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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #945 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, February 07, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

The G8 Plan of Action for Climate Change
The powerful "Group of 8," or G8, nations in 2005 endorsed a plan to avert global warming, and the plan is being executed now. Can it work?
Heeding Familiar Advice May Add Years To Your Life
To add 14 years to your life span (on average), simply exercise, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink alcohol if you want (but not too much), and avoid smoking.
Lawsuit Settlement Secures Lead-safe Housing Rules
"While these rules are not perfect, they are a big stride toward our national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning."
Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Precursors Tied To Diet Soda
"Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?"
Plastic Ingested, Study Finds
Hundreds of studies have shown that this chemical, found in baby bottles, can cause a host of maladies, including breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm counts and miscarriage in laboratory animals. The chemical has been detected in 93% of Americans tested.
Millions of 2-year Olds Exposed To Dangerous Levels of Rocket Fuel
A recent study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that three quarters of 285 commonly consumed foods and beverages are contaminated with perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient.
Eroding Dirt Could Have Long-term Implications
"The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture."


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #945
[Printer-friendly version]


When the leaders of the "Group of 8," or G8, nations held their 31st annual summit in July 2005 at Gleneagles, Scotland, their top agenda item was a "Plan of Action" for climate change. (The Group of 8 is an exclusive club that includes only Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.)

At the Gleaneagles summit, the G8 nations committed themselves to a "Plan of Action -- Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development." Paragraph 14 of the G8 Plan says, "We will work to accelerate the development and commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage technology." These 15 words unleashed a torrent of global investment, which rapidly created an infrastructure devoted to "carbon capture and storage," or CCS as it is now known.

The idea behind CCS is that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main global-warming gas and to keep the planet from warming to dangerous levels, there are two basic approaches:

1. Prevention: Don't make so much CO2. Or,

2. End-of-pipe filters and traps: Continue making CO2 but capture it, and somehow keep it out of the atmosphere forever. This is CCS, also known as "clean coal."

The point of "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) is to continue making CO2 gas but capture it, convert it into a liquid by pressurizing it to at least 1500 pounds per square inch, transport it to a suitable location (by pipeline or ship), and then inject it under pressure into the ground, hoping it will stay there forever.

The G8 Plan of Action contains many other commitments besides CCS (green buildings, cleaner cars, etc.), but CCS was the one that the world's dominant energy corporations (coal and oil) embraced enthusiastically. Instead of investing in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to carbon-free (and nuclear-free) sources of energy (basically solar power in its many forms, plus geothermal and tidal power), the G8 CCS Plan allows the coal and oil industries to extract fossil fuels until there are no more fossil fuels left to extract, process them (by burning, gasifying, or liquefying them), and bury the resultant trillions of metric tonnes of hazardous CO2 wastes deep in the ground, hoping it will all stay there forever. (A metric tonne = 1000 kilograms = 2200 pounds.)

The G8 CCS Plan is by far the largest hazardous waste disposal project ever envisioned (and this assessment does not include the 117 million metric tonnes of solid hazardous coal combustion wastes [CCW] produced each year by the U.S. coal industry,[1] or the major ecological disruption created by coal mining, mountain-top removal, acid mine drainage, and so on).

The International Energy Agency estimates that, to make a dent in the global warming problem, we will need 6000 CCS projects, each injecting a million tonnes of CO2 a year into the ground.[2] And this will be just a beginning -- to bury 10 trillion tonnes of CO2 during the next 150 years would require 67,000 projects each injecting into the ground a million tonnes of hazardous CO2 each year.

The main purpose of such a Herculean hazardous waste disposal project would be to allow the coal and oil industries to continue to gain outsized returns on their historical investments without having to worry about any new fangled renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal, or tidal power. If CCS gets going on the scale envisioned in the G8's global "Plan of Action," renewables will not be needed.

In sum, CCS provides a "get out of jail free" card for the coal and oil corporations for at least the next century -- and throws a major monkey wrench into their competitors' plans to attract investment for renewable energy.

Is CCS a good idea?

Here are 20 reasons why it may not be:

1. CCS will eliminate incentives for renewable energy

As noted above, CCS will eliminate incentives to develop renewable sources of energy. Every dollar spent on "clean coal" is a dollar that cannot be spent developing renewables. CCS will pull the investment rug out from under renewable energy. Indeed, that is the main point of CCS.

2. CCS will undermine progress toward Green Chemistry

As coal executives remind us (4 Mbyte PDF), global oil production peaked in 2005 and has begun to decline. They say the future belongs to coal because from now on it's downhill for oil production, and this means oil prices will be more-or-less-steadily rising. Here, coal executives see coal coming to the rescue. Using well-developed technologies that powered the Nazi blitzkrieg during World War II, coal can be turned into liquid fuels for transportation. Furthermore, coal could also replace oil as the main feed stock for the chemical industry. Using coal in this way produces roughly twice as much waste CO2 as burning it to make electricity, but with CCS, who cares? Under the G8 Plan, it will all be buried a mile below ground, out of sight and very likely out of mind.

