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Food & Water Watch

Activists protested one of several planned regional workshops by the American Petroleum Institute in Trenton, N.J., on Feb. 8 countering the oil and gas industry association’s event discussing the development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a recommendation of their own—ban fracking entirely. Protestors handed media and passersby “swag bags” filled with information on the risks associated with fracking and staged an award ceremony for the Frackies.
 
“It’s awards season, and what better way to protest this elite gathering than with a riff off of another elite event—the Oscars,” said Jim Walsh, eastern region director of Food & Water Watch. “If there were an award for destroying rural communities and endangering drinking water supplies, it would certainly go to the American Petroleum Institute, which uses its clout to spread disinformation about the dirty, polluting practice.”
 
The event took place near the New Jersey Statehouse, where on Feb. 9 the Senate Environment Committee is expected to vote on a bill to permanently ban fracking in New Jersey before the temporary moratorium is lifted in January 2013.

“These petroleum industry representatives should know that New Jersey has prevented fracking because of grave concerns about the pollution to our drinking water and communities, so they may as well go home. We regret that we cannot give out awards for clean and sustainable energy today and that we must recognize the American Petroleum Institute for its disgraceful failure in making drillers publicly accountable and law-abiding. In Pennsylvania alone, the state reports that as fracking races ahead, drillers commit 12 violations per day of environmental permits, adding up to thousands of pollution incidents each year,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The nominees for the Fracky were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, El Paso Pipeline Company, Cabot Oil & Gas, Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), and the American Petroleum Institute. Each nominee was chosen because of some practice that protesters found seriously objectionable.
 
“We are here especially to announce the Fracky nomination for El Paso, the parent company of Tenneco Natural Gas and surviving part of Enron. Their proposed pipeline will be supporting and encouraging fracking that will threaten our water supply. They will be running a pipeline through the most environmentally sensitive area of New Jersey. The pipeline will go through the Delaware Water Gap, Wallkill, Newark and Pequannock water shed and drilling right through the Monksville Reservoir. Along the way it will be cutting an ugly scar through the Highlands and dozens of parks and open space areas. They are attacking our water supply through both fracking and this pipeline,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The eventual winner of the Fracky was the American Petroleum Institute for what activists referred to as “spinning the benefits of fracking so hard that some people actually believe that gas is a bridge fuel to renewables.” Gov. Christie was nominated for a Fracky for saving the fracking industry from the first statewide attempt to ban fracking when he issued a conditional veto last August.

Organizations participating in the 2012 Fracky Awards include Food & Water Watch, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Sierra Club, New Jersey Environmental Federation and 350.org.

For more information, click here.

Oil Change International

The hype surrounding the U.S. gas industry continues to grow as America moves ever closer to its cherished dream of energy independence.

On Feb. 7, Bloomberg reported that “the U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency, a goal the nation has been pursuing since the 1973 Arab oil embargo triggered a recession and led to lines at gasoline stations.”

On the surface, at least, America’s recent gas revolution is great news for people worried about energy security and jobs. Domestic oil output is said to be the highest in eight years.

And as Bloomberg reports, “The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal.”

So America is moving from an importer to having so much gas it has a gas glut. Bloomberg reports that so great is the gas boom that the U.S. could even become the world’s top energy producer by 2020.

Other media outlets are full of stories of even more unexplored basins that could have huge gas reserves too.

As any regular reader of this blog will know, the expansion in gas production isn’t without a hugely controversial downside—fracking—which has been shown to cause widespread water contamination and ever minor earthquakes.

Ironically, Bloomberg points out that gas glut is forcing down the gas price which is also making the use of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and nuclear power less attractive. Still, says Bloomberg, “those concerns probably won’t be enough to outweigh the benefits of greater energy independence.”

But there is another major downside about gas that the oil industry doesn’t want you to know about. One which has major ramifications for climate change.

Proponents of natural gas have long argued it is a “clean” fossil fuel, cleaner than oil and a great transition fuel that bridges our addiction to fossil fuels as we head towards renewable energy sources.

