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A woman works at a distrubiton station at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City, on Feb. 5. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images

Amazon will strive to cut carbon emissions from its shipments in half by 2030, the e-commerce giant said Monday. The retailer's plan calls for an increase in the use of electric delivery vehicles and renewable energy as well as pressuring suppliers to use less packaging.

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Swen Pförtner / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A small group of Amazon workers is receiving big praise for their efforts to force their employer to be a better steward of the planet.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Cap Sante, Anacortes, WA. -jon / Flickr

On Friday, the 170+ nations in the International Maritime Organization set the first-ever emissions target for the shipping industry and agreed to halve CO2 emissions by 2050, based on 2008 levels.

The unprecedented deal was welcomed by activists as a first step towards meeting the Paris agreement targets. The IMO nations also began a process to ban heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

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By James J. Winebrake and James J Corbett

The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency that regulates global shipping, is writing new rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 2050 as it implements other regulations that will mandate cleaner-burning fuels at sea by 2020.

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A global map of commercial shipping density. B.S. Halpern (T. Hengl; D. Groll) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

By Andy Rowell

When Donald Trump signalled earlier this year that the U.S. was going to pull out of the UN Paris climate agreement, there was global outrage at his actions.

The perceived wisdom is that the agreement is the best international mechanism we have to fight climate change and to keep global warming to below two degrees Celsius.

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Friends of the Earth

The polar waters of the Arctic and Antarctic are in jeopardy as a result of substantial delays to the development of environmental protection rules which will reduce the impact of shipping on these delicate regions. Last week the International Maritime Organization1 shelved the development of environmental protection rules until 2013.

This major setback for polar environmental protection came about as a result of procedural objections by flag states2 despite the efforts of most Arctic states and Antarctic treaty states to make progress on environmental protection. "As a result of this decision, the completion of a mandatory Polar shipping code covering both safety and environment protection will fall further behind schedule, and indeed, there is a very real chance that environmental protection could be scuttled altogether," said James Barnes, executive director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).

Both poles are extremely sensitive to environmental disruption and have an important role regulating the global climate. As the global climate changes, the poles are experiencing the most rapid warming of anywhere on earth and sea ice is retreating in most polar regions, making those waters more accessible to shipping than ever before in human history. The numbers of ships using the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route, to the north of Canada, the U.S., Norway and Russia, is increasing each year. The Arctic in particular is expected to experience a significant increase in resource exploitation and shipping volumes, which are likely to exacerbate climate-induced problems.

Environmental regulations for shipping are necessary to ensure that the volume of pollutants such as oils, chemicals and sewage being discharged by increased shipping into these pristine waters can be minimized. In addition, rules are needed to ensure that disturbance of wildlife and coastal communities is kept to a minimum and major oil and chemical spills are avoided.

"Last week's decision is badly flawed," said Mr. Barnes." Action is required sooner rather than later to ensure adequate environmental protection is in place as more and more ships use these remote, hazardous and vulnerable waters. Operational pollution from shipping and accidents could irreversibly damage these globally important sensitive ecosystems and polar wildlife is already under massive pressure from the changing climate."

"IMO member governments have an obligation to develop proactive environmental protections for our poles, and we hope that it won't take an Exxon Valdez or Costa Concordia-type disaster in polar waters before real regulatory action is achieved in these vulnerable regions," said John Kaltenstein, marine program manager at Friends of the Earth U.S.

"It is imperative that the IMO brings countries together to finish developing a mandatory Polar Code, which must include strong environmental protections," said Shawna Larson, Chickaloon Village Tribal Member and Alaska program director for Pacific Environment. "Indigenous Peoples who have lived in these Arctic coastal communities since time immemorial are highly dependent on a clean Arctic Environment for their traditional ways of life and their food sources. Without strong environmental protections in the Polar Code, Indigenous Peoples traditional ways will be at risk."

For more information, click here.

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1. The IMO is the UN body responsible for developing and adopting global shipping regulations addressing safety and environmental protection

2. Flag States are the countries which flag ships and are then expected to enforce the globally adopted shipping regulations relevant to the ships flying their flags.

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Alliance for Great Lakes

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is failing to uphold its federal Clean Water Act duty to protect the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters from the introduction and spread of invasive species via ships’ ballast water discharge, conservation groups said in comments to the agency on Feb. 21.

The organizations call on EPA to strengthen a proposed permit to regulate ballast water discharges from commercial vessels. The comment period on the permit ends Feb. 21.

“The Great Lakes have been global ground zero for invasions and ought to be a global leader in prevention,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “We’ve waited long enough. EPA has the opportunity to apply the protections our waters sorely need. Let’s get it right this time.”

Invasive species introduced and spread via ballast water discharge are already wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. A litany of non-native invaders—including zebra mussels, quagga mussels, spiny water fleas and round gobies—have turned the Great Lakes ecosystem on its head, altering the food web and threatening the health of native fish and wildlife. Non-native ballast water invaders cost Great Lakes citizens, utilities, cities and businesses at least $1 billion every five years in damages and control costs, according to research by the University of Notre Dame.