Using coal as a chemical feedstock violates one of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry -- that feedstocks should come from renewable, not depleting, resources. By violating this basic principle, the CCS Plan will set back green chemistry by many decades and divert investment away from a waste-free, sustainable chemical industry.

3. CCS will create a perpetual threat of leakage

Leakage from underground sites will remain a perpetual threat, a major concern for all civilizations, a sword of Damocles hanging over the future.

The size of the CCS CO2 hazardous waste disposal problem is staggeringly large. If 80% of the world's remaining coal were burned, at least 10 trillion tons of CO2 would be created. (If some of it were converted into liquid fuels or chemical feedstocks, the waste CO2 produced would be even larger.) Ten trillion tons of CO2 represents 10 times as much CO2 as was emitted worldwide during the entire 20th century.[3] Anything more than the most trivial leakage could cause dangerous -- even catastrophic -- global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out that leakage and fugitive emissions can be expected from all five parts of a CCS the system -- (1) capture; (2) pressurization and liquefaction; (3) transport; (4) injection; and (5) perpetual storage.

If even a tenth of a percent of the CO2 were to leak from the system annually, the resultant buildup of global-warming gas in the atmosphere would reach dangerous levels, plausibly ruining the Earth as a place suitable for human habitation. At best, "clean coal" with CCS is a "monstrous gamble"[4] with the future of planet Earth and all its inhabitants.

4. Ethically, do we have a right to threaten the future?

A related question arises: Given that relatively benign and safe alternatives exist, is it ethical for us to saddle all future humans with a sword of Damocles consisting of billions or trillions of tonnes of hazardous waste CO2 buried in the ground? What legal and ethical authorities can we cite to justify such unprecedented -- and deeply antisocial -- behavior?

5. Perpetual storage of waste is beyond all human experience

CO2 will have to remain buried underground forever. Humans have no experience engineering anything intended to last forever. Engineering projects expected to last "in perpetuity" fall in a realm beyond all human experience. How can we develop confidence that engineers can design systems that are robust and error-free that will endure in perpetuity? How can we ever settle the question, "What if the 'clean coal' engineers are wrong?"

Is it plausible that the world's engineering community could make a colossal error?

In 2005, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report (24 Mbyte PDF) devoted to the subject of carbon capture and storage. In it, this blue-ribbon body of leading scientists and engineers described pumping CO2 into the oceans, creating a "lake" of CO2 on the ocean floor. Clearly, the IPCC considered ocean disposal a viable option.

That was in 2005. Less than three years later, we know that ocean disposal of CO2 would be a catastrophic error because it would lower the pH of the oceans, severly disrupting the marine food web.[5]

Yes, even the combined knowledge and judgment of the world's elite Nobel-prize-winning scientists and engineers can be catastrophically wrong. Given that there are excellent, available alternatives to CCS, why should we accept this monstrous gamble?

To cite but two other examples of colossal errors by the world's most sophisticated technical elites:

** It is fundamental to bench chemistry that if you are aiming to manufacture a novel compound, you choose a suitable container in advance. Every chemistry freshman knows this. Nevertheless, the world's atomic scientists pressed ahead with world-wide deployment of the civilian nuclear reactor system without ever answering the question, how will the radioactive wastes be contained? Sixty years into the enterprise they still have not reached consensus on a satisfactory answer.

** During the 18 years 1945-1963, U.S. nuclear weapons scientists and engineers conducted 331 nuclear bomb tests in the atmosphere, assuming all the while that the potent radioactive elements Strontium-90 and Cesium-37 had no pathway to enter the bodies of humans. These scientists knew that strontium-90, in particular, mimics calcium and can settle in the bones -- but they reasoned that cow bone fragments made up such a small fraction of typical hamburger meat that the hazard to average Americans was negligible. It simply escaped their notice that calcium-rich cow's milk, contaminated with stronium-90, was routinely being fed to almost all U.S. children in large quantities. Eventually a survey of children's baby teeth, by independent scientists, revealed that radioactivity was building up in children, and above-ground nuclear tests were banned. (Barry Commoner documented this astonishing lapse in his early book, Science and Survival.)

History reminds us that we have good reason to be exceedingly skeptical of technical elites who assure us that the monstrous gamble they are pressing us to take is "perfectly safe" (as the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] likes to call it) for our children and for our children's children, and for their children... for the next 5000 years.

6. Successful perpetual storage can never be demonstrated

Given that the goal is perpetual storage of CO2, no experimental burial program can provide proof of success. On whatever day "success" is proclaimed, leakage could always occur the next day.

The plan is to compress CO2 into a liquid and then pump it a mile or so into the deep earth through boreholes or wells drilled for the purpose. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory surveyed some known instances of natural and industrial releases of CO2 from underground storage reservoirs and published their results in 2007. They concluded that, "Wells that are improperly constructed or abandoned, and have become structurally unsound over time, have the potential to rapidly release large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere."[6] How will anyone know when a particular well is becoming structurally unsound as time passes -- until leakage is detected (which assumes someone is monitoring and paying careful attention).

