire season has started strong, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Now, a new report out in Nature Communications has a some more bad news for the West, and wildfire-prone regions around the world: In the last 35 years, wildfire season has gotten longer, and the global area affected by wildfire has doubled.

Though several studies have looked at the relationship between climate change and regional wildfire patterns, scientists lacked a comprehensive assessment of how climate change might be influencing wildfire seasons on a global scale. Using a combination of fire danger indices and surface weather data, a group of American and Australian scientists looked at how “fire weather” — weather conditions that are especially conducive to fire — has changed around the world over the last three and a half decades.

They found that as global temperatures have increased (by about .2 degrees Celsius per decade since 1979), the length of wildfire season has also increased by 18.7 percent around the world. Across nearly a quarter of the world’s vegetated areas, the length of fire season increased. Only 10 percent of vegetated areas saw a decrease in the length of fire season — Australia was the only vegetated continent that did not exhibit a significant increase in both fire season length and affected area.

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Over the last several decades, the report notes, the United States has seen a particularly marked increase in the frequency and duration of large wildfires, especially in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The report links this increase to earlier snowmelt, which creates drier conditions earlier in the summer. In general, the report found, areas with the greatest changes in local weather are the most likely to see changes in their wildfire season:

Our results extend these findings by demonstrating that areas with the most significant change in fire weather season length occur where not only temperature but also changes in humidity, length of rain-free intervals and wind speeds are most pronounced. In 2012, for example, longer-than-normal fire weather seasons across an unprecedented 47.4% of the vegetated area of the US culminated in a near-record setting ~3.8 MHa of burned area.

The tropical and subtropical forests of South America have also experienced what the report refers to as a “tremendous fire weather season length changes,” with a median 33 day increase over the last 35 years.

The average length of fire season, the report notes, does not perfectly equate with fire activity — even if the conditions are right for fires to occur, wildfires still need some sort of ignition spark and ample fuel. But the researchers warn that “if these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.”

GOLETA, CA - JULY 06:  U.S. Forest Service Hot Shots set a backfire to try to contain the Gap fire, officially the top priority fire in the state, on July 6, 2008 near Goleta, California. The 6,860-acre Gap fire is spreading across the chaparral-covered Santa Ynez Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, drawing closer to many houses that were rebuilt after the1990 Painted Cave fire destroyed 400 homes. An estimated 4,000 people have evacuated from about 1,700 homes in the path of the fire.  President Bush has declared a state of emergency for all of California in response to more than 1,400 fires that were mostly started by dry lightning storms crossing the state on June 20. More than 300 continue to burn. Making matters worse for the more than 19,000 firefighters from 42 states battling the California wildfires, drought is wicking moisture from the vegetation which leads fire experts to fear a possible repeat of the firestorms of 2003 and 2007 that destroyed thousands of homes in southern California.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

An increase in fire activity could impact everything from public health to the economy. When fires burn, they emit smoke that can travel hundreds of miles, impacting air quality and exposing residents in places removed from the direct dangers of wildfire to harmful particles that can exacerbate existing health conditions, especially in the very young and very old. Fighting wildfires is also expensive, costing the U.S. government an average of $1.13 billion a year in the last decade. As climate change exacerbates wildfires, one study estimates that fighting wildfires could cost as much as $62.5 billion annually by 2050.

An increase in wildfires can also lead to an increase in climate change. As wildfires last longer, and cover a greater area, more trees burn, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and turning some forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources. And as places like Alaska experience longer wildfire seasons, carbon-rich permafrost could melt more quickly, releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere.

Article from Climate Progress: Natasha Geiling

Ground to dust: fracking, silicosis and the politics of public health

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Silica dust is created through construction, mining and other industries that grind down rock, concrete, masonry and sand. Over-exposure to the dust causes an irreversible scarring of the lungs called silicosis. Approximately 2.2 million American workers are exposed to this hazard, and this contributed to the death of 1,437 Americans from silicosis between 2001 and 2010.

It also leads to other diseases. The U.K. Health and Safety Executive estimates that around 600 British people die each year from lung cancer associated with silica dust exposure.

Public health experts have long known about the dangers of airborne silica. In 1938, the U.S. Department of Labor created an informational video calling jackhammers “widow-makers” due to the harmful dust they create. In 1949, the U.K. significantly curtailed the use of sandblasting, and several other European countries followed suit .

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OSHA put silica on its regulatory agenda in 1997 under President Clinton. After many years, study after study and numerous bureaucratic delays, OSHA finally proposed a standard in 2013, and held extensive public hearings in 2014. OSHA estimates that the new standard will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once its full effects are realized.

But for some, eighteen years of study just isn’t enough. On June 25, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven successfully attached a provision to a government funding bill that would delay this standard becoming law.

That’s bad news for workers like Eddie Mallon, who worked as a sandhog for 44 years. He has silicosis, and he warns that larger drilling equipment creates more dust exposure for workers. “I am very concerned that the young workers coming into our business today will have more respiratory health problems than even we experienced unless these exposures are better controlled,” he testified at the 2014 hearings.

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So why would this particular senator care so much about silica dust? Silica sand is used in fracking, and public health experts are increasingly concerned about its impact on those who work in the industry.

Recent field studies conducted by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that nearly 80 percent of the samples it took at fracking sites showed unsafe levels of airborne silica.

And who are the top three contributors to this particular senator’s campaign coffers since 2009? Oil and gas company executives and political action committees. Murray Energy, NextEra Energy and Xcel Energy lead the list. All told, the oil and gas industry has given $334,387 to his campaign committee, while the mining industry kicked in with $196,756.

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Senator Hoeven is only the latest elected official to throw an obstacle in the path of an updated silica standard. The Obama administration delayed seeking comment on a proposed change for more than two years.

OSHA was on track to finalize a standard in 2016. But if the industry gets its way, it won’t be agreed next year, or the year after that. Politicians will continue to call for study after study. And people will continue to die or get sick.

No legislature should interfere in this way with science-based public health decisions. A law that has been repeatedly delayed at the cost of thousands of lives shouldn’t be held up any longer. The Obama administration should oppose the silica rider, and Congress should take it off the table.

An extract from Michael Halpern’s article: Michael Halpern (@halpsci) is manager of strategy and innovation for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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