Despite the staggering costs associated with the damage caused by invasive species, the EPA has resisted taking action on the issue for decades. The proposed permit to regulate ballast water discharges comes after a long legal battle. Now, as the nation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, advocates are working to ensure the agency finally issues a permit that shuts the door on invasive species.

The proposed ballast water permit takes modest steps to reduce the risk of ballast-mediated introductions. The permit:

  • Requires ships to install technology that meets the International Maritime Organization’s standard to treat ballast water
  • Requires ships entering the Great Lakes to employ the added protection of exchanging ballast water to flush out and kill non-native freshwater organisms

Conservation groups assert that the permit still leaves the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters vulnerable to the introduction and spread of invasive species—and does not adhere to the Clean Water Act. The groups are asking the EPA to make the following improvements to the permit:

  • Adopt a zero-discharge standard for invasive species
  • Adopt the most protective technology standards nationwide
  • Develop standards for lakers, ships that ply the Great Lakes
  • Develop a faster implementation timeline to implement new technology standards

Now the states must certify EPA’s permit. The EPA must issue a final permit by Nov. 30.

  • To see the full comment letter to EPA, click here.
  • To see the abbreviated comments to EPA, click here.
  • To see the joint press release, click here.

For more information, click here.

Save the River

Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund—Canada (WWF) offered their organizations’ support for the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) new approach to water level regulation in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Jan. 30. The three organizations are encouraged by the proposed Plan BV7 which, if appropriately implemented, will take steps to restore the lake and river after 60 years of environmentally damaging regulation.

Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Canada look forward to learning more about Plan BV7 throughout 2012 and urge citizens and national, state, and provincial governments to support the IJC moving this forward-thinking approach from plan to action over the course of the year.

Jennifer Caddick, Save The River executive director said, “Save The River applauds the IJC’s new approach for water levels regulation on the Lake and River. Plan BV7 will begin to reverse damage caused by years of destructive regulation, and allow the lake and river ecosystem to once again thrive. The plan will also enrich the quality of life for citizens living in these areas, as the balanced proposal protects property owners and has clear benefits for recreational boating, hunting, fishing, shipping, and clean hydroelectric production. Save The River urges its adoption.”

The proposed plan represents an innovative approach that delivers environmental improvements along with substantial benefits for the regional economy and property owners.

Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter executive director, remarked, “This plan strikes a balance between people and nature. Plan BV7 is a common-sense proposal that benefits hydropower, shipping, hunting and fishing, recreational boating, and shoreline property, while focusing on the health of the Lake Ontario—St. Lawrence ecosystem as a whole. The result will be a thriving lake and river system that enhances property values by generating more fish, more wildlife, more tourism, and better recreation opportunities for people.”

Tony Maas, WWF-Canada’s freshwater program director said, “As a science-based organization, WWF is working to protect and restore environmental flows—the quantity, quality and timing of river flows—in Canada and around the world as part of our freshwater conservation program. The St. Lawrence is one of North America’s most important and most threatened rivers. Restoring more natural rhythms of water flows is fundamental to improving the overall health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it. The integration of environmental flow in BV7 will help to make this possible and I look forward to the realization of environmental, social and economic benefits coming out of this effort.”

Sixty years of regulation forcing unnatural flow conditions and water levels has caused damage to the lake and river environment and the livelihoods and well-being of the people who rely upon it. The approach contained in Plan BV7 shows that benefits for the environment, the regional economy and property owners can go hand-in-hand.

Plan BV7’s approach will create the conditions for:

Environmental Benefits

A healthier lake and river, as evidenced by the following:

  • Increased populations of Northern Pike, Black Tern and other marsh-nesting birds. Northern pike, the top predator in coastal marshes, have declined by 70 percent since regulation began. Populations of the Black Tern have declined by more than 80 percent in coastal marshes, and are now on the list of threatened species in New York and designated as species of Special Concern in Ontario.
  • A 40 percent increase in wet meadow habitats, which are vital to native fish and wildlife. Since regulation began this entire class of coastal wetlands has declined by more than 50 percent and been replaced by dense stands of cattails.
  • Return of a cornerstone mammal. The muskrat is an essential habitat engineer whose year-round grazing on cattails creates openings on which other animals and plants depend. Muskrats have almost disappeared from Lake Ontario coastal marshes since regulation began, and their beneficial effects will nearly quadruple under Plan BV7.

Economic Benefits

  • Significant economic investment. The economy of the Great Lakes depends on the health and beauty of the lakes and their ecosystems. A 2007 cost-benefit analysis by the Brookings Institution demonstrates that each dollar of restoration brings two dollars of benefits to the economy of the Great Lakes region.
  • Improved conditions for recreational boating and commercial shipping. For the vast majority of years, Plan BV7 will extend the season for recreational boating by avoiding the rapid draw-down of the Lake and upper River as under the current plan. Plan BV7 would also improve conditions for commercial navigation in the River by reducing shipping delays.
  • Additional recreational opportunities. Healthier Lake and River wetlands will support stronger populations of native fish and wildlife, improving the area’s hunting and angling, and strengthening the recreational economies that rely upon them.
  • Less flooding and more hydropower. Plan BV7 would slightly decrease the risk of flooding in the lower River while enhancing hydropower production in Canada and the U.S.      