It is simply not possible to make a short-term "demonstration" of successful perpetual storage of CO2 in the ground. Any such program can legitimately demonstrate "failure" (if leakage is detected), or it can be legitimately labeled "inconclusive" so long as no failure has been detected. But it can never be legitimately labeled "successful" because it could always start leaking the day after "success" is declared. (Recall the anecdote of the man who jumped off the skyscraper and declaimed, as he fell past the 20th floor, "So far so good.")

7. CO2 underground may move in ways that are poorly understood

Liquified CO2 will be pumped under pressure a mile or more underground, in many instances intentionally injecting it into water-bearing strata of rock where it will form carbonic acid with a pH as low as 3, which can leach rock and metals. The CO2 will also be buoyant, tending to rise back toward the surface of the earth. It will also be under great pressure, tending to squirt wherever it finds a suitable pathway. For these reasons, it will have a tendency to move. Once CO2 is buried, its whereabouts will never be precisely known unless the site has been thoroughly characterized beforehand. Because of this, it will not be entirely clear where to monitor for leakage.

Although the petroleum industry has developed some remote sensing techniques, they are not 100% reliable. Detail is missing. The only way to be sure about the nature of an underground site is to bore into it repeatedly and examine samples. Unfortunately, every borehole creates a new pathway for eventual leakage, ruining the natural integrity of the site. It's a catch-22: you can have a well-characterized site that has lost its natural integrity, or you can have a site that retains its integrity but is not fully understood. Either way, the fateful decision to pump billions or trillions of tonnes of acid-forming, pressurized liquid CO2 into the deep earth will remain a monstrous gamble.

8. Humans may inadvertently disrupt underground CO2 sites

Future generations will face resource shortages of the kind we ourselves are now experiencing, only theirs will very likely grow more acute as mineral deposits, fossil fuels, and water supplies become ever scarcer. Future generations will no doubt explore the subsurface of the earth looking for useful minerals -- leftover metals, potash, coal, oil, natural gas and perhaps water, as we ourselves have done with great diligence for the past 110 years. How will we warn future humans against drilling into the thousands of CO2 storage sites we are planning to create, potentially releasing large quantities of global-warming gases?

9. Humans have no experience monitoring dangers in perpetuity

After large quantities of CO2 have been buried, humans will need to monitor each site in perpetuity -- again, something humans have no experience doing. Even if we define perpetuity the way it was defined for the Futuregen project -- a mere 5000 years -- that's still 200 generations of humans.[7] How does one generation reliably pass along to 200 subsequent generations the knowledge of what hazardous waste was buried where?

Over a 5000 year period, civilizations will come and go. Technologies will change drastically, including record-keeping technologies. (Many computerized storage devices in common use just 20 years ago are no longer readable by contemporary machines.) Natural catastrophes (earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, etc.) occur regularly, as do wars, revolutions, mass migrations, and political and social turmoil of various kinds and degrees. During all such events, buildings can be destroyed, people displaced, bureaucratic hierarchies destabiliized, social and political order compromised, old priorities and problems displaced by more pressing new ones -- resulting in records lost, discarded, abandoned, or destroyed. How can we assure that future humans will know of the dangers we have left buried for them to manage at thousands of sites across the globe?

This raises a related question: why did the U.S. Department of Energy's Futuregen "clean coal" CCS project in Illinois (now canceled) limit its time-horizon to only 5000 years? After all, the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste project proposed by the same U.S. Department of Energy has set its safety time-horizon at one million years. At Yucca Mountain, the goal is to build a geologic barrier that has an excellent chance of not releasing radioactivity for a million years. Why should a CO2 storage program be held to a lesser standard -- especially since large amounts of CO2 are arguably a greater hazard to the future of the planet than modest amounts of radioactive waste?

10. How will humans remain alert for thousands of years?

A separate though related problem is how to assure that future generations will take their monitoring responsibilities seriously for the duration of the hazard. As time passes and nothing happens, humans tend to lose interest in a problem and turn their attention and resources elsewhere. This seems natural. In truth, any plan for perpetual storage and monitoring of CO2 runs counter to everything experience tells us about humans as vigilant, competent managers. If a site is monitored for, say, 200 years with no leakage detected, how will humans be persuaded to remain vigilant, perpetually maintaining a complex monitoring system?

The subsurface of the earth -- particularly a subsurface that has had millions of tons of corrosive, pressurized liquid pumped into it -- will not necessarily remain static. Who can say that a leak will not develop in year 201, or in year 4001? Constant vigilance will be essential, but such vigilance runs counter to human nature. How can these conflicting realities be satisfactorily resolved to protect the future against the great hazards we are creating for them?

