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Hurricane Irma with its eye completely encompassing the island of Barbuda on Sept. 6. University of Wisconsin / CIMMS

Now Is Exactly the Time to Have That Discussion About Climate Change

By Susan Glickman

As a native Floridian, I chose to ride out Hurricane Irma in my hometown of Tampa—just a few miles north of where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play football. Like millions of other Floridians who evacuated low-lying beach communities for higher ground, I had the obvious safety concerns and worries about whether I would even have a home to return to. But as a public interest advocate who has worked on climate and energy issues every day for almost two decades, I also have intense concerns about the growing climate change/hurricane nexus.

So when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says it's insensitive to Floridians and Texans to talk about climate change during hurricane emergencies, I say he missed the boat as to what's truly insensitive.

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Battle Begins to Restore Protections for Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

By WildEarth Guardian

Wednesday, WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's flawed rule stripping grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Endangered Species Act protections. The service's premature removal of crucial federal safeguards undermines the recovery of the species as a whole, while subjecting grizzlies stepping outside the safety of our national parks to state-sanctioned trophy hunting.

"The Service failed to carry out its paramount—and mandatory—duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary," said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "The Service's decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again."

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What You Need to Know About the Clean Water Rule

By Rebecca Long, American Rivers

On June 27 Administrator Scott Pruitt of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a roll back of an Obama-era administration policy that protected more than half the nation's streams from pollution. "We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," Pruitt said in a statement at the time. But what is the Clean Water Rule (CWR), why was it never implemented, and how will repealing it affect the drinking water of one in three Americans?

The Obama administration introduced the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, in 2015. The regulation was meant to clarify portions of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA explicitly protects the "waters of the United States," which are defined under previous regulations as "traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, all other waters that could affect interstate or foreign commerce, impoundments of waters of the United States, tributaries, the territorial seas, and adjacent wetlands."

However, under the CWA, it was difficult to discern if certain bodies of water were federally protected or not. Were wetlands adjacent to non-navigable tributaries of navigable waters protected or not? Confusing, right? These uncertainties lead to frustrations between developers and environmental protection groups, and ultimately, were addressed several times by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 27, 2015, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released the CWR as a means to clarify the CWA. The rule maintained much of the old definition of the "Waters of the United States," but took into account past Supreme Court rulings, public comment, as well as a major scientific assessment known as the Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Water Assessment. This assessment concluded that "streams, regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters." Naturally, large bodies like lakes and rivers were listed, but the rule also found streams (intermittent and ephemeral ones too), ponds, and other smaller features that have connections to these bigger, "navigable" waterways are indeed federally protected.

Since October 2015, the Clean Water Rule has been stuck in federal appeals court. But just because the rule hasn't been fully implemented, doesn't mean repealing it won't have long-term effects on our drinking water, environment, economy and much more.

According to the EPA, within the continental U.S., about 117 million people, or more than one third of the total U.S. population, get some or all of their drinking water from public drinking water systems that rely at least in part on intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams. These are the same intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams that the Trump administration's EPA wants to no longer protect by revoking the Clean Water Rule. By slashing clean water safeguards, the President and Pruitt are putting the health of hundreds of millions of us at risk.

Not only is our drinking water at risk, but clean water is essential to the economy. Our $887-billion outdoor recreation economy supports 7.6 million American jobs, and it all depends on clean water. In 2011 alone, hunters spent $34 billion, anglers spent $41.8 billion and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion. The money that sportsmen spend in pursuit of their passion supports everything from major manufacturing industries to small businesses in communities across the country.

The streams and wetlands that the CWR protects not only affect the water quality for fish downstream, but also provides nesting habitat for more than 50 percent of North American waterfowl. Wetlands span some 110 million acres across the U.S., providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife as well as aiding in filtration of contaminated runoff and groundwater storage. If we lose these wetlands, we risk losing habitat for fish and wildlife and the economic boost given by those on the quest for the perfect catch.

What happens upstream, effects those downstream. What we do today to protect our water, protects our water tomorrow. It's that simple.

We have until Sept. 27, join us in telling the EPA and Administrator Pruitt that we need to strengthen, not weaken, safeguards for clean water.

