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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tara Lohan
Part of Joellen Russell's job is to help illuminate the deep darkness — to shine a light on what's happening beneath the surface of the ocean. And it's one of the most important jobs in the world right now.
1. Yes, It’s Definitely Getting Warmer<p>There's no doubt among scientists that the ocean is heating and we're driving it.</p><p>The latest confirmation is the <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00376-020-9283-7.pdf" target="_blank">study by Cheng and colleagues, published this month</a> in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, which bluntly stated, "Ocean heating is irrefutable and a key measure of the Earth's energy imbalance."</p><p>The study found ocean waters in 2019 were the warmest in recorded history. And that follows a pattern: The past decade has also seen the warmest 10 years of ocean temperatures, and the last five years have been the five warmest on record.</p><p>"Every year the ocean waters get warmer, and the reason is because of the heat-trapping gases that humans have emitted into the atmosphere," says <a href="https://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/faculty/john-p-abraham.html" target="_blank">John Abraham</a>, one of the study's coauthors and a professor in mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas. "It's concerning for sure."</p>
2. The Southern Ocean Has Been Hit Worst<p>Much of this warming occurs between the surface and a depth of 6,500 feet. It's happening pretty consistently across the globe, but some areas have experienced higher rates of warming. One of those is the Southern Ocean, which has acted as a giant sink, absorbing 43 percent of our oceanic CO2 emissions and 75 percent of the heat, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0516-2" target="_blank">scientists have concluded</a>.</p><p>That's because the ocean basin functions like an air conditioner for the planet, says Russell. Strong winds pull up cold water from deep below, and then the cold surface water takes up some heat from the air. When the winds slow, the water sinks, more cold water rises, and the process repeats.</p><p>"The sinking water isn't warm, per se, just a bit warmer than it was when the wind pulled it up," she says. "In this way the Southern Ocean can sequester a lot of heat well below the surface."</p><p>For that reason what happens in the Southern Ocean is globally important. And it makes new findings all the more concerning.</p><p>Normal upwelling of waters from deep in the Southern Ocean has traditionally brought nutrients to the surface, where they then get moved by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world's strongest ocean current, to feed <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/marine-life">marine life</a> in other areas. But <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0502-8" target="_blank">new research</a> from Russell and colleagues found that this process will be disrupted as warm waters cause the Southern Ocean's ice sheets to melt even faster. This will change the historical upwelling and could trap nutrients instead of pushing them out.</p><p>That, she says, will "begin to starve the global ocean of nutrients."</p>
3. A Lot of Changes Are Happening<p>As bad as that sounds…there's a lot more.</p><p>One of the most obvious results of ocean warming is higher sea levels. That's caused in part because water expands as it warms.</p><p>But there's also the effect on sea ice. The warmer the water gets, the more ice melts — as is happening in Antarctica. Not surprisingly <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2680/new-study-finds-sea-level-rise-accelerating/" target="_blank">rates of global sea-level rise are accelerating</a>. This means more property damage, storm surges, and waves lapping at the heels of our coastal communities.</p><p>Warmer waters also mean more supercharged storms. An increase in heat drives up evaporation and adds extra moisture to the atmosphere, causing heavy rains, more flooding and more extreme weather events.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNjk2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjkzMjM5OH0.bhKjRgMbhxksaqF3cbAaR47hB1qOwEhfu57i-5Zq4vM/img.jpg?width=980" id="cfea2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="03961faaf4043365957badd47c4abfd2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The aftermath of Cyclone Idai, one of the deadliest storms in history, in Mozambique, March 2019. Denis Onyodi / IFRC / DRK / Climate Centre / CC BY-NC 2.0