11. Leakage through fractures or faults cannot be sealed off

If leakage occurs, even if it is detected, how can it be stopped? If the leakage is occurring through a borehole AND it is detected, plugging the leak seems possible. But what if the leakage occurs through a geologic fracture or fault that was not initially detected? How does one seal an underground fracture or fault?

Can we avoid siting CO2 storage sites near fractures or faults? We would do well to recall the Japanese nuclear reactors, which, we discovered in 2007, were built on undetected geologic faults that in fact gave rise to earthquakes, which damaged the reactors, spilling radioactivity. Japan is one of the most technically sophisticated nations in the world, yet they could not manage to avoid these egregious engineering errors.

12. Future civilizations may not have the capabilities we have

What assumptions do we have a right to make about the nature of future human societies? Will the future always be like the present? Will present-day institutions survive, or is it conceivable that the future will take on some of the features depicted in dystopias like "Mad Max," "Blade Runner," and "Escape from New York"? Could social chaos engulf the planet as resources dwindle? In sum, what are the prudent (and ethical) assumptions for us to make about the political, technical, and social capabilities of future civilizations?

13. The people engaged in CCS projects have a dubious history

Do the coal and power industries have a respectable record of compliance with mining laws, with mine reclamation laws, with health and safety regulations, and with environmental regulations? If we look at communities that have been dominated by these industries, what sorts of communities do we find them to be? After the mines peter out and the corporations move on, what sort of legacy do they leave behind? There is a historical record here that can be examined to tell us what sorts of people we will be dealing with in the CO2 burial industry. Can they be trusted? If you were intending to choose a group of people to protect the future of the human race, are these the people you would elect?

And what of the regulatory agencies themselves, charged with oversight of exploration for minerals, oil, and gas, and in charge of mining enforcement? Are they model agencies, or are have they shown themselves to be corrupt, venal, deceitful and ineffective? Do they aggressively protect the public interest, or do they tend to protect the industry they are charged with regulating? This, too, is a question that can be answered with empirical evidence from the historical record. Are these the people we want to designate as guardians of our future?

Here is some of the history for all to read:

Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History (Penguin, 2004)

Erik Reese, Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness (Riverhead Books, 2006)

K. Ross Toole, The Rape of the Great Plains: Northwestern America, Cattle and Coal (Little Brown and Company, 1976)

14. So far, no one is arranging for the polluter to pay

The United States is committed to the principle that the polluter should pay, which is fair and entirely consistent with free market ideology. Yet the coal and electic utilities are urging that they retain legal liability for their hazardous waste CO2 burial sites for only 10 years. After that, they want the public to accept legal liability for whatever damage their projects may cause in the future. If these corporate executives have so much confidence that their hazardous waste burial sites will remain safe for at least 5000 years, why are they unwilling to retain liability for the duration?

Given that these corporations are trying to evade liability for their actions, we could invoke an excellent solution first proposed by economist Robert Costanza -- a performance bond. Performance bonds are common today for construction projects. Here's how it works: Government develops a worst-case scenario[8] for a CO2 burial project, and calculates reasonable costs; the CO2 burial firms then post a performance bond large enough to cover the worst-case costs. The government holds the bond until the end of the project (whether it be 5000 years in the future or a million years in the future, or somewhere in between) at which time the corporations get their performance bond back with interest (assuming no problems have occurred). In the meantime, the bond fund is available to pay for long-term monitoring, maintenance, remediation, and, if needed, compensation for damages. If the CO2 burial industry and its financial backers have confidence in CCS technologies, they should willingly post such a performance bond, which is now common practice for construction projects. If they are unwilling to post such a bond, we should take it as a clear sign that they lack confidence in their own CCS Plan and are knowingly engaged in a monstrous gamble with the future of the planet.

15. Dangerous CO2 burial raises environmental justice concerns

CO2 burial does entail some serious risks of acute harm. CO2 is heavier than air and when the rare large CO2 release occurs, oxygen can be excluded from large areas, killing all living things for many miles around.[6] Therefore, as with all hazardous waste facilities, siting has the potential to create environmental injustices. For example, the Sasol Corporation in South Africa has proposed to bury CO2 in neighboring Botswana -- but the people of Botswana are wondering, why they have been chosen as a dump for hazardous waste CO2?[9] No environmental justice standards and regulations been developed to deal with the host of unique new problems posed by capture, transport and burial of pressurized liquid CO2. Coal companies have not acknowledged the potential for environmental injustices and, in concert with environmental justice advocates, developed a plan to avoid further harm to communities that are already burdened or vulnerable.

16. Large centralized energy plants threaten national security

Coal power plants, like nuclear plants, are large and highly-centralized and therefore subject to major disruptions. When something goes wrong at one of these plants, a cascade effect can turn off the lights for tens of millions of people, as happened in the U.S. in 1965, 1977, and 2003. In the present day, large centralized power plants pose a serious threat to national security. A modern "smart grid" linking many small, renewable power sources can be made much more robust, far less subject to interruption, whether mischievous or accidental. A robust, distributed electrical grid is essential for the sustainability of our civilization. This requires us to eliminate large coal and nuclear power plants. (See Amory and Hunter Lovins, Brittle Power (1982).)

