Not So Neat: Whiskey Distilleries Spread Fungus

Bourbon casks at Laphroaig, by user John Allan, licensed by Creative Commons

The citizens of Louisville, Kentucky and the surrounding area have recently sued the local Whiskey distilleries because of a “black gunk” that was found over the roofs of their houses and cars.  As a result, property damage and negligence lawsuits have been filed against factories along the “Bourbon Trail.”  The main cause of the sooty germination is a naturally occurring fungus that latches onto ethanol, which many distilleries continue to emit.  Though monetary damages have not been specified many are asking the companies to reevaluate their environmental policies. Read more

Memphis to Clean Itself Up

In what might be the government equivalent to a friendly “take a shower, bro” at the gym, the city of Memphis, Tennessee has agreed to spend $250 million over a decade to fix and update its sewer system as part of a settlement.  Apparently, the occasional overflow of untreated sewage was becoming a big problem in Memphis.  Gross.  The federal government, in particular the EPA, undertook litigation to force Memphis to fix these problems.  On Monday, Memphis settled, paying a $1.29 million civil penalty (half of which will go right back to unrelated Memphis-bettering infrastructure projects) and agreeing that raw sewage is disgusting and probably shouldn’t be spewing out willy-nilly from time to time.

As to what extent these $250 million improvements will go is unclear.  At least part of it will be to develop a “comprehensive fats, oil, and grease program”, which makes you wonder why there wasn’t one in the first place.  This article shows images of a person actually kayaking through backed-up foamy white sewage sludge byproduct.  In light of that repulsive fact, maybe the best course of action would be to have the TVA come in and toss a dam in there to fix everything up.

 

The Latest BP Oil Spill Settlement

Oil Refinery in Nova Scotia, from Flickr user Iguanasan, licensed via Creative Commons

An oil refinery in Nova Scotia

The big news this weekend was the announcement that BP has settled the set of civil suits by residents and businesses against the company.  The settlement does not have a fixed amount, but BP claims it will likely pay around $7.8 billion.  While that may seem like a big number, this is only the most recent settlement.  In addition to this lawsuit, which covers economic and medical claims, BP has already spent about $22.1 billion on other settlements and, of course, the initial clean up of the spill.  And more is yet to come: the company still faces the US federal government and the individual states affected by the spill in court, potentially seeing criminal charges applied.  Analysts place the total amount in these cases to be anywhere between $17- and $40 billion.  BP itself has set aside $37.5 billion in anticipation of the cases.  There are a few variables in this number, which causes the range to vary so widely.  For one thing, the environmental fines depend on whether or not BP is found to have been grossly negligent, which some see as unlikely in the wake of these latest settlements.  Additionally, if the government levies criminal charges against the company, which it most likely will, the individual fines for that might be $10 billion (the highest amount of criminal fines paid by a corporation so far have only been $2 billion).  For more analysis of the numbers, check out this Wall Street Journal article that gives an excellent rundown.

The ultimate question this whole catastrophe asks is: does money really resolve the environmental problems caused by the company?  Some 5 billion barrels of oil were spilled, possibly because the company ignored safety checks in its rush to pump more oil out of the Earth.  When numbers get that high, humans have an inability to really grasp how huge they are, so use this tool to get a sense of just how much of an impact this spill had on the Gulf.  The city of Chicago and the surrounding area would be drenched in crude if the Magnificent Mile suddenly erupted.  The entirety of South Carolina would need to be cleaned if Columbia opened up and started gushing.  So does $5.4 billion, the lowest in environmental fines BP could pay, really fix anything?  I for one am looking forward to the criminal trial — let’s see if anyone will actually be held accountable for ruining a bit of the Earth.

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