Updates on the BP Oil Spill Trial

The trial for the BP oil spill began in late February, and has continued due to the lack of an out-of-court settlement. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding; there is no jury.

This week, Barbier dismissed all claims against Cameron International, the Houston-based company that built the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP designed and selected the components of the blowout preventer, and Cameron built it to exact specifications.

The remaining defendants at the trial are BP, Transocean (owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig) and Halliburton (the cement contractor). Barbier previously dismissed all claims against M-I, the drilling fluids contractor for BP. [source]

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Meanwhile, Judge Barbier will also hear a request from BP for an order to block potentially billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses that claimed losses caused by the oil spill. Settlement terms for the payouts are interpreted by court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau. BP is arguing that Juneau has made unfair decisions. [source]

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Research at the University of South Florida has discovered a massive die-off of foraminifera, the tiny organisms that are the base of marine food chains in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers analyzed core samples from the bottom of the Gulf:

They found a large, dark clump of sediment from the time of the 2010 disaster. The amount registered as 300 times the normal amount of oil-based particles found on the bottom.

The die-off impacts the health of food chains, and there is a possibility the oil traces could cause genetic changes in fish populations such as red snapper. [source]

I’m proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I’m pretty psyched about that), but because he’s been thoughtful and open-minded in how he’s approached the issue, and because he’s shown that he’s willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand. He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today.
Will Portman, in an op-Ed for the Yale Daily News on coming out

The Changing Face of Environmental Coverage at The New York Times

Over the past several months, there have been several shifts in the way the NY Times covers climate issues. This is a result of restructuring due to budget constraints, and according to editors, a response to the “shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting”.

2009: NYT creates a 9-person “environment pod”, made up of 2 editors and 7 reporters dedicated to reporting solely on environmental issues.

Fall 2012: Throughout the presidential election there was much discussion of the climate silence problem, as Obama and Romney carefully avoided any substantial discussion of climate change during the campaign.

December 2012: Executive editor Jill Abramson announces the need to cut 30 positions from the news division due to decreased ad revenues. Employees were offered buyouts, but Abramson would go to layoffs if there weren’t enough takers for the buyout packages.

January 11, 2013: Inside Climate News broke the story that NYT would be dismantling its environment desk. The environmental reporters and editors would be reassigned to other departments.

  • "It wasn’t a decision we made lightly…coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter," said Dean Baquet, managing editor for news operations.

Reactions: Journalists and environmentalists reacted with varying degrees of surprise, dismay and stoicism.

  • Beth Parke, executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said that while solid environmental coverage doesn’t always require a dedicated team, the Times’ decision is “worrying.” (via)
  • Award-winning journalist Peter Dykstra, publisher of Daily Climate: “When you abolish a standalone beat, it sends a strong message to every career-conscious reporter and editor that chasing environment stories is not a path to advancement.” (via)
  • Andy Revkin, NYT Dot Earth blogger: “The Times excelled at environmental coverage before there was an environment pod, continued during that phase, and, I predict, will do so going forward, within the financial constraints facing all journalism.”
  • Bora Zivkovic, blog editor at Scientific American: “There is potential for this to be a good thing. It all depends on the implementation. (…) All the environmental expertise is still at the Times, but now outside of its own ghetto, able to cross-fertilize with other beats, and to collaborate with reporters with other domains of expertise.” Interestingly, Zivkovic goes on to discuss the increased importance of the Green Blog, as a hub where all the NYT’s environmental reporting can be gathered and shared. His blog post is even titled Why the NYTimes “Green Blog” Is Now Essential.

March 1, 2013: The New York Times shuts down the Green Blog. It was announced in a brief post on the blog, stating “This change will allow us to direct production resources to other online projects. But we’ll forge ahead with our aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics.”

Andy Revkin of Dot Earth created a Green Blog Voices list on Twitter, and NYT enviro coverage can now be followed on the Environment page.

Revkin goes on to point out that NYT has “nine sports blogs; nine spanning fashion, lifestyles, health, dining and the like; four business blogs; four technology blogs (five if you include automobiles as a technology); and a potpourri of other great efforts…” Somehow, all of those managed to stay and the Green Blog had to go.

Unlike the decision to dissolve the environment pod, the termination of the Green Blog was met with very negative reactions across the board. Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote “This is terrible news, to say the least.”

In my own opinion, NYT has been a leader on environmental coverage. NYT is my primary news source on a daily basis. Despite their broad coverage, I am reluctant to rely on blogs such as ThinkProgress and 350.org. The loss of the Green Blog is a step in the wrong direction.