17. Large centralized energy plants undermine democracy

A decentralized national power system is suited to community-level control, which is is appropriate for a nation that prides itself on its commitment to democracy. Very large centralized power plants (and power companies) -- whether coal or nuclear -- are inconsistent with (and corrosive of) our democratic principles. Municipal-scale (or smaller) power generation is consistent with democracy and best for national security. (It is worth noting that E. F. Schumacher, author of the 1973 collection of essays, Small is Beautiful, developed his ideas during his 20 years as chief economic advisor to the National Coal Board in the U.K.)

18. CCS is a waste of both money and energy

CCS is a waste of both money and energy. CCS will increase the power needs of a typical coal plant by 10% to 40% -- meaning that 10% to 40% more coal must be mined, transported, and burned, producing 10% to 40% more wastes that must be managed. The destructive effects of coal mining are legion. Mine wastes present enormous long-term problems for current and future generations, and these costs are typically "externalized" -- meaning passed along to the public and to our children. Is this fair, especially given that it is unnecessary?

19. CCS wastes water, doubling the water needs of coal plants

Coal gasification with carbon capture increases the water requirements of coal plants by 90% -- almost double. In a world already plagued by water shortages that are serious and growing, water can no longer be taken for granted. Water conservation and efficient use of water will be part of any truly sustainable civilization. Given that coal gasification with CCS wastes water, and gasification with CCS is not necessary, how can we justify investment in these wasteful technologies?

20. CCS must be heavily subsidized

The coal and electric power industries are unwilling to fully invest in these technologies, in which they claim to have complete faith. They say they need multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies, legal limits on liabilities, and guarantees on loans before they will be willing to proceed. (Illinois has already passed a law limiting the liability of the Futuregen "clean coal" project's industrial partners.)

What the CCS industry is really banking on is a "cap and trade" program whereby they can be paid for avoiding the discharge of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Given that there are alternatives for generating electricity that involve far smaller CO2 emissions, no coal combustion wastes, and far smaller amounts of mine waste, why should we pay the "clean coal" industry to burn coal and bury hazardous waste CO2 in the ground? We could invest those same funds in renewable energy and avoid the hazardous CO2 waste problem entirely.

* * *

This does not exhaust the list of problems that come to mind when the coal and electric power industries consider burying billions or trillions of tonnes of hazardous waste liquid CO2 a mile below ground all across the planet.

So "clean coal" faces us with a choice: we can bury enormous tonnages of dangerous waste CO2 underground all around the planet at great expense to maintain our commitment to 19th century technologies and political forms, and in the bargain saddle future generations with a perpetual threat and fear of catastrophic global warming. Or we can promote renewable energy across the globe -- solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal, spearheaded by a primary emphasis on energy conservation and efficiency -- thereby creating millions of green jobs and restoring America's economic, industrial, and ethical leadership.

Which path seems best to you?


[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, Coal Combustion Waste Management at Landfills and Surface Impoundments, 1994-2004 [DOE/PI-0004 ANL-EVS/06-4]] (Oak Ridge, Tennessee: U.S. Department of Energy, no date [2006?]. Table 21, pg. 43. Available at http://www.osti.gov/bridge.

[2] International Energy Agency, Near-term Opportunities for carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage; Global Assessments Workshop in Support of the G8 Plan of Action (Paris, France: International Energy Agency, 2007), pg. 7. Available at http://www.precaution.org/lib/iea_global_assessments_wkshop.070601.pdf

[3] According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), global carbon emissions during the 20th century totaled 267 billion metric tonnes (267E9 tonnes); to convert carbon to carbon dioxide, multiply by 44/12. So 267E9*(44/12) = 979E9 tonnes of CO2 released during the 20th century. There are an estimated 3510 billon tonnes of carbon in remaining coal reserves, worldwide; if this were all burned it would yield 3510E9*(44/12) = 12.87 trillion (12.87E12) tonnes of CO2. So burning 80% of remaining coal would yield roughly 10 trillion tonnes of CO2, which is 10 times total 20th century CO2 emissions. The estimate of total global coal reserves is from P. Falkowski and others, "The Global Carbon Cycle: A Test of Our Knowledge of Earth as a System (Science, Vol. 290, Oct. 13, 2000, pg. 291-296).

[4] The apt phrase "monstrous gamble" to describe CCS originated with Robert M. Sargent of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

[5] See, for example, "Whatever Happened to Deep Ocean Storage?" Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 115, No. 11 (November 2007), pg. A545.

[6] Jennifer L. Lewicki, Jens Birkholzer, and Chin-Fu Tsang, "Natural and industrial analogues for leakage of CO2 from storage reservoirs: identification of features, events, and processes and lessons learned," Environmental Geology Vol. 52, No. 3 (April, 2007), pgs. 457-467.

