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Wind farm with solar panels in southern California. 4kodiak / E+ / Getty Images

By Jeff Deyette

Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.

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Seismic airgun blasting has been proposed within the same main range of imperiled North Atlantic right whales. NOAA

A coalition of attorneys general from nine states added their clout to a South Carolina-based lawsuit against the Trump administration to block seismic airgun blasting off the Atlantic coast.

Democratic attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York filed a motion on Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by several conservation groups and South Carolina coastal communities.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Circus elephants. Laura LaRose / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It is now illegal to use elephants, tigers and other wild and exotic animals in traveling animal acts in New Jersey, the first state to mandate such a move.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed "Nosey's Law," the namesake of a 36-year-old African elephant with crippling arthritis that was forced to travel around the country, including to the Garden State, for traveling circus acts and suffered abuse, according to a press release from the governor's office.

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The Asian longhorned tick has been found in nine states. CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a "multistate infestation" with the Asian longhorned tick—the first new tick species to enter the U.S. in 50 years.

New Jersey was the first state to report the Haemaphysalis longicornis on a sheep in August 2017. Since then, it has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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With her win, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became one of four Democrats heading to Congress to push for a Green New Deal. Rick Loomis / Getty Images

Results from the U.S. midterm election are mostly in, and, when it comes to what they mean for the environment, they're a real mixed bag.

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Gov. Phil Murphy / Instagram

New Jersey has passed a law prohibiting offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production in state waters—the nation's toughest response yet to the Trump administration's plans to vastly expand offshore drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Friday the bipartisan bill called the "Shore Tourism and Ocean Protection from Offshore Oil and Gas Act" or "STOP Offshore Oil and Gas Act."

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Gogama oil train derailment. CBC / YouTube

By Justin Mikulka

The Motley Fool has been advising investors on "How to Profit From the Re-Emergence of Canada's Crude-by-Rail Strategy." But what makes transporting Canadian crude oil by rail attractive to investors?

According to the Motley Fool, the reason is "… right now, there is so much excess oil being pumped out of Canada's oil sands that the pipelines simply don't have the capacity to handle it all."

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A controversial natural gas pipeline project with a proposed route through New Jersey can move forward, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled Friday.

Owners of the proposed $1.2 billion PennEast Pipeline, which would carry shale gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, said they are planning to begin construction this year following the certificate of public convenience granted by FERC on Friday.

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Check out this great 360° virtual reality video by NowThis on the world's largest indoor vertical farm, AeroFarms. Located in Newark, New Jersey, AeroFarms grows more than 2 million pounds of greens a year without sunlight, soil or pesticides.

As reported by EcoWatch in July 2105, the $30 million, 70,000-square-foot AeroFarms headquarters dwarfs Japan's (already impressive) 25,000-square-foot vertical indoor farm, which had been the world's largest until now.

More than 80 types of crops are currently being grown at Bowery's New Jersey farm. Photo credit: Bowery

A New Jersey farm is growing leafy greens such as baby kale, arugula, butterhead lettuce and basil all year round without pesticides, soil or even sunshine.

Bowery, a high-tech vertical farm in the town of Kearny, claims to grow "the world's first post-organic produce." The company officially launched Feb. 23 after two years of planning and development.

Like many other vertical farms, Bowery's crops grow indoors in stacked rows under LED lights that mimic the sun's rays and get nourished by nutrient-filled, recirculating water.

But what makes Bowery's operation unique is its proprietary FarmOS technology that can detect peak times for harvest and learns what the crops need to thrive, thus eliminating a lot of guesswork that's usually involved with planting food.

Co-founder and CEO Irving Fain explained in a blog post how the fully integrated software system works:

"FarmOS uses data from multiple sources, including vision systems, along with machine learning to monitor plants and all the variables that drive their growth, quality, and flavor, from germination to harvest. This yields insight into what each crop needs, rather than relying on instinct. By monitoring the growing process 24/7 and capturing large amounts of data along the way, we can constantly iterate on each varietal, tweak flavor profiles, provide each crop exactly what it needs to thrive, and harvest at the exact right time. This means better produce all year round."

Fain listed several other advantages to the Bowery system:

0 pesticides - Our controlled indoor environment allows us to grow the purest produce imaginable, with absolutely no pesticides or chemicals. Bowery produce is so clean, you don't even have to wash it.

95% less water - We give our crops exactly what they need and nothing more. Nutrients get precisely delivered via purified water—not a single drop is wasted along the way.

100x+ more productive - By planting in vertical rows and growing twice as fast as traditional agriculture, our farms can be more more productive on the same footprint of land compared with traditional farms.

365 days a year - Growing indoors with LED lights that mimic the full spectrum of the sun means we can grow independent of seasonality or weather conditions. In the future, this will mean perfect, local produce available in New York and other cities in the dead of winter.

Same day harvest to store - Because our farms are located close to the communities they serve, Bowery produce reaches stores and restaurants within one day—unlike traditional produce, which can take weeks or even months.

According to FoodTank, more than 80 types of crops are currently being grown at the company's farm.

The Bowery team believes its model can help address the food needs of the planet's rapidly growing population, which is estimated to balloon to 9-10 billion people by 2050. By then we will need up to 70 percent more food to feed all those mouths.

Fain also pointed out that today's agricultural system has wreaked havoc on the environment and drained precious resources.

