Sources: New York Times, Associated Press
The Environmental Protection Agency has connected contamination in drinking water to hydraulic fracturing. In a study released on December 8, the EPA reported that high levels of chemicals commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid such as benzene, synthetic glycol, and alcohol were detected in ground water in Pavillion, Wyoming. Three years ago, people on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Pavillion contacted the EPA to complain that their water had a bad taste and smell. When the agency began sampling drinking water wells in 2009, it found low levels of methane and other hydrocarbons. Concerned that higher concentrations might be elsewhere in the aquifer, the agency drilled two wells and discovered lots of chemicals far higher than safe drinking water standards. The EPA continues to investigate the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing in a recently launched nationwide study.
Sources: National Public Radio, Watershed Post
According to the updated USDA National Farmers’ Market Directory, the number of winter farmers’ markets increased 38 percent from last year. New York is the top state for farmers’ market activity happening between November and March. Hoop house technology has allowed smaller growers to extend their production season into colder climates at low cost. Winter farmers’ markets are beneficial to producers who need income for their farms and families, and for consumers who want to buy fresh locally grown food throughout the year.
Sources: USDA, Hudson Valley Food Network
The owners of Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, Alpha Natural Resources, will reportedly pay more that $200 million to settle civil and criminal claims resulting from an explosion that killed 29 people last year. Earlier this year Alpha bought the company from Massey Energy. The settlement includes cash payments to the families of the 29 miners and apparently resolves criminal liability acquired by Alpha as a corporate entity, though former Massey executives and managers are still individually subject to criminal charges. A similar deal was criticized in 2008 when the government did not seek criminal charges against high-level Massey officials in another deadly mining disaster.
Source: National Public Radio
A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine compared the health and sex habits of 118 penile cancer patients to 374 healthy men, focusing on people who lived in rural areas of Brazil. Researchers found that men who have sex with animals may have an increased risk of penile cancer. The proportion of men that reported having sex with animals was 44.9 percent in the cancer group and 31.6 percent in the healthy group. Researchers speculate sex with animals may cause microtrauma to penile tissue, which could come in contact animal secretions that are likely harmful to humans.
Source: Los Angeles Times
The federal government is providing substantially less home heating aid in the Northeast this year. Some Northeast states already have decreased heating aid benefits to families while Congress considers cutting more than $1 billion from last year’s $4.7 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that assisted almost 9 million households. Resources are strained by higher home heating oil prices and a greater number of families seeking aid. Families in New England can expect to pay $3,300 to heat their homes with oil this winter, about $500 more than last winter.
Source: Boston Globe
According to the Wall Street Journal, banks posted their highest quarterly profits in four years with a net income of $35 billion in Q4 of 2010. That’s a 49 percent increase from the same quarter last year and the industry’s ninth consecutive profitable quarter. With their growing profits, banks are spending more money on lobbyists. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks federal lobbying activity, shows that the commercial banking industry had spent about $42 million on lobbying at this time last year. The figure stands at nearly $47 million this year so far. The industry fights to abate or repeal hundreds of rules being formed by federal regulators. Among the biggest spenders is San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, putting 80 percent more money into lobbying efforts than last year.
Source: The Slatest
Global emissions of carbon dioxide rose 5.9 percent last year, according to an analysis released on December 4 by the Global Carbon Project. Scientists said the half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air was the largest percentage increase since 2003. The level of carbon dioxide has increased 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. The report found that combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth. Emissions dropped 7 percent in the United States during the recession in 2009 but rose by just over 4 percent last year, pumping 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Source: New York Times
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced he will issue a reprieve for any condemned inmates facing execution during his term in office. because he believes it is morally wrong. Two men have been executed in Oregon since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984. Kitzhaber’s decision halted the execution of 49-year-old Gary Haugen, one of 37 inmates on Oregon’s death row, who was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on December 6. Proponents of the death penalty criticized the governor’s decision saying he is usurping the will of voters who have supported capital punishment. Since the policy on capital punishment is a matter for voters to decide Kitzhaber said he would not use the authority given to him by Oregon’s constitution to commute the sentences of all death row inmates.
Source: Associated Press
Since the beginning of 2010, companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government, according to a review of public records. Natural gas companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo. The money those companies have spent in New York to influence lawmakers and regulators is more than four times the approximate $800,000 the most prominent environmental groups in the state have spent on their lobbying efforts. Chesapeake Energy, a major gas driller, has organized 11 lobbyists this year, hiring three private companies to support the Chesapeake employees given the task of promoting hydraulic fracturing in Albany. It has spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying over the past three years, while only spending $40,000 in the three years prior to that.
Source: New York Times