[7] Anonymous. Final Risk Assessment Report for the Futuregen Project Environmental Impact Assessment (No place of publication: No publisher, October, 2007). (8 Mbytes PDF)

[8] The U.S. has ample experience conducting worst-case analyses because the President's Council on Environmental Quality required worst case analysis in its 1977 regulations governing the preparation of environmental impact statements. See Council on Environmental Quality, "Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]," reprinted as Appendix F in Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality-1979 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979), pgs. 760-794. The discussion of worst case analysis, as a way of dealing with uncertainty, is found in Section 1502.22. These regulations appeared in final form in the Federal Register Vol. 43 (1978), pg. 55987 and following pages. These regulations were revised during the Reagan presidency in 1986, removing the requirement for worst case analysis.

[9] "Botswana reluctant about Sasol CCS plant," Carbon Capture Journal Vol. 1 (Jan/Feb, 2008), pg. 27. [2 Mbytes PDF]

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From: The New York Times (pg. F6)
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By Nicholas Bakalar

The advice is as sound as it is familiar: avoid smoking, exercise, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink alcohol if you want (but not too much). Now researchers have figured out exactly how many years these habits will add to your life.

An 11-year study, published Jan. 8 in PLoS Medicine, began with interviews of more than 25,000 men and women ages 45 to 79 in the English county of Norfolk. The researchers gathered information on health and illness, smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity both in manual work and at leisure. The participants also had physical exams and blood tests to determine vitamin C levels as evidence of fruit and vegetable consumption.

Using this data, the researchers built a simple 0-to-4 scale that indicated how many of the four behaviors each person habitually engaged in -- one point each for not smoking, exercising, drinking moderately and eating the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables.

The trend was unmistakable: with each added positive behavior, people lived longer. Those who scored 4 had about one-quarter the risk of dying of those who received a 0 -- equivalent to living an additional 14 years. The trend was strongest for cardiovascular disease and cancer, but also significant for other causes.

"We're not talking about extremes of behavior," said Dr. Kay-Tee Khaw, the lead author and a professor of gerontology at the University of Cambridge, "but easy behaviors that most people can achieve."

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From: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
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Washington, DC -- In a move with major public health impact, the Bush administration has promised to finalize rules requiring that repairs and renovations in pre-1978 housing and child-care facilities are done in a lead-safe manner, according to a legal settlement reached with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). When fully implemented, the lead-safe standards will close the principal pathway by which children in millions of homes across the U.S. are exposed to lead dust.

Dust thrown up in renovation and repair of older residences permeates carpeting, ductwork and soil, so that children breathe the dust for months. In cities with older housing bases, such as St. Louis and New York, an alarming percentage of children suffer from elevated blood lead levels. In Chicago, for example, more than 20% of children under age five have blood levels above those associated with harmful health effects, such as mental retardation, stunted growth and premature death.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates obtained by PEER -

** Each year, 1.4 million children under age seven are at risk of lead exposure due to unsafe repair and renovations;

** The vast majority of an estimated 20 to 30 million older-home repair projects each year are done without lead-safe cleanup and contamination practices; and

** Lead-safe repair rules will create a net benefit of between $2.7 and $4.1 billion annually by preventing illnesses, disability and premature death.

"By their scope, these rules will not only be one of the largest public health regulatory endeavors of the Bush administration but it will also be one of the most cost beneficial," stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who negotiated the settlement. "Needlessly exposing millions of our children to lead dust is a national tragedy."

By law, EPA was supposed to adopt lead-safe regulations for repairs and renovations in older housing by October 28, 1996. Up until 2005, EPA claimed that, while tardy, it was still working to develop rules.

That year, however, PEER discovered the EPA public statements were false because the agency had made a secret decision to abandon the rules altogether. PEER filed suit against EPA in December 2005. Facing the PEER suit and political pressure led by Senators Barack Obama (D- IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), EPA finally proposed lead repair and renovation rules in January 2006 but has yet to act.

In its settlement with PEER, EPA committed to impose lead training, certification, and lead-safe work practice requirements for contractors on all pre-1978 single- and multiple-unit dwellings. In addition, the agency agreed to cover day-care centers and other child- occupied buildings that were omitted from its original proposal. These rules would become final by March 31, 2008, subject to possible extensions that could not go beyond July 31, 2008.

"While these rules are not perfect, they are a big stride toward our national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning," Dinerstein added.

A joint stipulation based upon the settlement resolving the suit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Joining PEER in filing suit was a coalition of community and public health groups: the Maine Lead Action Project, The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association (Olney, MD), Improving Kids' Environment (Indianapolis), Project 504 (Minneapolis), Group 14621 Community Association, Inc. (Rochester), Organization of the New Eastside (Indianapolis), and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (Cleveland).


