Monday, October 16, 2017

Judge refuses to dismiss case against NJ Sen. Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez arrives at courthouse with his daughter and son (AP photo)
David Porter writes for the Associated Press:

The judge at Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial refused to throw out any of the charges against the New Jersey Democrat on Monday in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowing the definition of bribery.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Williams Walls was a major defeat for Menendez and a huge victory for prosecutors, who warned that dismissing the charges would torpedo nearly all other bribery cases and open the door wide to graft.
Walls rejected defense lawyers’ arguments that the allegations against Menendez didn’t meet the new, narrower definition of bribery under a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that reversed the conviction of Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia.
In recent months, the McDonnell ruling led judges to throw out bribery convictions of at least three other former public officials, including a Pennsylvania congressman.
Federal prosecutors in the Menendez trial rested their case last week. The defense will now begin presenting its case.
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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Can Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal Survive Its Renaissance?

Brooklyn’s famously filthy canal is getting cleaned up. A building boom is coming. And not everyone is happy.

Andy Newman reports in The New York Times:

“Welcome to Venice Jerko.” The greeting is painted in three-foot-high letters on a brick wall along Brooklyn’s legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, right across from the canal’s first luxury high-rise and its new waterfront promenade.

One recent sunny Sunday, a party of German seminary students and a pair of hotel publicists gathered for a canoe tour. The seminarians had read about the canal in a German travel guide that promised “a romantic sunset on the water.” The publicists were scouting to see if the boutique hotel, opening a few blocks away, might want to include guided canoe trips.

“It could make for a great guest experience,” one of the publicists said. The voyagers carried their canoes past the cafe tables on the promenade, put in below the new boat ramp and paddled off.

The future is flowing in fast on the sleepy little canal, where the wilderness of urban decay that sprouted artists and then artisanal ice cream shops is being tidied and tamed. Stroller traffic on the bridge to Whole Foods grows thick, and the sliding crunch of the concrete factory conveyor belt is falling silent.

But as much as the canal zone has been remade already, the next few years promise, or threaten, a different magnitude of change altogether.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bear hunt in New Jersey nets 241 kills by Saturday night

Michael Izzo and Matt Kadosh report for

Hunters had killed 52 bears by 9 p.m. Saturday night, bringing the number of bears harvested on the sixth day of New Jersey’s bear hunt to 241, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman said.

With the potential for hunters to drag more kills from the forest overnight, final figures would be posted on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s website by 8 a.m., said a spokesman, Robert Geist.

While the figures marked a significant decrease from the 562 killed during last year’s hunt, an animal rights activist told a reporter the numbers don’t matter.

“The senseless slaughter of young cubs and yearlings and moms for trophies, mounts and rugs,” said Angi Metler, director of the Bear Education and Resource Group. “That’s what this hunt is about. Don’t kid yourself. It’s not about numbers.”

Bill Crain, another activist, knew he would be arrested Saturday morning when he left the designated protest zone at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area. It wasn’t the first time he left a bear hunt protest in handcuffs.

An animal rights activist and professor at the City College of New York, Crain spent a week in jail this January after protesting last December’s bear hunt in the state.

“I was in jail eight days the last time I did this,” Crain said. “This would be the eighth time so it will probably be more.”

With a sign that read “Mother Nature is Crying” hanging from his neck, Carin crossed the street and walked toward the bear check-in station, where he was stopped by New Jersey State Police and Conservation Police, handcuffed, and placed in a trooper’s car.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

China automakers cranking out E-vehicles; Big Oil effect?

                                                                                                 Credit: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images   
Rob Dieterich reports for Inside Climate News:
China is the world’s biggest car market, and its government has become the world’s biggest booster of electric vehicles. Those two facts go a long way toward explaining the urgency with which global automakers are rolling out electrification plans, The New York Times reports.
Beijing policymakers have a range of motivations for their electric auto embrace, from smog-choked cities to a dependence on imported oil. They also see the possibility of an expanded role for Chinese firms in a reimagined auto industry. Global automakers see a role for themselves in China’s huge auto market, which is all the motivation they need. The Times story is here.
India, meanwhile, has committed to a 2030 deadline to end the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, but the country lags far behind China. In its biggest move to date, the government last month agreed to purchase 10,000 electric vehicles from Tata Motors.
Bloomberg points out, as evidence of the scale of the challenge India faces, that Tata doesn’t yet have a commercially available electric car. There were just 350 charging stations in India versus 215,000 in China at the end of last year, according to the Bloomberg story, here.
With the spread of electric vehicles, a related question arises: How soon might global demand for oil begin to decline? Barclays research says an EV boom and increases in fuel efficiency could cut global oil needs in 2025 by an amount nearly equal to the output of Iran.
And if electric vehicles capture a third of the global market by 2040, the lost demand would nearly equal all of Saudi Arabia’s production. InsideClimate News has the whole story, here.

KEY STAT: An estimated 814,000 electric vehicles will be sold in China in 2019, and 602,000 in the rest of the world, according to a forecast from LMC Automotive.