But gas may not be as clean as the industry would like you to believe, due to high leakage of methane.

As Nature reported on Feb. 7—“When U.S. government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog—but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.”

Nature reports that researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, estimate that gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4 percent of their gas to the atmosphere, and this does not include potential losses in the pipeline and distribution system, which could also be significant.

This is more than double official estimates by the industry. As Nature argued, “And because methane is some 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, releases of that magnitude could effectively offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels.”

“If we want natural gas to be the cleanest fossil fuel source, methane emissions have to be reduced,” argues Gabrielle Pétron, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and first author on the study, currently in press at the Journal of Geophysical Research. “I think we seriously need to look at natural gas operations on the national scale.”

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oil Change International

By

In a decision that will both dismay and worry environmental campaigners and communities facing fracking across Europe, the European Commission has concluded that existing laws are adequate to cover the controversial drilling technique.

A new report undertaken for the European Commission by the Belgian law firm Philippe & Partners, argues that there is no need for more environmental legislation concerning fracking until it reaches commercial scale.

“Neither on the European level nor on the national level have we noticed significant gaps in the current legislative framework, when it comes to regulating the current level of shale gas activities,” the study says.

However, in words that are meant to reassure people, the report continued: "However, this is no reason for complacency, since this assessment explicitly refers to the current level of experience and scale of operations as can be expected during the exploration phase."

Although the study was finished last November, it has only just been released by the commission. It also just covered four countries—Sweden, Poland, France and Germany.

But the report argues that activities relating to exploration of shale gas are already subject to EU and national laws and regulations, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Groundwater Directive and the Mining Waste Directive. The use of chemicals is covered by the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) regulation.

“It is a new technology and we do not have a specific legislation on shale gas, because it is so new,” said Marlene Holzner, European commission spokesperson on energy. “So the study only says that the existing regulations are applicable for shale gas, that the tool is there and has only to be applied.”

Ironically this report is at odds with another report submitted last summer to the commission, which was written for the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

That report called for “consideration to be given to developing a new directive at European level regulating all issues in this area comprehensively." The report, entitled Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health also recommended that for fracking, “all chemicals to be used should be disclosed publicly, the number of allowed chemicals should be restricted and its use should be monitored.”

But of course, by the time fracking gets to a commercial scale it could well be too late to monitor all the chemicals being used and to rush in EU-wide legislation, especially given the time it takes to draft legislation and then get it past the EU’s various respective bodies.

Meanwhile, there would be huge financial and other pressure from the oil industry to carry on drilling without having to wait for further regulations. It is a scenario that many communities in America are finding to their cost.

The new report will be used by the oil industry as a green light to carry on fracking. Poland, where the fracking revolution is occurring full steam ahead, is planning to begin commercial shale gas production in two years’ time. So if laws are to be implemented at the EU level to cover commercial drilling, that needs to happen now.

Not every country in the EU is fracking mad, though.

A couple of weeks ago, thousands of Bulgarians protested against fracking over fears it could poison underground water, trigger earthquakes and pose serious public health hazards. Protestors rallied in more than six Bulgarian cities calling for a fracking moratorium.

I am opposed because we do not know what chemicals they will put in the ground. Once they poison the water, what shall we drink?” said Olga Petrova, 24, a student who attended a protest in Sofia.

Days later, Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted to impose an indefinite fracking ban in the country. France also banned fracking last July, while in Britain fracking has caused minor earthquakes.

Who's going to draft a law to stop that happening again?

For more information, click here.

Southern Environmental Law Center

Announced Jan. 26, the Southern Environmental Law Center's (SELC) 4th annual list of the Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast targets areas of exceptional ecological, scenic, or cultural value that are facing immediate, possibly irreversible threats—and the important actions needed in 2012 to protect them. Many of the areas on this year’s list are endangered by pressure to undercut environmental protections and to lower the hurdles for potentially destructive projects, whether it’s fracking in the North Carolina Piedmont, mining uranium in Virginia, or deepwater drilling off the coast of Alabama.