Read the settlement

See the soon-to-be-finalized lead-safe repair and renovation rules

Look at the PEER lawsuit

Track the developments leading to the settlement

Contact PEER Ph: (202) 265-7337 o Fax: (202) 265-4192 o email: info@peer.org

Copyright peer.org 2008

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From: The New York Times (Science Section pg. 9)
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By Nicholas Bakalar

Researchers have found a correlation between drinking diet soda and metabolic syndrome -- the collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes that include abdominal obesity, high cholesterol and blood glucose levels -- and elevated blood pressure.

The scientists gathered dietary information on more than 9,500 men and women ages 45 to 64 and tracked their health for nine years.

Over all, a Western dietary pattern -- high intakes of refined grains, fried foods and red meat -- was associated with an 18 percent increased risk for metabolic syndrome, while a "prudent" diet dominated by fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry correlated with neither an increased nor a decreased risk.

But the one-third who ate the most fried food increased their risk by 25 percent compared with the one-third who ate the least, and surprisingly, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome was 34 percent higher among those who drank one can of diet soda a day compared with those who drank none.

"This is interesting," said Lyn M. Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper, which was posted online in the journal Circulation on Jan. 22. "Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?"

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From: Milwaukee (Wisc.) Journal Sentinel
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By Susanne Rust

Scientists furious at conclusions reached by a federal panel charged with assessing the safety of a common household chemical have retaliated. And they're using science as their weapon.

In a paper released online this month in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, a team of researchers at the University of Missouri published a study that strikes at the core of the panel's findings on bisphenol A, a chemical found in baby bottles and the linings of food cans.

The researchers have shown that the panel's decision to disregard dozens of studies in which animals were exposed to the chemical via injections, instead of through the mouth or stomach, was specious. And they are calling on the government to re-evaluate, or dismiss, the panel's conclusions.

In November, the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction released a report on bisphenol A that minimized concern about the chemical after reviewing more than 700 studies published over the past 30 years.

Hundreds of studies have shown that this chemical can cause a host of maladies, including breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm counts and miscarriage in laboratory animals. The chemical has been detected in 93% of Americans tested.

In December, the Journal Sentinel found that the panel's report, written by 12 scientists appointed by the National Institute of Environment Sciences, gave more weight to industry-funded studies and more leeway to industry-funded researchers. The newspaper found that the panel missed dozens of studies publicly available that the newspaper found online using a medical research Internet search engine.

This latest research exposes one of the major criticisms raised against the panel -- namely, the decision to throw away, or give only marginal weight, to studies in which animals were injected with bisphenol A, as opposed to getting it through the mouth or stomach.

The panel wrote that because people are most likely exposed to bisphenol A by the mouth, when it leaches into canned foods or liquids consumed in clear plastic bottles, it's the only relevant way to expose animals.

It also cited research showing that when adult animals and people ingest bisphenol A, enzymes in the liver make the chemical inactive.

However, when adult animals are injected with the chemical, this route is bypassed, and they show much higher concentrations.

Some studies ignored This decision caused the panel to consider more than 40 government and academic studies as inadequate, or of only limited value.

One of these papers, published in 2003 and funded by the Japanese government, found that bisphenol A could disrupt the development of female reproductive organs in mice that were exposed in utero. The panel considered it of only limited value, because the mother mice were injected with the chemical.

Another study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, showed that mice exposed in utero had a higher propensity to have prostate lesions than animals that were not exposed. Again, this study was considered of only limited value because the animals were not exposed orally.

In response, Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a vocal critic of the panel, decided to test the panel's assumption.

"Their decision was absurd," he said.

"First of all, fetuses don't eat," he said. "Anything in maternal blood will freely cross the placenta. And unless the chemical is immediately cleared out of the mother's system, which it isn't, that blood will go immediately to the baby."

In addition, fetuses and newborns lack, or express at low levels, the liver enzyme that deactivates the chemical.

"This is not news," said vom Saal. "Pediatricians will tell you, babies are not little adults. They do not process chemicals the same way adults do."

To demonstrate this, vom Saal and fellow researchers Wade Welshons and Juliet Taylor exposed 3-day-old female mice to bisphenol A. They separated the mice into four groups.

Two groups were exposed to the chemical through the mouth -- one group received a high dose, the other a low dose. Two other groups received injections -- again, one high and one low.

Animals were killed at intervals over the next 24 hours, and concentrations of bisphenol A in the blood were measured.

The team found no difference between animals that had received the chemical orally or via injection.

"It wasn't just that there was no difference," said vom Saal. "It was exactly the same."

Vom Saal said that both people and rodents have this particular enzyme, and in both cases, fetuses and newborns do not express it at the same level as adults.

This new research has the potential to upset the panel's findings, said Gail Prins, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has been critical of the panel's report.

The bottom line She said that what really matters in these studies is the concentration of biologically active bisphenol A in the blood, irrespective of how it got there. Animals should have concentrations that are similar to what is found in people, because that is what is relevant in these studies.