Editorial: Sequestration will hurt productive volunteer programs

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My editorial for AmeriCorps Week, as published in the Wilmington News Journal:

I joined AmeriCorps in 2009, serving at Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. It was my freshman year of college and I was determined not to spend the summer at home with my parents. I had no idea what I was getting into, but my time as a Student Conservation Association and as an AmeriCorps member was an incredible learning experience. For three months I hiked endlessly – conducting trail assessments, visitor contact hikes and more.

Now, in 2013, I am back with AmeriCorps, and new to the state of Delaware. I made the decision to take a year off from school, and chose to dedicate my time to community service. I work for Delaware State Parks on the Children In Nature initiative, developing strategies to help young children experience a connection with the natural world. Every day I truly feel that I am making a difference at my job.

AmeriCorps is an incredible program, both for the individuals who participate and the communities and agencies that benefit from the hard work of Corps members. It encourages young people to feel a sense of responsibility for the world around them. AmeriCorps alumni enjoy better job prospects and higher wages than young adults who did not participate in the program.

Despite its positive impacts, I am concerned about the future of AmeriCorps. Congress cut the program’s funding by 6 percent between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2012. Sequestration could reduce AmeriCorps funding by an estimated $65 million. Even worse, the House GOP’s proposed budget for the past five years would eliminate the AmeriCorps program entirely.

As a Corps member serving in the state of Delaware, I hope more people become aware of this program and its positive influence. Tell your friends, your neighbors and your elected officials: AmeriCorps works!

Erin Murphy

AmeriCorps Volunteer

This evening I watched Page One, a documentary that follows one year of investigating, writing, and reporting at The New York Times. Page One looks at the ability of print media and legacy papers like NYT to survive and compete in the brave new world of blogs, twitter, and free information.
A reporter discusses the concept of “free” news - he worries that young people (the Millenial generation) have grown up with the assumption that information can be accessed freely, on the Internet, all the time. "But of course, nothing is free. You may think it is, but there is always a cost," says the reporter.
This is important: information is not free. A story that has been well-researched and vetted and fact-checked does not arrive on my iPad screen for nothing. 
When NYT first announced its model for charging for online content, I was horrified. I thought, “I always read the New York Times online - where will I get my news now? This is unacceptable!”
At first, I read my ten free articles each month, and then wandered off to The Huffington Post. That was when I realized how much The New York Times mattered to me: I missed the quality of reporting, the in-depth features, and the wide range of opinions and editorials. I missed it, and I realized that it is worth more than nothing, more than “free”. I’m happy to pay some money out of my wallet to be a digital New York Times subscriber.
The documentary doesn’t come down on one side or the other in support of print media, but it tells us what is happening, whether we notice it or not. Reporters keep reporting, and every day, this venerable newspaper publishes “All the News That’s Fit to Print”.

This evening I watched Page One, a documentary that follows one year of investigating, writing, and reporting at The New York Times. Page One looks at the ability of print media and legacy papers like NYT to survive and compete in the brave new world of blogs, twitter, and free information.

A reporter discusses the concept of “free” news - he worries that young people (the Millenial generation) have grown up with the assumption that information can be accessed freely, on the Internet, all the time. "But of course, nothing is free. You may think it is, but there is always a cost," says the reporter.

This is important: information is not free. A story that has been well-researched and vetted and fact-checked does not arrive on my iPad screen for nothing. 

When NYT first announced its model for charging for online content, I was horrified. I thought, “I always read the New York Times online - where will I get my news now? This is unacceptable!”

At first, I read my ten free articles each month, and then wandered off to The Huffington Post. That was when I realized how much The New York Times mattered to me: I missed the quality of reporting, the in-depth features, and the wide range of opinions and editorials. I missed it, and I realized that it is worth more than nothing, more than “free”. I’m happy to pay some money out of my wallet to be a digital New York Times subscriber.

The documentary doesn’t come down on one side or the other in support of print media, but it tells us what is happening, whether we notice it or not. Reporters keep reporting, and every day, this venerable newspaper publishes “All the News That’s Fit to Print”.

Mixed messages on China and the environment

It seems that news coverage of environmental issues in China fluctuates between two extremes: “Look at all the sustainable innovation!” versus “Look at the total environmental destruction!”  I read two articles yesterday that perfectly encompass the spectrum.

Article 1: A Fresh Look at China’s Long March on Energy and Emissionsvia Andy Revkin’s NYT Dot Earth blog

A consulting firm, The Rhodium Group, recently released a “report card” assessing China’s efforts to increase the proportion of renewable sources in its nationwide energy portfolio, and to boost the efficiency of coal usage.