“Under the guise of promoting economic growth, anti-environmental forces are working in Congress, in state legislatures, and in government agencies to gut our most essential safeguards,” said Marie Hawthorne, SELC’s director of development. “But doing away with effective laws and enforcement will accomplish nothing except sacrifice natural treasures like those on our Top 10 list, and other resources that make the South such a great place to live, work, and raise our families. We owe it to ourselves—and to future generations—to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Following is SELC's 4th annual Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast:

1. Alabama's Coast

What's at Stake?

Miles of white sandy beaches, wetlands, bays, and swamps that support vibrant tourism and fishing industries; habitat for migratory birds, turtles, and rare species; economic health of coastal communities; public health.

The Threat

Future spills on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster due to the absence of meaningful reforms of oil industry practices or government policies.

Alabama’s coast is on SELC’s endangered list for the second year in a row because a disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon could happen again. The government is back to business as usual, rubber-stamping risky deepwater projects with the same flawed assumptions that led to the BP spill—almost as if it never happened.

In June 2011, for example, the Bureau of Oceans Energy Management (BOEM) gave Shell Oil the green light to drill an exploratory well off of Alabama’s coast in waters 2,000 feet deeper than the Horizon well, and without the enhanced environmental review promised immediately after the BP spill. Worse, regulators acknowledge that the operations could result in an oil spill almost ten times bigger than the BP disaster. SELC believes this approach is irresponsible and illegal, and blatantly ignores the devastating impacts to Gulf wildlife, the tourism and fishing industries, and coastal communities caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  

SELC is challenging BOEM’s decision as part of our ongoing multi-front offensive, including lawsuits, activity in Congress, and engagement with federal agencies to end industry control of offshore drilling and prevent future disasters.

2. Dawson Forest, Georgia

What's at Stake?

Habitat for federally protected fish species found nowhere else in the world; 1,200 acres of forest; a haven for hunters, anglers, horseback riders, hikers, cyclists and paddlers; water supplies for downstream communities.

The Threat

A massive, unnecessary, $650 million proposed reservoir on Shoal Creek that would be filled with 100 million gallons of water per day pumped from the Etowah River.

An hour’s drive north of Atlanta, Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is a 10,000-acre wooded refuge for hunters, anglers, paddlers, and bikers who enjoy miles of scenic backcountry trails criss-crossed by the Etowah River. Shoal Creek, a major tributary feeding the Etowah, is home to federally protected fish species found nowhere else in the world.

Unfortunately, Dawson Forest is threatened by a massive, unnecessary, expensive proposed reservoir that would drain 100 million gallons per day from the Etowah River to fuel metro Atlanta’s ever-growing water supply demand. The Etowah would lose a quarter of its water during high-flow months—and during the low-flow season, withdrawals would drain nearly 100 percent of the river’s volume, wiping out aquatic life and diminishing water supplies for downstream communities in Cherokee, Cobb, Bartow, and Floyd counties.

The Dawson Forest project is one of a half-dozen new reservoirs being proposed outside metro Atlanta, illustrating a misguided notion among Georgia leaders that these costly, destructive projects are the first and best solution to meeting Georgia’s water supply needs. But SELC and our partners view new reservoirs as a last resort when there are far more cost-effective, less damaging, and readily available options available. First and foremost, we are advocating the full implementation of water conservation and efficiency measures in metro Atlanta, coupled with expanding the city’s existing reservoirs to their full capacity. This solution could virtually eliminate the need for new reservoirs at a fraction of the cost to Georgia’s environment, taxpayers, and downstream communities.

We are also pushing back against efforts to lower the regulatory hurdles for reservoir proposals, including the use of a new law that eases the way for public-private partnerships to develop reservoirs and recoup costs with user fees.

3. Catawba—Wateree River Basin, North Carolina and South Carolina

What's at Stake?

A river system that drains 5,000 miles of waterways and provides drinking water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people.