4. Marine Heat Waves Are Getting Worse<p>While temperatures are rising across the world's oceans, some areas are also seeing dangerous short-term spikes known as <a href="http://www.marineheatwaves.org/all-about-mhws.html" target="_blank">marine heatwaves</a>.</p><p>Scientists anticipate that these heatwaves, which can be fatal to a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/world/climate-environment/climate-change-tasmania/" target="_blank">long list of sea creatures</a>, will continue to get more severe and more frequent as the ocean warms. By the end of the century, conditions in some areas may be akin to a permanent heatwave.</p><p>That's likely to be bad news for everything from seaweed to birds to mammals, and it could result in fundamental changes for food webs and the animals and coastal economies that depend on those resources.</p><p>"Collectively, and over time, an increase in the exposure of marine ecosystems to extreme temperatures may lead to irreversible loss of species or foundation habitats, such as seagrass, coral reefs and kelp forests," a <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2019.00734/full?utm_source=ad&utm_medium=tw&utm_campaign=ba_sci_fmars" target="_blank">December 2019 study</a> in<em> Frontiers in Marine Science</em> found.</p><p>And these changes likely aren't far off. These marine heatwaves "will emerge as forceful agents of disturbance to marine ecosystems in the near-future," the researchers wrote.</p><p>We're already seeing what that would look like.</p><p>Marine heatwaves off Australia have spurred oyster die-offs and losses to the abalone fishery, and one event in 2016 caught the world's attention when it caused <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04660-w" target="_blank">severe bleaching of the biodiverse Great Barrier Reef</a>, triggering mass coral deaths.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNjk2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwODU4NTI3OH0.nn6BGq9q8yOZAxYZKGnYtrmWETVdBEoeOZ_thH1pEm0/img.jpg?width=980" id="62e5a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4df8b69188d6484a2932664481c2b6f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
An aerial view of widespread coral bleaching in the northern Great Barrier Reef, 2016. Terry Hughes / ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies / CC BY-ND 2.0
5. What We Don’t Know<p>Scientists have enough information now to tell us that we need to quickly change course. But there's still a lot to learn about how warming temperatures will affect myriad species in the sea, not to mention weather patterns and coastal economies.</p><p>One current line of research is to better understand how ocean warming affects weather.</p><p>"We know that a warmer ocean means more water evaporates into the atmosphere," says Abraham. "Consequently, it makes the weather more severe because humidity drives storms. We would like to quantify this. So how much worse is weather now and how bad will it be?"</p><p>Some of that information will come from existing systems.</p>
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Formosa Plant May Still Be Releasing Plastic Pollution in Texas After $50M Settlement, Activists Find
On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.
After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.
Diane Wilson kayaking to the fence line of Formosa's Point Comfort plant to check for nurdles newly discharged from the plant on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Their suit against <a href="http://www.fpcusa.com/" target="_blank">Formosa Plastics Corp. USA</a> resulted in a $50-million-dollar <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b58f65a96d455e767cf70d4/t/5de5306c5fb6fb30a7bdd7dc/1575301231792/Final+consent+decree.pdf" target="_blank">settlement</a> and a range of conditions in an agreement known as a consent decree. Key among the conditions was the company's promise to halt releasing the nurdles it manufactures into local waterways leading to the Texas Gulf Coast by Jan. 15.</p>
Formosa's plastics plant is seen dominating the landscape in Point Comfort, Texas. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Wilson described the occasion as "day one of the zero discharge settlement." As of that date, Formosa could be fined up to $15,000 a day if it were found still discharging nurdles. That would put the multi-billion-dollar plastics maker in violation of the court settlement made after <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> District Judge Kenneth Hoyt determined the company had violated the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Clean-Water-Act" rel="noopener noreferrer">Clean Water Act</a> by discharging plastic pellets and <span style="background-color: initial;">PVC</span> powder into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek in a June 27 ruling last year.</p><p>The deal, signed by Judge Hoyt in December, represents the U.S.'s largest settlement in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by private individuals against an industrial polluter. The settlement mandates that both Formosa and the plaintiffs agree to a monitor, remediation consultant, engineer, and trustee for ongoing monitoring of the plant.</p>
Diane Wilson is seen with volunteers before their meeting across the street from Formosa's Point Comfort manufacturing plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>After calling the group's meeting to order, Wilson gave an update on how requirements of the consent decree were progressing. The volunteer team of nurdle monitors, who have been collecting nurdles discharged by the plant for the last four years, listened eagerly. Wilson said that Formosa had missed the Jan. 15 deadline to deliver the waivers they needed to sign, which would grant them permission to monitor on the company's property along the fence line. Without the signed forms, the group put off their on-the-ground monitoring trip. Instead, they headed for the banks of Cox Creek, where Wilson set off in a kayak to check on one of the plant's outfalls.</p>
