3p Contributor: Jan Lee

Jan Lee Jan Lee is an independent journalist who lives in Idaho and British Columbia, Canada. Her articles on business, eco-travel, history and culture have been published in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Visit her blog at multiculturaljew.blogspot.com

Recent Articles

Climate Change Getting You Down? Just Follow the Butterfly

Jan Lee
| Friday April 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

comma_butterfly_PMatthews123The polar bears are doing it. The birds are doing it; even the trees are doing it. And now, according to research by several biologists, the butterfly has given us the best example so far of how nature, confronted with shifting parameters, is hurrying to adapt to climate change.

As early as 2005, scientists found evidence that animal and plant species were making migratory changes to offset dwindling food supplies or intolerable temperature changes. Species ranging from the Canadian red squirrels to rock barnacles apparently already knew something we found very contentious: that adaptation was going to be necessary.

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Lowe’s Settles California Toxic Dumping Suit for $18.1 Million

Jan Lee
| Monday April 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Lowes_Toxic_Dumping_closeup_MikeMozartInvestigators at California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have been hard at work – this time inspecting trash disposal sites behind Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse stores for toxic dumping. In conjunction with the investigative skills of Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), DTSC determined that Lowe’s stores had been illegally dumping toxic materials at landfill sites that weren’t authorized to receive the materials.

The DTSC says that the materials included pesticides, aerosols, mercury-based fluorescent bulbs and other items not eligible for landfill disposal. Investigators state that more than 110 stores across the state were found to be dumping toxic items improperly.

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Renewable Electricity Mandate Faces Close Defeat in Kansas

Jan Lee
| Monday March 31st, 2014 | 1 Comment

Smoky_Hills_Wind_Farm_Kansas_Drenaline A Kansas state bill calling for the repeal of renewable electricity requirements for utility companies passed the state Senate on Tuesday, only to be roundly defeated in the House the following day, 44-77.

SB 433, which gained the support of a variety of conservative organizations including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, would have yanked state requirements for utility companies to acquire a minimum of 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewable electricity standards, or RES (also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS), in Kansas mandate utility providers to gradually target a minimum threshold of renewable energy sources in their portfolios and set a deadline for fulfillment.

Supporters of SB 433 argued Wednesday that the RES was raising consumers’ utility bills. Rep. Marc Rhodes (R) argued before the House that continuing to support the RES would lead to “40 percent increases to the electrical rates to your constituents.” His statement was met by a chorus of disbelief.

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Renewables Account for 92% of New Capacity, Still a Slow Start Compared to 2013

Jan Lee
| Friday March 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments

Renewable_energy_MichaelMeesPhotographyWind and solar power proponents are hailing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report on energy infrastructure.  According to the FERC’s February 2014 report, renewable energy topped the list for new energy installations during January and February. Approximately 92 percent of the new installations for energy production during the first two months of the year were for solar, wind, biomass hydro or thermal power generation.

Those numbers include 25 new solar plants, six wind farms, two hydro* and three geothermal plants. New wind installations include the Pheasant Run project in Huron County, Wis. (75 MW), which will generate electricity for DTE Energy Co., and the Fort Hays University’s installation in Ellis County, Kan. (4 MW), to power services at the university. Solar includes a wide range of projects, including four installations by Recurrent Energy totaling 73 MW to generate power under contract for Southern California Edison.

In comparison, fossil fuel-based infrastructure installation was almost nonexistent for January and February, with only one natural gas facility brought online.

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Towns Impacted by Dan River Coal Ash Spill Continue to Struggle

Jan Lee
| Thursday March 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Danville_VA_water_AaronHeadlyAs North Carolina regulators press to have Duke Energy stripped of protections that would have limited the company’s liability for cleanup of coal ash spills in two regional rivers, communities downstream are struggling to come to terms with the continuing impact of the cleanup and stigma from the pollution.

Danville, Va. is just miles downstream from where a pipe connected to a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy failed and spewed toxic sludge into the Dan River in February. The city of 43,000 has been working hard in recent years to revitalize its image and its future. A former tobacco and textiles town, its growth has depended on this waterway, which served at times not only as a resource for drinking water, but as a disposal site for nearby industrial waste and rinse water. It’s a history that Danville has gradually been moving away from.

These days, the Dan River fulfills another, more elegant purpose as one of Virginia’s state-designated Scenic Rivers. Approved last October, the designation encompasses a 15-mile stretch in the vicinity of Danville. The scenic recognition is expected to draw in much-needed tourism dollars from travelers interested in seeing Virginia’s rural beauty. Danville’s economic development, and its transition away from an industry that once painted the river currents in color, is now dependent upon that designation — and the tourism that is meant to follow.

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Oil Spill Shuts Down Houston Ship Channel on Exxon Valdez Anniversary

Jan Lee
| Tuesday March 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Gaveston_Bay_oil_spill_USACE-eh It’s been said that history repeats itself. It’s doubtful that the author of that saying had oil spills in mind at the time – and even less likely the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Still, the irony of this weekend’s collision and spill near Galveston Bay, Texas on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Exxon spill has been hard to ignore.

Approximately 168,000 gallons of crude oil has been leaking into the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay since Saturday — when a barge being pulled by a towboat collided with a cargo ship in the channel off the coast of Texas City, Texas. The collision closed down traffic and has backed up vessels both ways. More than 80 commercial ships were waiting to get into port as of Monday morning. The Bolivar Peninsula ferry, which shuttles commuters between the peninsula and Galveston, Texas, has been closed until the spill can be cleaned up.