The Threat

The impacts of electric power generation and unnecessary reservoir projects.

Comprising 5,000 miles of waterways, the Catawba-Wateree river system originates on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge and then winds through the rapidly urbanizing North Carolina Piedmont before entering the lush lowlands of South Carolina. Along its 300-mile route, it provides clean water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people. Threats endangering the health of this vital resource include:

Pollution from Coal Ash Sites. Coal-fired power plants generate millions of tons of ash, which typically has been dumped into unlined and poorly monitored ponds and landfills. Five of the most hazardous coal ash ponds in the U.S. are on the Catawba-Wateree River and its tributaries, including a site that has discharged arsenic-laden pollution for years. SELC has filed suit to compel South Carolina Electric and Gas to clean it up.

Water Withdrawals by Power Plants. According to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Catawba River ranks among the 25 watersheds nationwide that suffer from the highest levels of water-supply stress due to the water demands of power plants for steam production and cooling purposes.

Hydroelectric Dams. Over the last century, much of the Catawba-Wateree was impounded to generate electricity, and for decades, power companies have been allowed to operate their dams in ways that disrupt healthy stream flows and fish migration. As Duke Energy applies for a new federal license for a series of five hydroelectric plants in South Carolina, it is seeking to trade land and cash for permission to maintain harmfully low flows in the Catawba-Wateree for the next fifty years. Learn more about SELC's legal action to protect the river.

Unnecessary Reservoir Projects. Two counties—one in North Carolina and another in South Carolina—have proposed a 92-acre reservoir off the main channel of the Catawba-Wateree that is sure to fuel more sprawl and pollution in the Charlotte metro area. What’s more, water withdrawn from the reservoir would be discharged into another river basin, robbing water from downstream farms and communities that depend on the Catawba-Wateree. If approved, this project would pave the way for other municipalities to build their own new reservoirs before first exhausting less environmentally damaging means to satisfy demand, such as increasing their water systems’ efficiency, encouraging their customers to conserve water, and exploring interconnections to other systems with excess capacity. Such reservoirs often needlessly destroy significant wetlands and wildlife habitat.

4. North Carolina Piedmont

What's at Stake?

Rural lands in the North Carolina Piedmont and drinking water sources for some 2.4 million people.

The Threat

Pressure to repeal a law that thus far has kept “fracking” wells out of North Carolina.

Requiring the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and a stew of chemicals into shale formations, the use of hydraulic fracturing—a.k.a. “fracking”—to extract natural gas has been linked to groundwater contamination, pollution in lakes and rivers, even earthquakes. A study by Duke University scientists found methane concentrations 17 times above normal, on average, in samples taken from water wells near fracking sites.

The gas drilling industry and its political allies are pushing hard to bring this controversial process to North Carolina’s rural Piedmont. The only thing standing in their way is a state law that bans horizontal drilling, which thus far has kept hydraulic fracturing in check. If pro-fracking forces succeed in repealing the ban, state regulators will face enormous new challenges for protecting the Piedmont’s land and water.

Even with the ban in place, gas companies have snapped up scores of leases for potential drilling sites in Piedmont counties that overlie the state’s Triassic Basins, a shale-rich geologic formation that stretches from the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) to the South Carolina state line. These properties would be transformed into 24-7 industrial operations, with gas flaring, bright lights, and a steady stream of trucks carrying equipment, water, and waste.

An SELC analysis shows that potential gas formations in the Triassic Basins are underneath or upstream from public drinking water supplies for 2.4 million people. Gas drilling could also affect the quantity of water available to the state’s citizens. A single fracking well can require as much as 5 million gallons, much of which comes back to the surface as chemical-laden flowback that must be either trucked away to treatment facilities or stored onsite. According to a draft EPA study, fracking chemicals have been detected in groundwater near disposal pits and wells.

Congress has exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, leaving it largely to the states to police this industry. North Carolina, which has slashed the budget of its environmental agency by more than a third, will be hard-pressed to provide adequate protection for the state’s waters and rural lands. 