Thanks to intense government controls and an economic slowdown, China is (surprisingly) on track to achieve several energy targets in its current 5-Year Plan for 2011-2015:

  • Target 1: Reduce the energy-intensity of the economy by 16%
  • Target 2: Increase Non-Fossil Energy to 11.4% of Total Supply
  • Target 3: Cut the Carbon-Intensity of GDP by 17%

Article 2: Spill in China Underlines Environmental Concerns - by Edward Wong, New York Times

On December 31, a chemical spill occurred at a fertilizer factory in Changzhi. Nine tons of aniline, a possible carcinogen, leaked into the Zhuozhang River, affected the drinking water of at least 28 villages and the large city of Handan downstream. Worst of all, city officials in Handan were not notified of the chemical spill until January 4.

In typical Chinese fashion, the provincial government has said little and the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, which owns the polluting factory, has not been held accountable. Two citizen groups have filed lawsuits, but they have made no progress and provincial officials have asked them to drop the suits.

(Photo: a woman carries clothes near the river in Handan, China.)

And so, China marches onward. Environmentally, it’s hard to say if conditions are getting better or worse.

Thoughts on Why Police Lie (Or Don’t) in the Courtroom

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, recently wrote an editorial in the New York Times:

THOUSANDS of people plead guilty to crimes every year in the United States because they know that the odds of a jury’s believing their word over a police officer’s are slim to none. As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? As one of my colleagues recently put it, “Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.”

Alexander goes on to explain that police, in fact, have an incentive to lie. Pressure is increasingly put on officers to conduct more stops, searches and arrests. Police departments compete for federal funding that is contingent on the number of drug arrests made each month. The emphasis has shifted from quality to quantity.

A week later, NYT published several Letters to the Editor responding to Alexander’s piece. The opinions varied, but what I appreciated was the nuance and understanding in the viewpoints. People mostly agreed with Alexander, but thought she was looking at it from the wrong angle, or wanted to point out their own past experience. A few examples:

Police lie under oath because they’re cynical (…) Ms. Alexander is correct that this is a problem. But to ignore the cynicism created by a legal system, a government and a larger society (think of the Wall Street scandals) where bad behavior is commonplace and very often goes unpunished is to miss the point.

Andy Rosenzweig, retired New York Police Department lieutenant and former chief investigator for the Manhattan district attorney

Prosecutors and judges engage in cognitive dissonance — on the one hand understanding that police lie; on the other, failing to address the issue in any meaningful way. Perhaps this is because our criminal justice system relies so heavily on the assumption of police as truth tellers. Acknowledging the problem threatens the very foundation of an already dysfunctional system.

Jennifer Blasser, assistant professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

A few weeks ago, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson went python-hunting in the Florida Everglades to raise awareness about the problems pythons pose to our natural ecology and native species populations.

As cameras clicked and whirred at a dock off Alligator Alley, Nelson held a brief press conference with [Florida Wildlife commissioner Alan] Bergeron, who held the head of a live 13-foot python while three others kept it from constricting him.
The snake had been captured in a Palmetto Bay swimming pool and was brought to the boat-launch as an example of what they hoped to catch and kill.

 And then my favorite part:

[Nelson] recounted how he tried to bring a live python into a Senate committee, but Capitol Police told him he couldn’t.
I got permission to bring in the skin of a 17-footer,” he said. “And we unrolled that skin right over the witness table that I was speaking to the committee. You should gave seen the eyes of those senators. They got as big as saucers.”

Nelson is one of my favorite elected officials for two reasons. Number one, of course, is that he is Florida’s only elected statewide Democrat. Number two is because he pulls off events like this.
[Source: Miami Herald]

A few weeks ago, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson went python-hunting in the Florida Everglades to raise awareness about the problems pythons pose to our natural ecology and native species populations.

As cameras clicked and whirred at a dock off Alligator Alley, Nelson held a brief press conference with [Florida Wildlife commissioner Alan] Bergeron, who held the head of a live 13-foot python while three others kept it from constricting him.

The snake had been captured in a Palmetto Bay swimming pool and was brought to the boat-launch as an example of what they hoped to catch and kill.

 And then my favorite part:

[Nelson] recounted how he tried to bring a live python into a Senate committee, but Capitol Police told him he couldn’t.

I got permission to bring in the skin of a 17-footer,” he said. “And we unrolled that skin right over the witness table that I was speaking to the committee. You should gave seen the eyes of those senators. They got as big as saucers.”

Nelson is one of my favorite elected officials for two reasons. Number one, of course, is that he is Florida’s only elected statewide Democrat. Number two is because he pulls off events like this.

[Source: Miami Herald]