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Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock, November 2016. Osprey Orielle Lake / Women's Earth & Climate Action Network

Standing Against the Banks: DAPL Divestment and Water Protectors' Fight for Justice, Indigenous Rights, Water and Life

By Michelle Cook and Osprey Orielle Lake

Despite shifts in the terrain of struggle, the courageous and determined Water Protectors of the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continue to stand strong, gain momentum and mobilize in diverse and effective ways in their work to protect Indigenous rights, water and life in North Dakota and beyond.

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Pollution in Hyderabad. Christian Baars / NDR

Big Pharma's Industrial Pollution Goes Unchecked, Breeds Superbug Crisis

By Madlen Davies

Industrial pollution from Indian pharmaceutical companies making medicines for nearly all the world's major drug companies is fueling the creation of deadly superbugs, suggests new research. Global health authorities have no regulations in place to stop this happening.

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With Sleeping Bags in Tow, 33 Students Begin Sit In Demanding University Divestment From Fossil Fuels

By Fossil Free Penn

At 9 a.m. today, 33 students at the University of Pennsylvania entered College Hall, sleeping bags in tow, to sit in with two demands. These demands were:

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Sting: 'Dear Leaders, Please Do Something Quick, Time Is Up, the Planet's Sick'

By Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Sting and ecotheology? Seriously? What possible connection could there be between the famous pop music artist and the study of ecology and religion? Read on!

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Huge Victory: Winona County, Minnesota Bans Frac Sand Mining

By Jim Gurley

Winona County, Minnesota has placed a total ban on the strip-mining of frac sand, a necessary component of fracking. This is thought to be the first such countywide ban in the nation.

The Winona County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 22 voted 3-2 to ban the mining, processing or trans-loading of frac sand in the county, which is located in the environmentally delicate and beautiful Mississippi River bluff lands of southeast Minnesota.

Frac sand being transported by barge in the Upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin. Ric Zarwell

Frac sand is an essential ingredient in fracking, which fractures shale deep underground. The frac sand (also known as silica sand) props open those fractures so that bubbles of oil or gas can flow to the surface. Fracking, a type of extreme energy extraction, cannot take place without this special silica sand. (Although there are more expensive alternatives such as imported ceramic beads or resin-coated sand.)

The sand we're familiar with (sand boxes or beach sand) is angular and variable in size, whereas frac sand is almost pure quartz and must be spherical, extremely crush-resistant and uniform in size.

The best type of this valuable sand is found in the Upper Midwest, with Wisconsin holding 75 percent of the nation's frac sand market. But the industry has been somewhat stymied in Minnesota due to intense and organized citizen opposition by such groups as Winona County's Citizens Against Silica Mining (CASM) and Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project which spearheaded the ban campaign.

Frac sand mining from the sky in Wisconsin, October 2013. Ted Auch

This ban applies only to rural areas, not to the city of Winona—which already has a half-dozen operations, including a mine within the city limits. City leaders, working behind the scenes, enabled the industry to get a substantial foothold in Winona in 2011 prior to public discussion, debate or significant local media coverage.

As the central transport hub (rail and barge) for the region, the city of Winona has seen intense controversy and protest. Citizens took direct action in 2012 when they dumped frac sand on the steps of city hall. In 2013, more than 100 people blocked the trucks with their bodies and shut down two large operations simultaneously, resulting in 35 arrests.

Citizens shut down two frac-sand facilities April 29, 2013 in the city of Winona, Minnesota, resulting in 35 arrests. Here citizens block frac-sand trucks from unloading at the city's port on the Mississippi River. Andrew Link / Winona Daily News

Ban supporters cite several concerns. Frac sand is a known carcinogen leading to cancer and silicosis (a fatal and incurable lung disease). Frac-sand trucks emit diesel exhaust, which is linked to lung cancer. Chemicals used in settling ponds are concerning, as are the threats to groundwater from the leaching of heavy metals.

Citizens block trucks carrying frac sand during the 2013 Winona, Minnesota protest by locking arms at the Hemker processing facility.

People near frac sand operations suffer a loss of a sense of place, as entire bluffs are obliterated with mountain-top removal; stress and sickness from the 24/7 bright stadium lights and noise, and the hundreds of 80,000-pound semis that pass their houses daily.

Economically, tourism dollars are jeopardized, property values are often devalued for those who refuse to sell, roads are degraded or destroyed, and taxpayers are burdened with the added costs of monitoring and enforcement. (The industry has often flagrantly ignored regulations.)

When applying for a permit, the industry promises "reclamation" of the land afterwards, sometimes saying it will be better than before for native plants or crops. But experts warn that soil is a living organism that takes many years to form. And extractive industries have a history of declaring bankruptcy once they've taken the resource, leaving the residents to deal with the resulting problem.