5. Savannah River, South Carolina and Georgia

What's at Stake?

Aquatic wildlife habitat, freshwater marshlands, and drinking water for Savannah and other communities.

The Threat

The Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River shipping channel.

A prime spot on the Atlantic Flyway, the marshlands of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge provide a vital rest stop for thousands of migratory waterfowl, as well as a permanent home for many other species. Over the years, successive dredging of the Savannah River has allowed saltwater from the Atlantic to chip away at the refuge’s freshwater marshes. Even more will be lost if the Army Corps of Engineers is allowed to move forward with its plan to deepen 38 miles of the river’s shipping channel.

The Savannah Harbor project, which would deepen the river by as much as six feet, is part of a mad scramble by U.S. ports to attract the larger class of container ships that will come through the Panama Canal when its expansion is completed in 2014. In addition to damaging hundreds of acres of the refuge’s freshwater wetlands, the dredging would threaten drinking water for Savannah and other communities. It would also require the Corps to install massive “bubbling” devices to maintain sufficient dissolved oxygen levels for aquatic life in the river, including rare and at-risk species and commercially important fish populations. This technology has not been proven effective.

All of this would carry a price tag of at least $650 million, and it may be completely unnecessary. The Panama Canal’s chief executive officer has said publicly that only two harbors on the East Coast and one on the Gulf Coast would be needed to service the supersized freighters carrying goods along the East-West trade lane. Rather than pour scarce taxpayer dollars into one of the most environmentally destructive projects currently proposed in the Southeast, the Corps should do what federal law requires—conduct a regional assessment to determine which ports can be expanded at the least expense and with the least damage to precious natural resources.

6. Chilhowee Mountain, Tennessee

What's at Stake?

A popular recreation spot and natural area that includes hiking and biking trails and a leg of the first scenic byway ever established in a U.S. national forest.

The Threat

Pressure to complete an outdated highway plan that could push new asphalt across the shoulder of the mountain and through Cherokee National Forest.

Chilhowee Mountain in the southernmost district of Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest is a beloved destination for people who enjoy the outdoors. On its crest is the Chilhowee Recreation Area, a popular spot for picnicking, camping, and swimming. Each weekend finds hikers and bikers on its extensive trail network, which leads to waterfalls, cascading streams, and views of the Ocoee River Gorge below.  

The road leading to the Chilhowie Recreation Area is part of the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the first scenic byway designated in a U.S. national forest. The winding drive to the mountain’s ridgeline rewards motorists and cyclists with stunning vistas. Three states—Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia—are visible on clear days.

Chilhowie Mountain and the rugged peaks and hollows in its viewshed are in the path of Corridor K, a chain of highways linking Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina. Despite the fact that completion of the interstate system made the project obsolete, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is studying multiple options for finishing the leg of Corridor K running through the Ocoee Region. Among them are proposals for routing a new four-lane, divided highway across the shoulder of Chilhowee Mountain and through largely unspoiled reaches of the Cherokee National Forest.

When it was conceived in 1964 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Corridor K was seen as a means of lifting this area out of poverty. But since then, local citizens have built a thriving, tourism-based economy that capitalizes on the Ocoee Region’s extraordinary natural assets. Pushing new asphalt through national forest lands would jeopardize the intact wildlife habitat, clear-running rivers and streams, and mountain scenery that have made Chilhowee Mountain and the Ocoee Gorge a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.

Rather than pour a billion dollars or more into a new road, TDOT should focus on targeted upgrades along the existing two-lane highway, U.S. 64—the lifeline of the local economy. This would improve safety, enhance the flow of traffic during the busy tourist season, and preserve the natural and cultural features that are vital to the Ocoee Region and its communities.

7. Virginia and Tennessee Mountains

What's at Stake?

Scenic beauty of the Southern Appalachians, wildlife habitat, endangered species, headwater streams, clean drinking water for downstream communities, recreation areas, quality of life.

