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Digging Deeper into the Details

New Chemical Labels Planned

2013-04-16 21:47:42
Hazard Symobls for the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard CommunicationsAn international system of labeling chemicals in the workplace and the market is designed to make the hazards of chemical ingredients more understandable.

The Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication is planned to provide uniform symbols (called pictograms) throughout the world of the effects of various chemicals.

It also will standardize the safety data sheets for each chemical for easier reference. For example, first aid information will always be found in the fourth section of the safety data sheet, irregardless of where the chemical was made or which manufacturer made it. Similarly, information about fire-fighting measures will always be in section 5.

The system came about after members of the United Nations negotiated an environmental treaty in 2003. The United States announced its rules for implementation in 2012. Companies are to have training in place for the new system by December 2013, and the labeling will be mandatory on June 1, 2015.

The globally harmonized system (GHS) material and symbols will replace relevant provisions of OSHA requirements now. Notably, the Material Safety Data Sheet now commonly used will be replaced by the internationally standardized Safety Data Sheets.

However, other hazard communication systems, such as the hazard diamonds of the National Fire Protection Association, will still be used along with the new GHS symbols.

The United Steelworkers and the Communications Workers of America are among the groups preparing training material and courses for the new hazardous communication system and presented some of these material at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference.

Water Risks Mapped

2013-01-31 11:29:14
A new map shows the world's water risks. The Aqueduct project of World Resources Institute, has mapped droughts, floods and deserts, among other issues. Base layers show roads or topography.

What's a Region Worth?

2012-12-16 05:28:36
Two essays looked at resource-rich areas recently. The New York Times examines the fight for Congo and its $24 trillion of resources. The Washington Post ponders selling Alaska, with oil, for at least $2.5 trillion.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Debate Continues with FY 14 Budget

2012-10-04 09:18:13

FY14 Budget would cut $4 Billion a Year

President Obama's budget, released April 10, 2014, would reduce the depletion allowance, the manufacturing deduction and expensing of intangible drilling costs, saving $4 billion a year.

Read the story and see the chart.

Four Arguments From Different Points of View

Subsidies for fossils fuels was a main topic of the first presidential debate. President Obama wants to cut $4 billion, but opponent Mitt Romney says they amount to only $2.8 billion. But in addition to these points of view there are a variety of ways organizations tally subsidies to oil and gas; below are four of them.

1. The $4 Billion President Obama Spoke Of
Below is the $4 billion breakdown from the FY 2013 budget supplement of cuts, consolidations and savings. (It also includes $285 million in cuts to coal subsidies.)

Note that the big item is the repeal of intangible drilling costs deductions, which would amount to $3.49 billion in FY 2013. These are costs that are usually depreciated over time, but under US tax law oil and gas companies can elect to deduct them in one year as a current expense.

Other large subsidies, in the White House's view, are the depletion allowance ($612 million projected for 2013) and a domestic manufacturing tax credit (projected to be $574 million.) The total for all oil and gas subsidies comes to more than $38 billion over 10 years, according to this White House budget supplement.

2. Romney's $2.8 Billion Assertion
Romney responded with information from a Wall Street Journal article. He stated that the subsidies were only $2.8 billion. Later in the debate he said that if corporate tax rates were lowered he would put these subsidies on the table in consideration for cuts.

The source of the $2.8 billion subsidy Romney used, which was quoted from the WSJ article, itself comes from a Dept. of Energy Report entitled "Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010." However at the beginning of that DOE report it states that not all subsidies impacting energy were included in the study. It lists accelerated deprecation as one such tax benefit.

Romney also noted that we termed 'clean energy' subsidies amounted to $90 billion. The Washington Post points out that of this number $23 billion went to 'clean coal,' a phrase many consider to be a contradictory misnomer. Here is a Dept. of Energy statement on how it used its share of the $90 billion of Recovery Act monies devoted to clean energy. The $90 billion spent over three years went to other energy-related projects, such as Cold War legacy cleanup, advanced battery research and production and home energy efficiency upgrades.

CBO study of US energy subsidies. Click for full report
3. The Congressional Budget Office Tally
However the table to the right links to a Congressional Budget Office examination of various federal subsidies for energy sources in 2011. By its accounting, there are three main subsidies to fossil fuels that amounted to $2.5 billion that year: expensing of exploration and development costs ($800 million); option to expense 50 percent of qualified properties to refine liquids ($800 million); and option to expense investment costs on basis of gross income ($900 million).

Thus, the different branches of the Federal government count fossil fuel subsidies differently. There is a little overlap between the White House budget supplement, which looks forward one year and one decade, and the Congressional Budget Office report, which looks back a year.