"Today our nation depends on cheap, mass-produced food, sacrificing quality for quantity at the expense of our health and the environment," he wrote. "Agriculture now consumes 70 percent of the world's accessible water and 700 million pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. alone each year."

Another reason that operations like Bowery are important is that the world's population is increasingly urban. Today, 54 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas and will grow to 66 percent by 2050. With its location in Kearny, Bowery is less than 10 miles away from New York City, meaning produce can be plucked and packaged and on its way to the Big Apple in a day.

"We have to re-think what agriculture looks like in a world where water is scarce, people live in cities, and we're waking up to the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals in our food," Fain wrote. "If we can marry the honesty, quality, and precision of the best small providers with the scale of modern agricultural operations, we can change our food system for the better."

Its products can already be found in New York City establishments such as Tom Colicchio's restaurants Craft and Fowler & Wells and select Foragers stores. This month, it will expand to select tristate Whole Foods Markets.

Bowery's packaged greens start at $3.49, a price that's "equal to or lower than equivalent produce grown in the field," Fain wrote, adding that as the company continues to grow, "economies of scale will only drive this price down, making better food more accessible to more people."

Bowery, which recently raised $7.5 million in venture funding, says its scalable model can be replicated in other urban areas and the company is already working at planning their next farm.

Is this the next #NoDAPL? The Ramapough Lunaape tribe in the township of Mahwah, New Jersey are protesting the interstate Pilgrim Pipeline, a proposed 178-mile dual pipeline that would carry fracked Bakken shale oil from Albany, New York to the Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey.

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline route.Fractracker

While it is not yet finalized, the preliminary route crosses five counties and 30 municipalities in New Jersey and five counties and 25 municipalities in New York, as well as the Highlands region, where the groundwater and surface water are the direct source of water for more than 4.5 million people in both states, according to the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline.

The pipeline would also run through a portion of the Ramapo Valley Reservation. Similar to the Standing Rock Sioux, the Lunaape worry that a potential pipeline leak would pollute drinking water and sacred sites.

"The Pilgrim Pipeline is another of the many needless pipelines running through the Lunaape homeland which is endangering the water of millions, while it appears to be criminally circumventing federal law," Ramapough Lunaape Chief Dwaine Perry told MintPress earlier this month.

The $1 billion project, operated by Connecticut-based Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, consists of two parallel pipelines so crude and refined products can be sent in both directions. The pipeline is capable of carrying 400,000 barrels of oil per day. The company claims that the pipeline is "far safer" and "more environmentally sound" than transferring crude by rail or barge.

The company, which announced the project three years ago, has not yet applied for the permit that would define their exact pipeline route.

CBS New York reported in 2014 that Pilgrim representatives used "scare tactics" to intimidate homeowners living along the possible pipeline route to gain access to their property for surveys and studies.

Members of the Lunaape want others in New Jersey to join their fight against the project. NBC New York reports that the Lunaape have displayed anti-Pilgrim pipeline signs alongside teepees that were initially erected to recognize the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux, who are protesting the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The tribe has been hosting teach-ins about the pipeline at their encampment. Dozens of people have already attended.

"The community needs to stop looking at the Ramapoughs as the canary in the mine and get their helmets on and stand with us, because if that goes it doesn't matter what your home costs, you can't drink oil," Perry told NBC.

The protest, however, has hit a legal snag as the tribe has not yet obtained the necessary permits to camp out on land near the pipeline's proposed route. Mahwah has issued a summons for their occupation, even though the town is officially against the pipeline and agrees that its route through Ramapo Valley Reservation is unacceptable.

"One leak will determine the fate of our community and the millions of people between here and the Newark basin," Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said.

New Jersey's Sierra Club asserts that pipeline construction would have "deleterious effects" on communities, wildlife and the surrounding environment.

"In the Highlands and other sensitive areas, we would see wetlands destroyed, drinking water and critical habitats threatened, endangered species leveled to the ground, and impacts to waterways from more erosion due to construction," the environmental group argues. "The pipeline would pass through environmental justice communities that have already seen too much air and water pollution as a result of the fossil fuel industry."

The Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline, which consists of 40 different groups, adds that "the source of the oil and its consequences for our climate, along with the environmental impacts of the project's construction and operation, will have long-term, negative effects on both states."

Wenonah Hauter, executive director or Food & Water Watch, called the pipeline "dangerous and unnecessary."

"The town of Mahwah should stop harassing the tribal camp and focus their efforts on stopping the pipeline," she said.

The coalition is calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to oppose the project.

Cuomo's position on the Pilgrim Pipeline is unclear, but New York state is ramping up its clean energy efforts under the governor's goal of sourcing 50 percent of the state's power from renewables. Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also denied a key permit to the Constitution Pipeline Project in April.

Christie, however, is more of a wildcard. Although the Garden State is a solar power all-star, Christie is a fan of pipelines and a vocal supporter of the controversial Keystone XL. Although he has not commented directly about the Pilgrim Pipeline, during an appearance with New Jersey's 101.5 in 2014, the governor said, "If we want to have more clean and affordable energy, we have to build pipelines to move it ... There's 2.2 million miles of pipeline in the United States already. Things seem to be going in the main fairly well and with the energy revolution that we have going on we need to do more."

"In general, I'm a fan of pipelines," he added.

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