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Obama signs bill that will lead to “warning noise” requirement for electric cars

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The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, championed by John Kerry and the National Federation for the Blind, was signed in early January by President Obama. Spurred by concerns that new, near-silent vehicles may pose a danger to both the blind and those not paying attention visually, the law will eventually require all vehicles on the road to make some sound to help keep pedestrians safe. For now, the law calls on the Secretary of Transportation to “study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation.”

This year’s new entrants in the electic car sweepstakes already include features that help with this problem. The Nissan Leaf makes a sound to warn pedestrians when traveling at slow speeds (at higher speeds tire noise is sufficient), and the Chevy Volt includes a chirping sound that can be triggered by the driver (as a subtler alternative to the horn).

For a look at some sound design concepts for electric vehicles, see this AEINews post from about a year ago.

The sounds of silence at Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Repost of a column by park staff, printed in the Valley Courier, the local paper in nearby Alamosa, Colorado:

Have you ever heard the rustling sound of a bird’s wings flapping overhead…before you saw the bird? What about the sound of a rabbit chewing on a blade of grass? Most Americans don’t have the opportunity to hear those subtle sounds of nature at home, thanks to the backdrop of human-produced noises which drown them out.

Many people, however, say that the opportunity to hear natural sounds is an important reason to protect national parks, based on a 1998 study of the American public. And most respondents to a 1995 survey of national park visitors said that enjoying the sounds of nature and natural quiet were compelling reasons to visit national parks.

But-what exactly is ‘natural quiet’? Most of us would say that it’s the sounds of nature without an overlay of traffic, airplanes, machinery and other kinds of human-produced sounds. But anyone who has ever spent a windy night camping at the Dunes knows that windy nights might be ‘natural’…but they’re sure not ‘quiet’!

In order to learn just how quiet-or not–the natural world is at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds Program installed a temporary acoustic monitoring station Read the rest of this entry »

Ontario wind farm law court challenge to be heard today

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Today in Toronto, an Ontario Superior Court will begin hearing a challenge to wind farm siting provisions of the province’s new Green Energy Act, which set a minimum distance from wind turbines to homes at 550 meters.

The Ottawa Citizen has a good, detailed article about the legal challenge, which you can read here.

UPDATE: Here’s a new Citizen story on the day’s proceedings.

What could be interesting about this case is that they are directly challenging the claimed comprehensiveness of key previous studies of the health effects of wind farms. These literature reviews, the court challenge claims, were incomplete, and failed to provide necessary medical evidence of the safety of the current setbacks. The litigants hope to submit expert testimony from two doctors whose own studies have led them to recommend much larger safety zones to protect citizens from sleep disruption, stress, and other health-related effects. Perhaps the most important witness Read the rest of this entry »

AEI commentary on Wisconsin Gov wind plan featured on Renewable Energy World

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Check out the Renewable Energy World front page today, and you’ll find a commentary I submitted over the weekend featured there. If it fades off the front page, here’s the direct link.

Great SciAmer blog post on animals adapting to human noise

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Jump on over to Scientific American to read this great overview of the many different ways that animals are using to adapt to increasing human noise in their habitats. The author is an NYU science reporting student, and she promises a new sound blog soon on Scienceline….

Can you hear me now? Animals all over the world are finding interesting ways to get around the human din

New oil platform in Sakhalin grey whale feeding grounds?

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After years of “collaborative” work with environmental groups, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company continues to push aggressive development plans in an oil and gas field off the coast of Sakhalin Island, where the last 130 critically endangered Northern Pacific grey whales come to feed each summer and fall. This week, Sakhalin Energy announced plans to build a third oil platform in the area, even though it had previously decided two were enough, thanks to advances in drilling technology that allows one platform to serve several wells.

“We are astonished by the announcement from Sakhalin Energy that it intends to build a third platform,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Program Manager, WWF-International.  “The company’s own detailed assessments concluded previously that two platforms would be preferable, both for environmental reasons and for the efficiency of the operation.”

Previously, Sakhalin Energy has cooperated with WWF and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has organized a panel of scientists to make recommendations about how the oil development can minimize impacts on the whales.  BP and Exxon, by contrast, have proceeded with development activities without consulting the panel.

See previous AEI News coverage of Sakhalin oil and gas development.