However, Robert Chapin, the chairman of the panel, and an executive at Pfizer, said the new research "stands in contrast to a number of other studies that show the opposite." He said it was those other studies that "led us to the logical conclusion we reached."

When asked to supply the citations for those studies, he said he could not remember them offhand. He also said that if other scientists could replicate vom Saal's work "and provide a rational explanation for the sudden shift," the panel would reconvene and reconsider its position.

Prins said her lab will take up that challenge immediately.

The Journal Sentinel reviewed the panel's report and found several studies that showed differences between oral and non-oral exposures in adult animals, but none that looked at newborns.

When asked to respond to the Missouri study, L. Earl Gray Jr., an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist and a member of the panel, forwarded a study funded by the American Plastics Society. He said the study, which was reviewed by the panel, suggested that newborn mice have enough of the liver enzyme to deactivate bisphenol A at low doses.

However, the authors of the study, who were from Dow Chemical, reported that 4-day-old mice had a 10- to 18-fold higher concentration of biologically active bisphenol A in their blood than adults -- a finding that vom Saal and Prins say supports their contention.

"They had this information right there," said Prins. "Yet, they ignored it."

Michael Shelby, director of the government agency that selected the panel to evaluate bisphenol A, said his program will take all public comments and new publications into consideration before preparing the National Toxicology Program's final report on the chemical.

The Toxicology Program will use the panel's report, as well as other research, as a guide for its own final report on bisphenol A.

"We recognize that there are concerns about the issue of route of exposure," he said, "and we will give careful consideration to all the scientific evidence available to us on this issue."

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From: Common Dreams Newscenter
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WASHINGTON -- A recent study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that three quarters of 285 commonly consumed foods and beverages are contaminated with perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient. According to the study, every day, the average two-year- old is exposed to more than half of the EPA 'safe' dose (RfD) of perchlorate from food alone. This is bad news for children in communities in 28 states who also are exposed to perchlorate through contaminated tap water. Very low levels of perchlorate in tap water will cause the average two year old to exceed EPA's safe exposure level.

Two-year-olds are particularly vulnerable because they eat and drink substantial amounts of food and water relative to their small size. An Environmental Working Group analysis of FDA data found that perchlorate levels as low as 4 parts per billion (ppb) in tap water could expose the average two-year-old to an unsafe dose of the rocket fuel contaminant every single day.

FDA's finding of high food exposures for small children makes clean up of perchlorate-contaminated water imperative. Perchlorate in tap water can be controlled through filtration and clean up. Perchlorate in food is harder to manage because the source of contamination is not clear, although contaminated irrigation water is one known source where levels could be reduced.

'Every final or proposed water standard for perchlorate fails to provide adequate protection for children,' said Dr. Anila Jacob, MD, a senior scientist at EWG. 'An average two-year-old drinking water with 4 ppb perchlorate will exceed the EPA's safe dose. New Jersey has set a standard at 5 ppb, California is at 6 ppb, and the EPA has issued a clean up standard of 24 ppb, nowhere near a level protective of children.'

Not only do children have higher exposures to perchlorate when compared with adults, they are also particularly susceptible to its adverse effects. Perchlorate acts by inhibiting the thyroid gland from taking up iodine from the circulation. Since iodine is the building block for thyroid hormone, perchlorate exposure can result in decreased thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. Adequate circulating levels of thyroid hormones are critical to maintaining normal growth and brain development during childhood.

'Pervasive perchlorate contamination of food underscores the need for a tough national drinking water standard to protect children. We need to take every action we can to minimize perchlorate exposures, and tough tap water standards are the logical first step. If we fail to act, we will needlessly expose millions of children to dangerous levels of this potent toxic compound,' said Dr. Anila Jacob, MD -- a Senior Scientist with EWG.

A recent report from the US Government Accountability Office finds that 28 states have communities in which perchlorate contaminates drinking water supplies at levels of 4 ppb or higher.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group's analysis of the FDA study is available online at http://www.ewg.org/node/25875

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From: Greenwire
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While most environmentalists are concerned with the climate change happening above their heads, others say the eroding soil under their feet is just as important.

Most of the planet is covered by just over 3 feet of the topsoil that provides most plants with the nutrients that help sustain life on Earth. But erosion is claiming more and more of that soil every day.

The National Academy of Sciences believes that domestic croplands are being eroded at least 10 times the rate it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

"We're losing more and more of it every day," said David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington. "The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture."

Montgomery said topsoil can take hundreds of years to grow only an inch or two, meaning it could take centuries to recover from the effects of long-term erosion.

The United Nations has linked soil erosion in sub-Saharan Africa to rapidly increasing numbers of malnourished peoples.

To counter the erosion, some farmers and utilizing "no-till" methods that cut down on erosion, and others have advocated for organic farming methods to reduce soil loss (Tom Paulson, Seattle Post- Intelligencer, Jan. 22).

Copyright 1996-2007 E&E Publishing, LLC

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