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Trump departs the White House for the U.S. Capitol to deliver the State of the Union address in Washington, DC, on Feb. 4, 2020. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

As President Donald Trump prepared to give his third State of the Union Address Tuesday night, nine conservation groups considered the state of the nation's environment.

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The icebreaker Polar Star in Antarctica. Ville Miettinen / The Revelator / CC BY-NC 2.0

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.

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Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

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.

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An African elephant is pictured on November 19, 2012, in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The unprecedented drought that has caused a water crisis in Zimbabwe has now claimed the life of at least 55 elephants since September, according to a wildlife spokesman, as CNN reported.

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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.

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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.

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American Rivers

By Sharlene Leurig

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.

Trends in Consumer Price Index for Utilites

Seattle Public Utilities' Demand Forecasts With and Without Conservation

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.

Sierra Club

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.

Earthworks

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.

For the full report, click here.
For more information on Bristol Bay, click here.

For more information, click here.

Potomac Riverkeeper

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.

For more information, click here.

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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.

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