Ronnie Hamrick picks up a mixture of new and legacy nurdles near Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Pointing along the creek's edge, Ronnie Hamrick, a member of the San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper and former Formosa employee, showed me how to distinguish new plastic pellets from the legacy nurdles from past discharges. The new ones are brighter and white compared to the older ones, which take on a dull gray color. Old nurdles were plentiful along the creek's banks despite cleanup crews deployed by Formosa in that area. Newer ones were easy to find in the water after Hamrick pushed a rake into the marsh, stirring them up from below the water's surface in Cox Creek.</p>
Ronnie Hamrick holds a few of the countless nurdles that litter the banks of Cox Creek near Formosa's Point Comfort facility. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>When Wilson returned from her kayak, she showcased her find: The nurdles she had just collected from the Formosa outfall were bright white, making them easy to distinguish from the older ones littering the bank where she had launched her kayak. She plans to turn them over as evidence of newly discharged nurdles to the official monitor once one is selected in accordance to the consent decree.</p>
Lawsuit Against Formosa’s Planned Louisiana Plant<p>On that same afternoon, Wilson learned that conservation and community groups in Louisiana had sued the Trump administration, challenging federal environmental permits for Formosa's planned $9.4 billion plastics complex in St. James Parish.</p><p><a href="https://www.wwltv.com/article/tech/science/environment/environmental-groups-challenge-formosa-permit/289-7189b6e0-9b09-4c02-b2c9-8b197f80b1da" target="_blank">The news</a> made Wilson smile. "I hope they win. The best way to stop the company from polluting is not to let them build another plant," she told me. </p><p>The lawsuit was filed in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers, accusing the Corps of failing to disclose environmental damage and public health risks and failing to adequately consider environmental damage from the proposed plastics plant. Wilson had met some of the Louisiana-based activists last year when a group of them had traveled to Point Comfort and protested with her outside Formosa's plastics plant that had begun operations in 1983. Among them was <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/07/formosa-sunshine-plastics-sharon-lavigne-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Sharon Lavigne, founder of the community group Rise St. James</a>, who lives just over a mile and a half from the proposed plastics complex in Louisiana.</p><p>Back then, Wilson offered them encouragement in their fight. A few months after winning her own case last June, she gave them boxes of nurdles she had used in her case against Formosa. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups in the Louisiana lawsuit, transported the nurdles to St. James. The hope was that these plastic pellets would help environmental advocates there convince Louisiana regulators to deny Formosa's request for air permits required for building its proposed St. James plastics complex that would also produce nurdles. On Jan. 6, Formosa received those permits, but it still has a few more steps before receiving full approval for the plant.</p>
Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, holding up a bag of nurdles discharged from Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas plant, at a protest against the company's proposed St. James plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Dec. 10, 2019. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>In their Jan. 15 lawsuit, the groups, which also include Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Healthy Gulf, point out that a <a href="https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/counties/calhoun/federal-judge-describes-formosa-as-serial-offender-in-ruling/article_8c6187b0-9964-11e9-a9d9-930b3ae798e8.html" target="_blank">Texas judge called Formosa's Point Comfort plant a "serial offender"</a> of the Clean Water Act. They also cite another Formosa facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which has been in violation of the Clean Air Act every quarter since 2009. </p>
Construction underway to expand Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>The new plant slated for St. James Parish "is expected to emit and discharge a variety of pollutants, including carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, into the air and water; [and] discharge plastic into the Mississippi River and other waterbodies," the lawsuit alleges.</p>