Also of note in the CBO report, alcohol fuels, which in the United States are primarily corn-derived ethanol, received an excise tax credit of $6.1 billion 2011. Views differ on this credit and this fuel: some say it helps make the US more energy independent; others point to the fact that so much energy must be used at the agricultural and refining process that the net gain in energy at the pump is severely reduced and not worth the expense.

4. Taking Many Factors Into Account
The Web site describes alternative ways of looking at fossil fuel subsidies. When expenses such as US military protection of oil sea-lanes in the Persian Gulf the public subsidy to the fossil fuel sector could be considered as high as $52 billion.

A Huffington Post article on the energy subsidies quotes a study by DBL Investors looking at long-term subsidies to traditional energy industries, who have gotten close to $500 billion over the last 90 years.

Extreme Weather Continues Challenges

2012-08-21 15:16:34
The La Nina of 2011 stirred up some bad weather, but even with its demise the US is still afflicted with drought. Our extreme weather and hurricane channels will keep you up to date on the worst of the weather.

Water Challenges, Conflicts Likely To Mount

2012-03-23 00:00:00
Water supply and quality will increasingly become challenging over the next 10 years, says a U.S. National Intelligence estimate dated Feb. 2012. State conflict over water is unlikely in the coming decade, but chances of water wars will increase after that, it said.

Eagles, Tortoises in Social Contexts

2012-03-19 15:30:22
The Washington Post ran two stories about nature/society conjunctions. A front page story told how dead eagles are handed over to Native Americans for rituals. It also revived a recent LA Times story about the effect of the desert tortoise on a major solar energy project.

Occupy Wall Street, DC Actions Grow

2011-10-11 18:02:00
As summer turned into fall large numbers of people took to the streets and public places to protest economic conditions and policies. Click here for video coverage.

Chinese Residents Stand up for Urban Trees

2011-06-05 16:08:36
Nanjing residents protest of the destruction of London Plane trees, known as wutong in Chinese, is yielding results, the New York Times reports. The trees are favored in urban areas for their hardiness.

Wealth is Cleaner, Dirty Commutes Persist

2010-08-08 13:52:23
The wealthy are getting more money from businesses without smokestacks, but most commuters still drive by themselves to work despite a rise in telecommuting, the Washington Post publishes in two stories.

In an Outlook piece, David Callahan notes that in 1982 38% of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans represented oil and manufacturing interests and only 12% were from finance and technology. "By 2006, those ratios had flipped," wrote Callahan, "36% ...made their wealth from finance and tech, while 17% earned it from manufacturing and oil."

Callahan, a senior fellow at the think tank Demos, gave evidence that the political clout of the new, clean rich is growing. But, dirty-industry lobbying is still a factor in politics, he notes. Climate legislation is dead for this Congress and energy bills have been watered down.

Shifting the view from Wall Street to Main Street helps show why the legacy of old, dirty money keeps getting its way. Patterns established by smokestack and oil well industries in the 20th century have maintained their momentum in the 21st. Commuting to work is a prime example.

WaPo local transportation columnist Robert Thomson describes a study of DC-area commuting showing that petroleum-fueled, road-congesting automobiles still deliver most workers to their jobs. The story cited Commuter Connection's State of the Commute Survey.

Telecommuting occasionally is up significantly, from 13% for private workers and 7% for Federal employees in 2001 to 28% and 27% respectively in 2010.

But on a regular basis, 64% of DC's workers still drive alone to and from work. (Regular telecommuters account for less than 10% of workers, as do bikers and walkers.)

Although Commuter Connections shows that driving alone has fallen from 70% in 2001, the supermajority of workers still financially and culturally support the dirty industries that Callahan says is waning.

Admittedly, a lot of the commuters are driving imported cars, hacking away at the automotive sector of the Forbes 400 list and sending big chunks of their paychecks abroad. US-owned auto companies sold 44.9% of cars in 2009, with foreign firms selling the other 55.1%. Main Street may keep on spending billions to motor to work, but US beneficiaries on Wall Street are getting a smaller part of the pie.

What this pair of stories suggests to NewsPrism is a green divide. Collectively, US rich folks are shifting their assets away from highly polluting industries to less polluting ones while their employees are still stuck in traffic commuting to work. Perhaps in time a telecommuting tycoon will get millions of frustrated drivers off the road and, in doing so profitably, add a new name to the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list.

Oil Stays Above $80 Despite Jobs Report

2010-08-07 16:14:22
The US economy lost 131,000 jobs in July as Census temp work came to an end. This pushed oil lower, but not below $80 a bbl. Is this a sign that oil has broken out of the $70's range?

There was talk that the dollar is a factor in the price of crude. But this ignores the fact of the inevitable rise in the price of oil, a depletable commodity that is becoming harder and harder to extract from its caverns miles beneath the ground,

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