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Feds, State Investigate Duke Energy for Illegal Pumping of Coal Ash

Jan Lee
| Monday March 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Duke_Energy_coal_ash_USFWS_SoutheastA small handful of environmentalists that were expelled by police from boating on a local waterway in North Carolina are being hailed as national heroes this week. After members from Waterkeeper Alliance, who were trying to take water samples from a stream, were told by police on March 10 to leave an area bordering the Duke Energy Cape Fear River facility, they resorted to aerial surveillance of the area.

The following day they released photographs showing that Duke Energy has been pumping coal ash into a local tributary of the Cape Fear River, a local source for drinking water.

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Pee Power: The Next Step in Electricity Generation?

Jan Lee
| Thursday March 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

urine_powered_generatorIn late 2012, a class science project in Lagos, Nigeria created a buzz on the social media airwaves. Four teenage girls had created a power generator using human urine. The 14- and 15-year-olds, who created the project in an effort to find a safer generating system for local families that depend on gas-powered systems to generate electricity, figured out a way to separate and use the hydrogen from pee to essentially create electricity.

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California Targets List of Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products

Jan Lee
| Monday March 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

bassinette_chemicals_shinglebk California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has announced the beginning of a new program that will be designed to monitor and regulate toxic substances found in consumer goods.

On Thursday the DTSC implemented the first phase of the agency’s new “Safer Consumer Products” program by releasing the names of three types products it says contain substances that are toxic to the human body and are under regulatory consideration by the state.

The three Priority Products are:

  • Children’s padded sleeping products like sleeping mats and bassinets that contain unreacted diisocyanates, a known carcinogen
  • Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) materials used for insulation that contain unreacted diisocyanates, a suspected carcinogen
  • Paint and varnish strippers, and surface cleaners that contain methylene chloride, a known carcinogen

Debbie Raphael, the director of department at the DTSC, stressed that at this stage, the department was not banning these substances. “We are starting a conversation with manufacturers.”

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Wind Energy Protects Water Security, Says Report

Jan Lee
| Thursday March 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment

wind_farm_shock264Just in time for World Water Day: The European Wind Energy Association has released a report examining the role that water plays in energy production. And the numbers are staggering.

According to the report, 44 percent of water usage in the European Union goes to energy production. That includes coal, nuclear, biofuels and natural gas, Europe’s four thirstiest energy industries. That’s almost half what is used in the next largest sector, agriculture, which is 24 percent.

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Mars Inc. Raises the Bar for Sustainable Palm Oil

Jan Lee
| Wednesday March 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments

Sustainable_Palm_Oil_Mars_bar_bitten_Asim18 Mars Inc. is upping the ante regarding the sustainable palm oil market. The manufacturer of the popular chocolate candy bars Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers and Twix announced its commitment yesterday to transition to 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil in its products by the end of 2014.

At present, Mars adheres to the guidelines of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, which allows it to purchase sustainable palm oil in accordance with the organization’s “mass balance program.” The program is set up to assist companies as they transition to fully certified sustainable oil, by allowing them to mix the sustainable oil they purchase with conventional sources. According to the RSPO, it also helps support the fledgling sustainable palm oil market, by upping the demand in a way that can be met by suppliers.

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El Niño, More Rain Likely With Climate Change

Jan Lee
| Tuesday March 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

rainfall_Granite_Falls_WalterSiegmund El Niño may be back for a visit this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center released a statement Wednesday saying that current indicators point toward a possible El Niño warming trend for this coming summer or fall.

That could mean more rain for some areas on the Pacific Coast, and particularly for the rain-starved counties of Southern California.

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Who’s Who in Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing

Jan Lee
| Friday March 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

PALM_FOREST_FallaciaThe push for sustainably sourced palm oil has been gaining prominence in the past few years. Quite a number of organizations have stepped up to the plate recent months to lobby for improved sourcing methods that don’t destroy forests in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Environmental advocates ranging from Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network to local zoos like Woodland Park, Cheyenne Mountain and St. Louis have taken a stand to encourage oil producers and purchasers to make the switch to sustainable sources.

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Bio-Bean Coffee Conversion: Whole Bean Genius

Jan Lee
| Tuesday March 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Coffee_biofuels_Alex_UpshurCoffee is on the minds of many these days–coffee grounds, that is. And no wonder. Pondering the meaning of life over that cup of java naturally leads to pondering the values of sustainability and eco-claims for businesses (it does for me at least), and what’s a more sustainable, multipurpose ingredient than the dregs from our favorite brew?

After all, gardeners have been using coffee grounds to benefit their plants for eons. Housekeepers use them to clean their pots and tone up furniture scratches, and cooks use them to scour off the stain and smell of their favorite foods (and you thought that was all there was in the pot after you finished your morning brew).

But all of those uses won’t absorb the left over grounds found in say, London, England, where its plethora of coffeehouses produce more than 200,000 tons of filtered coffee grounds per year.

And that’s why both researchers and private companies have been so intent upon finding ways to use those grounds in mass production. 

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FDA’s High-Tech (and Still Confusing) Nutrition Labels for 2016

Jan Lee
| Friday February 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments
New_nutrition_label_FDA

Proposed nutrition label

For those who find that trying to read a nutrition label on a package of food is something akin to trying to decipher the jargon on last year’s climate change report, good news: the FDA now hears you.

This week the federal government proposed some changes to the 1993 nutrition labeling system that we find on packaged foods in supermarkets. They aren’t huge and they aren’t jazzy, but even my nutritionist dad would have been impressed with the tweaks.

After all, if you want someone to remember the information, give them the facts first, right? Most of us are wowed by numbers, not by scientific names for the pieces and parts that make up our food. To many of us, 5 percent saturated fat speaks a lot more plainly than “saturated fat 1 gram.”

The newest edition to the label is the “Added Sugars” line, which is no doubt directed at educating us about the sugar that often gets added to our food during preparation. It’s a great idea, especially for diabetics who must avoid additional sugar.

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