Silhouette of Formosa's Point Comfort Plant looming over the rural landscape. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p><a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/08/gas-oil-plastics-lng-refining-climate-emissions-50-new-coal-plants" target="_blank">DeSmog's Sharon Kelly reported</a> that out of all the new or expanding <span style="background-color: initial;" rel="background-color: initial;" data-verified="redactor" data-redactor-tag="span" data-redactor-style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> refineries, liquefied natural gas (<span style="background-color: initial;" rel="background-color: initial;" data-verified="redactor" data-redactor-tag="span" data-redactor-style="background-color: initial;">LNG</span>) export projects, and petrochemical plants seeking air permits, Formosa's St. James plant would top the list of air polluters.</p><p>"Wilson's victory against Formosa was very encouraging," Sharon Lavigne told me over the phone. She plans to cite it as one of the many reasons why the St. James Parish Council should reverse its 2018 decision to grant Formosa a land use permit for the sprawling plastics facility. She and others will address the council over a multitude of issues at its upcoming Jan. 21 meeting.</p>
From the Gulf Coast to Europe<p>Just a day after Wilson found apparently new nurdles in Point Comfort, <a href="https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/2020/01/plastic-soup-foundation-takes-legal-action-against-structural-plastic-pollution/?fbclid=IwAR2y6oYqp-hOEZdjCJTVZf2Tl9B0U_NiCSS2Oliy8ecREKSzLObxmWWL8ac" target="_blank">the Plastic Soup Foundation, an advocacy group based in Amsterdam, took legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution in Europe</a>. On behalf of the group, environmental lawyers submitted an enforcement request to a <a href="https://www.dcmr.nl/en" target="_blank">Dutch environmental protection agency</a>, which is responsible for regulating the cleanup of nurdles polluting waterways in the Netherlands.</p><p>The foundation is the first organization in Europe to take legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution. It cites in its enforcement request to regulators Wilson's victory in obtaining a "zero discharge" promise from Formosa and is seeking a similar result against Ducor Petrochemicals, the Rotterdam plastic producer. Its goal is to prod regulators into forcing Ducor to remove tens of millions of plastic pellets from the banks immediately surrounding its petrochemical plant.</p>
Detail of a warning sign near the Point Comfort Formosa plant. The waterways near the plant are polluted by numerous industrial facilities in the area. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Besides polluting waterways, the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/10/28/petrochemical-industry-america-rust-belt-plastics-fracking-climate" target="_blank">ongoing build-out of the petrochemical and plastics industry</a> doesn't align with efforts to keep global warming in check.</p><p>Wilson and her fellow volunteers plan to keep monitoring the Point Comfort plant until it stops discharging the tiny plastic pellets into Texas waters entirely. </p>
Nurdles on Cox Creek's bank on Jan. 15. Wilson hopes her and her colleagues' work of the past four years will help prevent the building of more plastics plants, including the proposed Formosa plant in St. James Parish. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>I reached out to Formosa about whether it was aware its Point Comfort plant was apparently still discharging nurdles but didn't receive a reply before publication.</p>
A sign noting the entrance to the Formosa Wetlands Walkway at Port Lavaca Beach. The San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper describes the messaging as an example of greenwashing. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/18/diane-wilson-formosa-point-comfort-texas-plastic-pollution-settlement" rel="noopener noreferrer">DeSmogBlog</a>.</em></p>
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By Tara Lohan
It was 1985 and privatization, deregulation and free trade were in the air. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan were negotiating a free trade deal — a precursor to NAFTA. Among the goods it would cover: "Water, including … mineral waters … ice and snow."
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The Kansas government allowed hundreds of residents in two Wichita-area neighborhoods to drink water contaminated by a cleaning chemical called perchloroethylene, also known as PCE or tetrachloroethylene, The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.
The state discovered the tainted groundwater at a Haysville dry cleaner in 2011 but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) did not act for more than six years. KDHE did not test nearby private wells or alert residents about the contamination.
An 11-year-old girl was given a top award after inventing "Tethys," a sensor that detects lead levels in water.
Gitanjali Rao of Lone Tree, Colorado won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and a $25,000 prize for the innovation, which she said was inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The costs of rebuilding our nation’s water infrastructure are jaw dropping: estimates range from $300 billion to $1 trillion needed over the next 30 years. Add in the cost to develop new water supplies, treatment plants and transmission systems to accommodate growth—$20 billion for new reservoirs and pipelines in North Texas, $7 billion for a pipeline in Las Vegas—and the numbers really start to make the mind reel.
