Friday, December 24, 2010
An editorial in Nature yesterday, "Calm in a Storm," named NOAA
Administrator Jane Lubchenco, "Newsmaker of the Year." Lubchencos frank
and informed interviews in the media on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
drew attention to the need for scientists to speak out on issues that
matter. But its not for the timid; she was criticized for the way her
agency initially downplayed evidence of oil spreading below the surface.
Ironically, Whats New was criticized for warning about below-the-surface
spread before it was observed" http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN10/wn052810.html.
In March 2009, newly-elected President Obama issued a memorandum on
scientific integrity forbidding the distortion of science for political
ends. The move seemed to signal a clear departure from the administration
of President George W. Bush, which muzzled government scientists whose
views departed from those of the White House. Last week, John Holdren,
director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, issued
a four-page guideline prohibiting political interference and assuring
transparency. That's all that was needed, but it didn't seem to please
anyone. Some thought it was too short, but more likely it was too long;
the First Amendment to the Constitution after all is a single sentence.
Transparency is good, but if the transparent medium is too thick the
picture tends to be distorted by refraction.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it will seize
authority from Texas to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants
and refineries because Gov. Rick Perry and state regulators refuse to
implement the rules. Governor Perry said a number of states would side
with Texas on the issue, but with only two weeks left before the new law
takes effect Texas is the only state refusing to enforce it. Texas has a
long history of imagining itself to be above federal law, and an equally
long history of losing in court.
This is not good news. The 15 lanthanide-series metals, plus scandium and
yttrium are not at all rare in the Earth's crust, but theyre widely
dispersed and difficult to separate. The magnetic properties of dysprosium
in particular make it important to the iphone and to hybrid and electric
gained its monopoly of rare-earth metals by cutting prices at the cost of
environmental degradation. It's a time-honored path for modernization of an
economy, but with its new wealth, China now seeks to improve the
environment. That's not easy to do in the rare-earth market; the dust from
mining operations is mildly radioactive due to thorium and uranium minerals
and the separation process uses enormous amounts of toxic acids. The chief
US producer was Molycorp which now plans to reopen to its notorious mine in
Mountain Pass, CA, closed in part because of environmental degradation.
The company promises to employ a cleaner technology, but mining it is an
inherently dirty business.