Appeals Court Rules Federal, State Agencies Illegally Approved Controversial NC Highway
Ruling a wake-up call for DOTs nationwide to consider sprawl, other impacts of major highway projects
In a landmark ruling that has national implications, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 3 that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) illegally failed to consider and disclose the potential sprawl-inducing impacts of a 20-mile highway bypass near Charlotte.
The court also chastised the transportation agencies for falsely denying to the public and other permitting agencies that they had essentially compared “building the road” with “building the road.”
“This is a wake-up call for NCDOT and transportation agencies around the country that the only legal way to assess environmental impacts of building major highways is to factor in resulting sprawl development on the landscape,” said David Farren, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). He said this is one of a only a few federal appellate rulings dealing with the fundamental precept that DOTs fully consider these secondary and cumulative impacts of building major highways when conducting environmental impact studies under the National Environmental Policy Act.
SELC represented Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Yadkin Riverkeeper in challenging the agencies’ approval of the controversial Monroe Bypass, a $700 million, four-lane highway on the suburban-rural fringe of metro Charlotte, one of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas.
The groups said the NCDOT and FHWA turned logic on its head by assuming the bypass already existed when they analyzed a “no build” option. This fundamental flaw skewed the examination of cheaper and less damaging alternatives, and prevented a valid comparison of potential environmental impacts. Using faulty assumptions and flawed methodology, the transportation agencies claimed the Monroe Bypass would only make a one percent difference in the level of growth in the region. When the conservation groups pointed out this flaw, NCDOT denied it—a falsehood that was conceded only when confronted in court.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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