Friday, December 14, 2012

Climate change reports update U.S. conditions

Two new federal reports update the state of climate change in the United States, including the hotly-controversial subject of sea level rise.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is 90 percent confident that global sea levels will rise by 2100. But NOAA cites a vast range for that rise, from the 8-inch average since 1900 to as much as 6.6 feet -- twice the level a North Carolina science panel says the state should assume for planning purposes.

As the Observer reported in November, some experts say the quickening of sea-level rise documented by satellites since 1992 is too short a period to rely on for future estimates. NOAA also recounts the "hot-spot" of faster rise along the Atlantic coast from Cape Hatteras to Boston that a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and others have documented.

While accelerating sea-level rise is under debate, NOAA says, those reports are "sufficient to suggest" that the northeastern U.S. coast take heed.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Change Indicators update shows temperatures in the contiguous 48 states rising at a rate of 1.3 inches per century since 1901, with a quickening of that rate since the late 1970s. More high-temperature records have been set since the 1980s than cold-temperature records.

EPA also illustrates (above) how the Southeast, to this point, has largely escaped the rising temperatures seen in southern California and the Northeast.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Enviro groups launch coal-ash website

Environmental advocates have created an interactive Web guide to coal ash, the power-plant residue that burst into national focus four years ago with a billion-gallon rupture at a Tennessee plant. The site,, launched Tuesday.

North Carolina hasn't seen such catastrophe, but ash is rightly an issue in a state that still heavily depends on coal power. In high doses, metals found in ash can make people and the environment sick.

Groundwater is contaminated near ash ponds at 14 Duke Energy plants, including those formerly owned by merger partner Progress Energy. Much of the contamination, such as high levels of iron, likely came from natural sources. But other elements, such as selenium, seem to point toward leaking ponds.

North Carolina is one of nine states featured on the new site, a project of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center and the N.C. Conservation Network.

The Web site houses a database of 100 power plants in the Southeast, categorized by how much damage they would do if they broke. North Carolina has more "high-hazard" dams, meaning ruptures could kill people, than any other state in the Southeast.

A few clicks will take you to deeper detail, including what's known about contamination around each plant as well as local and state contacts.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holman moves to Conservation Fund

Longtime North Carolina environmental leader Bill Holman will leave Duke University to become state director of the Conservation Fund next month.

Holman plied the halls of the state legislature for 18 years as an environmental lobbyist and served as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources under former Gov. Jim Hunt. He later worked as executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the state's largest source of conservation grants.

In 2007, Holman joined Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, where he's director of state policy and collaborated on protecting the Falls Lake watershed, the source of Raleigh's water.

The Conservation Fund, which formed in 1985 and is headquartered in Arlington, Va., also has a distinguished resume. It has helped protect 7 million acres nationwide and more than 200,000 acres in North Carolina, including Grandfather Mountain, Chimney Rock, DuPont State Forest and other landmarks. Senior associate Dick Ludington, who was behind much of that work, will stay with the Fund.

Its Chapel Hill office is the Fund's largest outside Arlington and home to many of its national programs.