The two commissioners who opposed a ban warned of impending lawsuits, saying that regulating the industry made more sense than banning it. They offered an alternative ordinance that would have limited the number of mines. But the county attorney, Karin Sonneman found that such a ban, with proper findings of fact, would be defensible in court.

Ban opponents also cited property rights, saying that taking away the possibility for a landowner to strip-mine constituted a "taking" under the U.S. Constitution, and interfered with interstate commerce. County Attorney Sonneman disagreed.

"I cannot control anyone who wants to sue this board, but I can certainly make darn well sure that the board's decisions are supported by the law and the facts," she said.

An average of 80 percent of citizen comments received on this issue favored a ban. Commissioner Greg Olson said the case is strong. Referring to an industry attorney who threatened a lawsuit, Olson said, "I'd put more weight on the public who has spoken at that podium ... than I do on a letter from an attorney in Minneapolis. We represent the citizens of Winona County as a whole and I think they've been clear."

Johanna Rupprecht, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, reflected on the victory. "I'm really pleased that a majority of the county board listened to the will of the citizens and followed through on passing the ban even in the face of threats and pressure of outside interests," Rupprecht concluded.

Climate

The Marine Hotspot That Could Save Our Seas

By Neela Eyunni

The Earth's oceans are under siege. Human activity is wiping out coral reefs and marine life at a faster rate than ever before. As conservationists try to restore the health of our seas, one place may be key to turning the tide.

The Verde Island Passage has the highest concentration of marine species in the world. Spanning 4,400 square miles, it sits between the province of Batangas and the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. Just more than a decade ago, Prof. Kent Carpenter of the Biological Sciences Department at Old Dominion University labeled the Verde Island Passage "the center of the center" of marine biodiversity.

Hard corals in Anilao, part of the Verde Island Passage. Boogs Rosales

Today, Carpenter sees the passage as a litmus test for global conservation. He said it holds valuable insight into what needs to be done in order to protect the planet's aquatic life.

"Being able to study the Verde Island Passage gives us the opportunity to understand how to preserve global biodiversity," said Carpenter.

In 2005, he and marine scientist Victor Springer recorded 1,736 overlapping marine species in a mere 10-square kilometer area of the passage. Everything from giant clams and hawksbill turtles to unique sea slugs and rare corals call the Verde Island Passage home.

But like many hotspots of marine biodiversity, it too is being threatened by unsustainable fishing and pollution. While dynamite fishing plagued the area in the 1980s and 1990s, the major threat today is overfishing. Carpenter points to the reduction of herbivores in the corridor as a major cause for concern. Herbivorous fish play a key role in ensuring the survival of coal reefs by keeping algae growth in check.

Garbage from coastal communities and ships floating off Tingloy municipality in the province of Batangas, Philippines. Boogs Rosales

Adding to the environmental pressure is the fact that the Verde Island Passage is a major shipping lane, transporting goods and passengers between the Philippine capital of Manila and the rest of the country. Carpenter said that ships traveling through the passage often dump their garbage in the ocean to avoid paying the offloading fee when they arrive in Manila.

With the challenges, however, has come hope, thanks to the Verde Island Passage's resilience and conservationists who are dedicated to protecting it. Robert Suntay is president of the SEA-VIP Institute, a nonprofit organization which promotes conservation in the Verde Island Passage through science, education and advocacy.

The Verde Island Passage is home to a high concentration of shrimp species, including this Coleman Shrimp. Boogs Rosales

"In the more than two decades that I have been diving in the Verde Island Passage, I have seen her suffer from terrible bouts with coral bleaching and algal blooms, and from indiscriminate cyanide and dynamite fishing," Suntay said. "It has also been my privilege to see her recover, seemingly miraculously, with amazing resilience and in record time."

One hypothesis is that the corridor's resilience is because of its extreme biodiversity. Greater diversity means a different species can fill the ecological role of another in case of decline. While it requires further research, the Verde Island Passage's ability to bounce back from destructive human activities makes it an even more valuable tool in the fight to save the planet's seas. Suntay said the passage should be studied by scientists in other parts of the world that are suffering from environmental degradation.

But while the potential is high, so are the stakes.

"This is a winning model that we have shown could work," Carpenter said. "To have it fail would be devastating in terms of what we want to do in conservation."

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