Investing in our nation’s infrastructure and water security is a necessity. But what we invest in is a choice we should not take lightly—not when the costs are so high. While it’s become a platitude that Americans pay too little for water to care how much they use, the reality is that the costs of water services are outpacing the cost gains of every other basic service—faster than electricity, faster than solid waste, faster even than cable television.
And while many of us can afford it, in some communities, the cost of clean drinking water strains the bounds of affordability. A study by the University of North Carolina found that low-income households are paying as much as 8 percent of annual income for water services.
Everyone in America should have access to clean, affordable drinking water and sanitation services. But in an era of fiscal constraint, this means we need to be smarter about the way we provide these services and realistic about the true cost of sticking with the legacy systems we have inherited.
More efficient use of water will have to part of the solution. In the U.S., around one-third of the clean drinking water we treat each day is used to water lawns. This proportion is as high as 70 perecent in some areas. Energy prices are rising, and with it, the cost of treating and moving that water. This is unsustainable, environmentally and financially.
The good news is, we can choose to use water more efficiently, and to protect the affordability of clean drinking water for generations to come. But advocates have to make this solution a reality by educating themselves about the financial constraints water systems face in maintaining the infrastructure and the debt acquired by their predecessors, and by supporting their political leaders to lay the pathway toward equitable and sustainable water services.
A new report by American Rivers looks to shape a sustainable water future for communities across the U.S. It provides a shared foundation of knowledge for advocates of all stripes to cooperate in stewarding their communities’ most critical infrastructure, so that Americans always enjoy the best water money can buy, without breaking the bank.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
Today multiple environmental organizations called on President Obama's chief environmental advisor asking for a full environmental analysis of plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). The letter to the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency sounds the alarm that the agencies considering these export plans are not analyzing or disclosing the environmental impacts of the increased hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' that would be necessary to support major LNG exports.
"Exporting liquefied natural gas means more dangerous fracking, a secretive and toxic part of the production process that the Sierra Club has no confidence in," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "With the health of our communities and our environment at stake, it's up to our leaders at EPA and other agencies to keep their commitment to protecting Americans from the toxic threats to our air and water that come with liquefied natural gas."
"LNG facilities like the one proposed for Cove Point are intended to ship natural gas extracted in this country off to foreign lands, said Michael Helfrich of Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. "The result is that gas drillers can ship American gas overseas in order to make more money, but this increases the price of natural gas for us, and our communities and environment get ravaged by the shale gas "gold rush", including thousands of miles of new pipelines and new compressor stations through the Susquehanna Watershed. It may be a win for the gas drillers but it throws the idea of American energy independence out the window."
"Gas drilling is devastating the communities where it is happening; the claim of environmentally friendly fracking and shale gas drilling is just another expensive messaging campaign," said Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper. "People are losing their drinking water, their clean air, their health, and the beautiful landscapes they call home. The assertion of cheap gas and energy independence is just another marketing campaign—drillers are investing heavily in building and expanding LNG facilities in order to ship American extracted gas overseas. Americans are suffering all of the pollution and harm from gas drilling while foreign countries get to use the gas and drillers get to reap the profits. It's a lose lose for Americans."
On Feb. 7, 2012, The Sierra Club filed the first formal objection with the Department of Energy against the export of domestic gas produced from fracking. This objection called the export proposal an unwise plan which would make a dirty fuel even more dangerous and would cost families money by raising gas and electricity prices. The Sierra Club also intervened in proposals for LNG export facility permits in Sabine Pass, La. and Coos Bay, Ore.
The letter is signed by the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, Friends of Living Oregon Waters (FLOW), Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and Rogue Riverkeeper. Full text of the letter as submitted is available upon request.
For more information, click here.
A new investor advisory released Feb. 22 raises significant questions about the serious risks associated with Anglo American plc’s(LSE:AAL, JSE:ANGLO) Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska. The advisory details the growing list of regulatory, legal, engineering and political challenges facing the London-based mining giant as it struggles to secure permits for the controversial gold-copper mine planned for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world’s biggest wild sockeye salmon fishery.
The Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska is a 50-50 joint venture between London-based Anglo American plc and Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., known as the Pebble Limited Partnership. The report points to the dramatic drop in share price over the last year at Northern Dynasty Ltd.—whose only project is the Pebble Mine—as evidence of the lack of confidence in the Pebble project. The company’s share price has dropped by more than half—from $20 a share in February 2011 to less than $10 a share in January 2012.