Puget Sound orca population dwindles as action on boat noise lags

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Seven years after the Southern resident killer whale population in Puget Sound was declared endangered, US government regulators appear poised to finally enact new regulations to protect orcas from boat noise in key foraging areas. In 2009, NOAA proposed increasing the minimum buffer that boats must give orcas, from 100 yards to 200 yards, and creating a half-mile “no go” zone along the entire west side of San Juan Island, where orcas gather to feed.  After extending the comment period into early 2010, finally – a year later – NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has formally completed its analysis process; now, the Department of Commerce and Office of Management and Budget must OK the plan before the new rules go into effect, hopefully before this summer’s whalewatching season.

Reducing boat noise is a key piece of the puzzle for orca health.  Several recent research projects have identified impacts of boat noise, including reducing foraging time and interfering with communication.  The primary direct cause of orca decline is malnutrition as salmon runs decline; for this reason, it’s crucial that orcas are not impeded by boat noise as they seek out the fewer salmon that remain.

Seattle’s Q13 Fox News has covered the story well in recent months, including a recent update, along with a three part series that ran in November 2010 (all four stories have video components).

On the Canadian side of the border, things are moving even more slowly.  In December, a Canadian court ruled that the Canadian government’s approach, which uses voluntary guidelines, is not sufficient in dealing with an endangered species.  But Canadian officials have appealed that ruling, and it appears that nothing will change for the foreseeable future.

“It’s another season where we’re allowing more stress to be put on these animals.  You have to start asking how much more they can take?  If you ask anyone, a politician anybody about the Orca they would say they’re wonderful and beautiful and magnificent.  Why is it we can’t turn that into action?” asks Christine Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance.

Follow this link for all previous AEI News coverage of orca issues.

New Wisconsin GOP Gov proposes larger wind farm setbacks

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 2 Comments »

Note: See a longer article on I wrote Walker’s move, which was published on the Renewable Energy World website

When Scott Walker was inaugurated as Wisconsin’s new Governor earlier this month, he called a special session of the state legislature, dubbed the “Wisconsin in Open for Business” session.  All bills will be focused on improving the state’s business climate, something that is always a GOP priority, and which in these tough economic times, has widespread support.

But his regulatory reform bill has a wild card tucked inside: a new and stricter setback standard for industrial wind farms.  While the proposal is being attacked as a job-killer, it appears to AEI that the Governor has his pulse on one of the key ways that the wind industry might gain easier acceptance in the years to come.

In response to tough local rules that were seen as anti-wind, the Wisconsin legislature called for statewide standards that localities cannot exceed; after a couple years of meetings, the state’s PRC recently adopted a new statewide standard of 1250 feet from homes.  Governor Walker’s bill would increase setbacks statewide to 1800 feet from property lines.

While this would still not protect neighbors from hearing wind turbines, which are often quite audible at a half mile and can be heard to a mile or more in some situations (many suggest setbacks in these larger ranges), it is a substantial increase.  Wind industry spokesmen immediately slammed the change, claiming that it would basically preclude new wind farms in the state and kill jobs.  These critiques ignore a key provision of the Governor’s proposal: neighbors closer than 1800 feet can agree to let turbines go up, presumably in exchange for some compensation from the wind company.

It appears that Governor Walker understands that what will move the wind industry forward is regulations that may help local communities to feel more comfortable about the likely impacts of new wind farms, rather than standards designed primarily to ease the placement of new wind farms.  The combination of larger setbacks, and provisions for neighbors to sign waivers, is the right direction for growing this industry without sacrificing the quality of life of rural communities.

Here are three articles in the local press on the proposal: Simple announcement of the bill, and statement from Governor A fairly balanced article that includes comments from developers and those supporting the measure Longer, also balanced report, with quotes from AWEA, the Governor, and local supporters of the proposal

SOCAL-10 presentation at Smithsonian available online

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A few days ago, Brandon Southall did a presentation on research that took place last year off the southern California coast, in which scientists successfully placed D-Tags on more animals than any previous study, then played sounds into the water, in order to watch for responses, and determine what sound levels trigger behavioral changes.  The Smithsonian talk was streamed live online, and is now posted for viewing at our leisure.

It can be viewed at:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/11956611

(Via Brandon’s SEA-INC blog):
SOCAL-10 presentation at Smithsonian available online – SEA Blog: “”