The Threat

Weak laws allow coal companies to blow up mountains and dump rubble into valleys, burying streams, destroying wildlife habitat, and harming communities

Dubbed “the Appalachian Apocalypse,” mountaintop removal coal mining has obliterated more than 500 mountains and damaged more than 1,700 miles of streams in central Appalachian states. Forests and topsoil are stripped from mountain ridges, and then, using tons of explosives, coal companies blast the mountaintops off to expose the underlying coal seams. The leftover rock and soil is pushed into nearby valleys, resulting in the loss of critical forest habitat and widespread destruction of mountain streams, many of which are critical headwaters for drinking water sources downstream.

At stake are some of the South’s most valued natural treasures, including the species-rich Clinch and Powell watersheds in Virginia and Tennessee, and Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, an area known for its world-class biodiversity. 2012 could be a landmark year for Tennessee due to the State’s groundbreaking petition, which SELC is supporting, that would shield the most ecologically valuable areas in the Cumberlands from destructive mining practices.

8. Charlottesville, Virginia

What's at Stake?

Taxpayer dollars, rural countryside, public health, natural beauty, community character.

The Threat

A wasteful, destructive bypass would mar landscapes, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, endanger public health, and fail to solve traffic problems

Charlottesville is no stranger to Top Ten lists, but it’s usually in recognition of the area’s exceptional quality of life, unique community character, or beautiful surrounding countryside. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shenandoah National Park, it is home to outstanding schools including the University of Virginia, historic sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a vibrant arts scene, vineyards and horse farms, and other attractions that draw more than 2 million visitors per year.

This special place would be deeply and irreparably scarred if a long-obsolete plan to build a bypass around U.S. Route 29 goes forward. Described as one of the most wasteful and destructive projects in the country by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Friends of the Earth, the Bypass would leave a permanent gash on the landscape, cost hundreds of millions in a time of fiscal constraints, endanger citizens’ health, pave over countryside, and fail to solve traffic problems. The proposal isn’t new—in fact it was shelved more than a decade ago by local leaders. But in the summer of 2011, the Bypass was revived in a rushed process that showed little respect for public input, skirted environmental review, and ignored years of efforts by community leaders, SELC, and others to advance more cost-effective, less destructive alternatives.

Before it can be built, the road must be approved at the local, state, and federal levels. Local and state leaders have approved it, but the critical federal decision-making process is far from over. SELC attorneys will ensure that the federal government’s review is thorough and that it fully considers updated information on the ineffectiveness of the bypass, the long list of negative community impacts, and the availability of better alternatives before a decision is made.

9. Chesapeake Bay, Virginia

What's at Stake?

The nation’s largest estuary, which supports populations of oysters, blue crabs, striped bass, and other species vital to the health of commercial and recreational fisheries.

The Threat

Nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into the bay from throughout its 64,000-square-mile watershed, as well as legal challenges to EPA’s restoration plan.

The Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, is a place where freshwater and seawater come together to form one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. The bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, including populations of oysters, blue crabs, Atlantic menhaden, and striped bass that are vital to the health of commercial and recreational fisheries.

For decades, this extraordinary resource has suffered from pollution pouring in from all sides—by air, land, and water. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants, stormwater from municipal sewer systems, runoff from farms and suburban lawns, mud from bare construction sites, and emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks all contribute to the nutrients and sediment flowing into the bay. These pollutants feed algae that cloud the bay’s waters and, when they die off, create oxygen-starved dead zones incapable of supporting aquatic wildlife.

The six states in the bay watershed pledged to stem this destructive tide, but when it became clear that they would fail to meet cleanup deadlines, they turned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take charge of the process. EPA stepped in and developed the most sophisticated water restoration plan ever crafted for the bay. Released in December 2010, EPA’s recovery plan—known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL—calculates how much pollution the bay can withstand and how much pollution must be reduced from all sources throughout the bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed.