“Opposition to the Pebble mine project has translated into a barrage of legal, political and regulatory hurdles over the last year,” said Jonas Kron, an analyst with Trillium Asset Management Corp. who reviewed the report. “After scrutinizing the project details, we believe there are significant risks that must be considered,” he added.
The project’s location in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest producer of wild sockeye salmon, presents significant difficulties for Anglo American and Northern Dynasty. While the companies have yet to enter the permitting phase, they have already encountered substantial opposition from the communities and industries that rely on the salmon fishery, including recent key developments that could preclude development altogether.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release results from a scientific assessment of the suitability of large-scale development in the watershed in April 2012.
- In October 2011, Lake and Peninsula Borough voters approved a citizen initiative popularly known as “Save Our Salmon." The initiative precludes permits for large resource extraction activities like the Pebble Mine that disturb more than 640 acres and that will have a “significant adverse impact” on any salmon stream.
- In April 2011, a group of nearly 30 investors representing $170 billion in assets and holding 13 million shares in Anglo American, urged the EPA to conduct a 404c Clean Water Act review of the mine, given its considerable risks.
“If the Pebble mine is constructed and results in substantial damage to the people and ecosystems of Bristol Bay, it will cast a cloud over all mining projects—even safe and responsible ones—increasing costs and slowing appropriate development,” said Stu Dalheim, vice president at Calvert Investments. “The consequences of Pebble mine could not only destabilize the global fishing industry but the mining sector as well.”
The complexity and technological challenges that face the Pebble mine pose significant risks in the hydrologically complex and ecologically rich region of Bristol Bay,” said Dr. David Chambers, Ph.D. president of the Center for Science and Public Participation.
A politically powerful coalition opposes the mine because it threatens Bristol Bay salmon. This group includes the commercial and sport fishing industries, which generate $450 million annually for Alaska’s economy and support ten thousand jobs, and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, a $1.9 billion corporation representing approximately 9,000 Bristol Bay Alaska Native shareholders. In addition, more than fifty leading U.S. and U.K. jewelers with sales of $5.5 billion have pledged not to buy gold from the Pebble mine.
Researcher Bonnie Gestring with Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization Earthworks prepared the report, which was reviewed by investment analyst Jonas Kron of Trillium Asset Management Corp. Dr. David Chambers of the Center for Science and Public Participation also reviewed the report for technical accuracy.
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A coalition of organizations representing environmental, historical and community interests filed an appeal Feb. 21 in Berkeley County Circuit Court challenging a permit to allow quarrying on North Mountain, the visual backdrop of historic Gerrardstown and a crucial source of water for Mill Creek. After carefully reviewing the Surface Mine Board’s final ruling on North Mountain Shale’s quarry permit, Potomac Riverkeeper, along with Washington Heritage Trail, Inc. and Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church, filed the appeal because of two key flaws in the ruling.
First, the board approved a quarry permit that is not protective enough to adequately control sediment discharge. The approval was based on the quarry’s last minute claim that it is going to add chemical flocculant to its discharges. Despite the fact that the quarry was required to disclose any plans to rely on chemical flocculant with its permit applications, it utterly failed to do so and kept the community in the dark regarding such plans.
“The Surface Mining Board should not have approved the permit without requiring North Mountain Shale to fully explain how it intends to protect the water quality of our community,” stated Upper Potomac River Manager Brent Walls. “The quarry’s own witnesses admitted that their proposed sediment ponds are far too small to protect Mill Creek, so they were forced to claim—for the first time at the hearing—that they intended to use chemical flocculant. However, the community has had zero opportunity to review or comment on the quarry’s use of chemical flocculant and, even more troubling, the quarry’s witness was unable to answer basic questions about what chemicals would be used or in what amounts. Together with the recent disappointing decision of the Environmental Quality Board, both final rulings do not protect a crucial water source for Mill Creek from sediment pollution."
Second, the board also prohibited arguments challenging the adequacy of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP’s) review of the impact of the quarry operations on the historical resources in the area. The quarry intends to run its massive trucks through the heart of the Gerrardstown Historic District, which is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as containing more than ninety historic buildings.