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First ‘negative emissions’ carbon-capture plant is running


Emilia Urry reports in Grist:

On Wednesday, Iceland flipped the switch on the first project that will remove more CO2 than it produces. The plant is operated by Climeworks, which also opened the first commercial carbon-capture plant in Switzerland earlier this year.
Here’s how direct-air carbon capture works: Giant turbines pull in huge quantities of air, hoovering up molecules of carbon dioxide so we can store it somewhere that’s NOT the atmosphere.
The Icelandic pilot program can remove an estimated 50 metric tons of CO2 from the air in a year. It pumps the collected gas deep into the island’s volcanic bedrock, where it reacts with basalt and essentially turns into limestone. VoilĂ ! No massive reservoirs to manage for millennia — just a lot of rock.
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If all this sounds too good to be true, there’s a reason. Ambitious “clean coal” plants have been engaged in a very public struggle with the economic reality of carbon capture in recent years, and direct-air capture is an even tougher sell.
But it’s getting more affordable. Today, companies estimate it would cost between $50 and $100 to capture a single metric ton of carbon. Iceland’s plant has already achieved $30 per metric ton. It will never work as a substitute for action to reduce emissions, but carbon capture could be a crucial part of keeping global temperatures in check this century.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Is Facebook squashing bugs or quashing Russian data?

Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report for Washington Post:

Social media analyst Jonathan Albright got a call from Facebook the day after he published research last week showing that the reach of the Russian disinformation campaign was almost certainly larger than the company had disclosed. While the company had said 10 million people read Russian-bought ads, Albright had data suggesting that the audience was at least double that — and maybe much more — if ordinary free Facebook posts were measured as well.
Albright welcomed the chat with three company officials. But he was not pleased to discover that they had done more than talk about their concerns regarding his research. They also had scrubbed from the Internet nearly everything — thousands of Facebook posts and the related data — that had made the work possible.
Never again would he or any other researcher be able to run the kind of analysis he had done just days earlier.
Facebook does not dispute it removed the posts, but it offers a different explanation of what happened. The company says it has merely corrected a “bug” that allowed Albright, who is research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, to access information he never should have been able to find in the first place. That bug, Facebook says, has now been squashed on a social media analytics tool called CrowdTangle, which Facebook bought last year.
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Amazon's HQ2 offers big benefits, but it won't come cheap

Jeff Jeffrey writes in Philadelphia Business Journal:

The prospect of landing’s second North America headquarters has public officials and economic development experts salivating at the chance to land what is being billed as a $5 billion, 50,000-job investment to their hometown. But as the Oct. 19 bidding deadline fast approaches, cities also are grappling with a sobering reality: HQ2 is going to be an expensive proposition.

More than 50 cities throughout North America have announced plans to submit bids to Amazon for its new HQ2 facility. As such, Amazon is in a powerful position to potentially secure billions in taxpayer subsidies and related incentives. It's a position the company is well acquainted with.

The Business Journals has identified at least $1.24 billion in taxpayer incentives and abatements awarded to Amazon over the past decade. More often than not, those subsidies have come in return for pledges by Amazon to locate facilities and bring jobs — sometimes thousands of jobs — to nearby communities. It's a process that has frequently pitted cities and states against one another as they compete to lure Amazon their way.

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NJ appellate court blocks mining operation in Pinelands

Court finds Pinelands Commission’s rejection of project was justified because it did not conform to region’s Comprehensive Management Plan

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

A state appeals court yesterday upheld a decision by the Pinelands Commission to block approval of a mining operation in Jackson Township by a local planning board.
In a 12-page ruling, the court found the commission’s rejection of the project was justified because it failed to conform with the agency’s Comprehensive Management Plan, which does not permit mining operations in parts of the Pinelands designated as “forest areas.’’

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Jersey looking to put food waste to beneficial uses

On Inside New Jersey with host Larry Mendte, Guy Watson, president of the Association of New Jersey Recyclers (ANJR), discusses sources of wasted food in the Garden State and legislation designed to capture more of it to feed the hungry
and for new recycled uses as fuel and compost.  

Disclosure: ANJR is a client of our related company,
Brill Public Affairs

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Researchers find key pesticide in bees almost everywhere

Seth Borenstein reports for the Associated Press:

Washington — When researchers collected honey samples from around the world, they found that three-quarters of them had a common type of pesticide suspected of playing a role in the decline of bees. Even honey from the island paradise of Tahiti had the chemical.

That demonstrates how pervasive a problem the much-debated pesticide is for honeybees, said authors of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. They said it is not a health problem for people because levels were far below governments’ thresholds on what’s safe to eat.

Bee colony
What this shows is the magnitude of the contamination,” said study lead author Edward Mitchell, a biology professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, adding that there are “relatively few places where we did not find any.”

Over the past few years, several studies — in the lab and the field — link insecticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics, to reduced and weakened honeybee hives, although pesticide makers dispute those studies. Neonics work by attacking an insect’s central nervous system;

Bees and other pollinators have been on the decline for more than a decade and experts blame a combination of factors: neonics, parasites, disease, climate change and lack of a diverse food supply. Honeybees don’t just make honey; about one-third of the human diet comes from plants that are pollinated by the insects. Bees pick up the pesticide when they feed on fields grown from treated seeds.

As part of a citizen science project, the Swiss researchers asked other experts, friends and relatives to ship them honey samples. More than 300 samples arrived and researchers tested 198 of them for five of the most common types of neonics.

Overall, 75 percent of the samples had at least one neonic, 45 percent had two or more and 10 percent had four or more.

Results varied by region. In North America, 86 percent of samples had the pesticide; Asia, 80 percent; Europe, where there’s a partial ban, 79 percent; Africa 73 percent; the Australian region, 71 percent and South America, 57 percent.

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