EPA’s goal is to achieve full implementation of this “pollution diet” by 2025, but it will take years more, perhaps even decades, for the bay to recover completely. In the meantime, industry interests and their political allies are doing all they can to impede the cleanup effort. The Farm Bureau and the National Association of Home Builders have both filed suit to challenge the TMDL. Anti-environmental forces in Congress also have piled on, attempting to pass legislation that would prevent EPA from moving forward with its restoration plan.

10. Southside, Virginia

What's at Stake?

Clean drinking water for more than 1 million people in Southside Virginia and North Carolina.

The Threat

Intense pressure to lift Virginia’s 30-year ban on uranium mining; radioactive waste leaking into streams and groundwater; risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health problems from exposure to uranium or mining chemicals

In 2012 or 2013, Virginia’s General Assembly may be asked to lift the state’s 30-year ban on uranium mining, largely due to pressure from a Canadian-backed company that wants to mine a deposit near Danville. The proposed mining and waste disposal operation would be in the Roanoke River watershed and threatens drinking water supplies for more than a million people in Southside Virginia and North Carolina, including residents of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

Extracting uranium ore requires intensive use of water and chemicals, and leaves behind massive amounts of radioactive and contaminated waste. There is no precedent for underground or open-pit uranium mining in the East, where the population density and a wet climate increase the chance of toxic and radioactive materials leaking into streams groundwater, and drinking water supplies. The potential health impacts of exposure to uranium and mining chemicals are well-documented and include several types of cancer, birth defects, and vital organ damage.

In December 2011, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a study that validates many of SELC’s core concerns about uranium mining and the water quality risks associated with uranium tailings, which can be a potential source of radioactive contamination for thousands of years. The NAS study also confirmed that Virginia state agencies have no experience with uranium mining, and that current federal regulations are far from sufficient to ensure public health and safety.   

SELC is at the forefront of a statewide citizen effort, the Keep the Ban Coalition, to ensure the statewide freeze stays in place. We are also educating key decision makers about the dangers of uranium mining, and making certain that the state keeps its promise to seek public input before any legislation to lift the ban is put before the General Assembly.

Note: In May 2011, American Rivers named the Roanoke one of the 10 most endangered rivers due to the threat of uranium mining.

For more information, click here.

Environmental Working Group

During the 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama appeared ready to throw the full support of his administration behind the expansion of natural gas drilling operations throughout the country, largely ignoring the outrage and worry expressed by those in affected communities.

Heather White, Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) chief of staff and general counsel issued this statement:

“We welcome the president’s leadership that natural gas companies should disclose the chemicals they are injecting during drilling operations on public lands. But, that isn’t going to be enough to satisfy grassroots outrage about the David versus Goliath battles in which local communities find themselves pitted against giant drilling companies. People are worried about their water, their health and the value of their property after drilling. They are beset by frenzied leasing requests from natural gas “land men” and in some cases, experiencing drilling-related earthquakes. These communities have deep, long-term concerns about the environmental and financial impacts of natural gas drilling in key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina. Yet it seems to us the White House has missed this political reality in its fervor over natural gas drilling.

“We’re alarmed that President Obama cited the industry’s inflated job numbers and natural gas supply numbers and that he used fracking as an example of a government success story when his administration has launched at least two studies into the safety of the gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“The banking industry has set a powerful example of what can happen when, as the president said, ‘regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop bad behavior.’ The natural gas industry enjoys exemptions from major environmental laws like the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We can’t let these big, unregulated conglomerates determine our sense of fair play or our energy future.

“This natural gas policy may undermine what the president says is the most important mission of our time—‘the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.’ Ask the folks with whom EWG has spoken—and they’ll tell you what happened to them—unregulated fracking destroyed that promise.”

In a report entitled Gas Drilling Doublespeak, published last month, EWG documented that gas drilling companies routinely warned their investors of a litany of possible disasters—such as leaks, spills, explosions, bodily injury and even death—but regularly failed to mention these risks when persuading landowners to sign leases for drilling rights.

For more information, click here.

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