By Matt Smith
The next big pipeline battle is shaping up in the marshes of southwestern Louisiana.
The standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has energized activists in Louisiana, who are trying to keep another crude conduit out of wetlands that Louisianans have fought to restore for decades. The 162-mile Bayou Bridge Pipeline is the last of a network of oilfield arteries that includes DAPL. The project would run from southeastern Texas to a Mississippi River terminal in St. James Parish, west of New Orleans, after crossing the Atchafalaya River basin—a 1.4 million-acre swath of cypress marsh and wetland forest that's a key rest stop for birds moving north and south along the Mississippi Flyway.
"It's the largest swamp left in North America and it's historically the most critical habitat for migratory birds in the entire hemisphere," said Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. The murky waters of the Atchafalaya are teeming with fish, crawfish and crabs, making them a rich source of food for animals and people alike.
Wilson's organization is part of a coalition of Louisiana environmentalists seeking to block the pipeline, which includes the Sierra Club's Delta Chapter. They're trying to prevent further injury to a state where the oil industry puts food on many tables, but also has inflicted deep and dramatic losses on the landscape. The Atchafalaya watershed is already crisscrossed with thousands of miles of pipe; one more "is one too many," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club organizer in New Orleans.
"As an ecosystem, it's actually more productive than the Everglades, as far as food value," Malek-Wiley said. "It's time to focus in on this and move forward in a positive way to protect the area, rather than to put more pipelines across it, which cause sediment backup and disturb the water flow through the basin."
As an offshoot of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya is a major part of southern Louisiana's flood protection system. In 2011, when rising waters threatened Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers opened spillways that diverted some of that flow through the basin. It's also the only part of coastal Louisiana that gained land area over the past several decades, as a combination of sinking land, sea-level rise and erosion accelerated by industrial canals eats away at the rest of the state's shoreline.
And it's not just the watershed that would be affected. Opponents say the 24-inch-diameter line would cross about 700 bodies of water, from bayous to backyard wells.
They're lined up against the state's powerful oil and gas industry, which employs about 30,000 people and supports tens of thousands more jobs. The area's Republican congressman and the state's Democratic governor both support the pipeline. Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources approved the project in April—and no sympathy is expected from the Trump administration, which reversed its predecessor's decision to halt the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines across the northern Great Plains.
But the pipeline's builder, Energy Transfer Partners, still has to get permission from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Corps of Engineers. Opponents have asked the Department of Natural Resources to reconsider its approval, and argue that the pipeline would piggyback on infrastructure that's already out of compliance with Corps regulations.
"When you live in places like Louisiana, you always have to be optimistic or you just don't fight," Malek-Wiley said.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which also built the Dakota Access Pipeline, didn't respond to requests for comment. Supporters say the pipeline will support about 2,500 construction jobs and pump around $750 million into Louisiana's economy. They also argue that pipelines are the safest way to move oil—far less risky than carrying it by train, where a derailment could lead to a disastrous explosion and fire.
Critics, however, say the industry's safety and environmental record is terrible, citing more than 140 pipeline accidents in 2016, and an explosion in February that killed one worker and injured two others.
In the years since the Deepwater Horizon blowout fouled stretches of the Gulf Coast, environmentalists have stepped up their opposition to new exploration and infrastructure. They've protested and disrupted the Interior Department's offshore lease sales and are preparing for more protests against Bayou Bridge. They're hoping to tap into the experience of people who took part in the Standing Rock protests, said Anne Rolfes, director of the environmental group Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
"There are ordinary people here who were moved to go all the way up to North Dakota to experience that and they are very committed to doing that here," Rolfes said. "People from groups who were very involved up there are helping us figure this out."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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