"The Washington Heritage Trail Trustees are disappointed that the Surface Mining Board bluntly refused to review the quarry’s potential impacts on both the scenic and historic values of Gerrardstown,” said Jeanne Mozier, president of the Washington Heritage Trail. “It is extremely troubling that the board and the state are ignoring this and trampling on our right to challenge the impact analysis. Several state rulings have made it very difficult for the Washington Heritage Trail to carry out its mission of preserving and protecting the various attributes which earned the trail its national designation. We are especially concerned that the Division of Culture and History did not object to the violation of this region from the very beginning.”
During the public comment period, WVDEP received nearly 800 comments in opposition to the draft permit. Hundreds of local residents attended the public meetings in the spring of 2010, where 80 people spoke against the proposed quarry operation, with only one speaking in its favor. This appeal is being filed to give voice to the residents of Gerrardstown who were denied the opportunity to challenge use of chemical flocculants and the inadequate impact analysis. The appeal filed with the Berkeley County Circuit Court will be a review of the facts as presented in the evidentiary hearings.
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Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. is a clean water 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit that, includes the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. It stops pollution and restores clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries through community engagement and enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. As a membership organization, it has offices in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
To kick off the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Potomac Riverkeeper Ed Merrifield talks about the importance of and the recent threats to the historic act.
In the early 1970’s, when it became clear that the individual states were not going to do anything about their rivers catching on fire, about fisheries disappearing, about green slime forming on rivers and streams, and about a president calling a river that runs past his window a national disgrace, Congress created a law to change all that. In 1972, Congress passed the “Federal Water Pollution Control Act,” more commonly known as the “Clean Water Act.”
The Clean Water Act’s objective is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters. Its goal was to have all the nation's waters fishable and swimmable by 1983 and have no discharge of pollutants into our waters by 1985. Despite not yet reaching these ambitious goals, the Clean Water Act has done more to restore the health of our rivers and streams than all other laws combined. So why are many or our rivers and streams in decline? Well, the problem has three parts.
First, polluters and friends of polluters have done everything they can to harm the Clean Water Act. In the courts, they have picked at every part of the act in their attempts to get more pollution into our waters. In the Congress, they have worked hard to elect those who would vote on ways of making the act irrelevant. And yes, even some people and organizations that you might think are for the environment have been willing to sacrifice some parts of the Clean Water Act for their version of 30 pieces of silver. Fortunately, the law has been able to survive these onslaughts against our right to clean water. However, as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act in October, polluters and friends of polluters are increasing the number and intensity of their attacks.
Second, although the first page of the act talks about control of both point source (coming out of a pipe or any similar source) and non-point source pollution, the document contains exemptions for agriculture, which for the most part is a non-point source polluter. To get the votes needed to pass the law in ‘72, Congress added this exemption which has turned out to be the major flaw in the act. This means that for the past 40 years it has been up to the states to stop pollution from agriculture—which hasn’t happened.
Third, what good is a law if it is not enforced? Over the years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement of the Clean Water Act has waxed and waned with various administrations’ interest in protecting our rights to clean water, and with resources Congress budgets for it. If it were not for a provision in the law that allows citizens to act as attorney general when the states and federal government are not doing their jobs, it’s difficult to envision what our rivers would be like during the EPA’s worst enforcement periods. Until the EPA can “stand tall” all the time, there will continue to be a struggle to enforce the law.
All of this can be summarized in a simple sentence—There is money in polluting. If it’s cheaper for a polluter to pay a lawyer, legislator or someone else to allow him to pollute more, he’ll do it. And, although rivers and bays without pollution would have enormous economic benefits to all of us (fisheries, recreation, public health, etc.), the cost to polluters would increase, and they will fight to make this not happen.
So what can you do? Let your legislators know that healthy rivers and streams, and the safe drinking water that comes from them are important to you. Tell them that any attempt to weaken laws protecting our nation’s waters is wrong. We will do our best to inform you of legislative attacks on your right to clean water. Please help us in safeguarding one of America’s great laws, the Clean Water Act.
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