Shoreline Benefits

  • Protection from flooding. Plan BV7 will ensure water levels are managed in ways that will minimize the risk of flooding to shoreline property.
  • Continued protection for property owners. Plan BV7 is estimated to save property owners on the lake and upper river $24 million dollars a year by reducing the cost of maintaining shoreline properties when compared to no regulation. This may be 12 percent lower than the current level of support offered to shoreline property owners, but it is still a significant benefit.
  • Rebuilt shorelines. Restoration of low water to Lake Ontario will help rebuild shoreline property.  In some areas, once sandy beaches have been replaced with rocks and cobbles, a result of the current plan’s absence of naturally occurring low water conditions.

For more information, click here.

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Save The River and The Nature Conservancy represent more than 17,000 homeowners living on the lake and river, business people, environmentalists, hunters, anglers and recreational users of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. The groups have a combined 85 years of experience conserving and advocating for these bodies of water and the people who use them. Save The River was formed in 1978 to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Upper St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education, and research. The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive.

Plan BV7 has been formulated over the course of ten years with the input of more than 180 stakeholder representatives, experts, and scientists from government agencies, academia, NGO’s and industry in New York, Ontario, and Quebec.

Delaware Riverkeeper

Responding to renewed economic claims for deepening the Delaware River, a coalition of taxpayer, community and environmental organizations issued a new independent analysis they say proves once again that the deepening project is an economic loser. The groups issued the analysis and an accompanying report titled Army Corps Cooks the Books Again, in response to a May 2011 analysis issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. (A copy of the reports can be obtained at www.delawareriverkeeper.org.)

“The Army Corps once again tried to mislead Congress and the public about the deepening project—a renewed analysis by Dr. Bob Stearns clearly demonstrates how the Army Corps manipulated their calculations so as to present a false picture for the project,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “The inappropriate calculation was not hard to find. The corps’ own report provides the analysis and numbers. Without deepening, shippers will use the feeder port approach which is far cheaper than trucking, and when all matters are considered, is also cheaper than deepening. The corps’ assessment pretends that without deepening, shippers would use the far more expensive trucking option to get goods to the Philadelphia area markets. But the corps’ own practices and procedures make clear that the shipping alternative is the best alternative and the one that would be selected, thereby supporting and encouraging port jobs without the need for a nearly $300 million, environmentally devastating deepening project.”

According to the new Cooked the Books report, correction of the shipping vs. trucking error alone reduces the benefit-cost ratio for the project to, at best 1.1 (or to below 1 to 1, depending on a shipping diversion assumption)—far below the 1.64 claimed by the Army Corps’ May 2011 report. Supplemental information in the report provided by the coalition of organizations identifies a number of additional errors they say, when included in the calculation, revive the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that deepening would provide less than a dollar of benefit for every $1 of cost paid for by the taxpayers.

“The corps’ economic analysis deserves to be on a Chinese menu under twice-cooked pork. The errors were too obvious and too basic to be a mistake,” says Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “But more importantly, the new report is being used to justify renewed funding for a project that doesn’t meet the federal government’s basic criteria for ensuring tax dollars are invested only in those projects that will generate clear economic value for the country.”

“This new economic analysis makes it clear that the Delaware River Deepening project is an economic looser, which poses substantial environmental risks. The Army Corps needs to take a hard look at its project review practices if projects like this, that don’t meet the corps’ own basic economic standards, are getting the green light,” asserts George Sorvalis, coordinator with the Water Protection Network.

In a report issued in April 2010, the GAO issued its third challenge to the reliability and accuracy of the Army Corps economic claims for deepening (the first GAO report being issued in 2002, the second challenge in the form of Congressional testimony given in 2006). The Army Corps 2011 report was issued in apparent response to the less than glowing GAO 2010 report. The May 2011 Army Corps analysis was its 8th economic analysis of the deepening. “But no one ever learned of this report or got an opportunity to review it until we secured the report through a Freedom of Information Act request,” says van Rossum. “As soon as we received a copy we pursued an independent review of its claims. We think our findings clearly demonstrate why the Army Corps felt the need to keep this newest analysis an apparent secret—because it’s clear that once again they cooked the books, a practice far too common with the Army Corps and one that demeans the entire federal government.”

“With the nation staring into a $15 trillion chasm of debt and Congress looking for deficit reduction, there is no place in the budget for this boondoggle,” says Ellis. “For years, the Delaware River Deepening survived on a steady diet of parochial earmarks. The current earmark moratorium provides Congress the perfect opportunity to stop wasting tax dollars on this economic loser.”
 
For more information, click here.

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The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) champions the rights of our communities to a Delaware River and tributary streams that are free-flowing, clean and healthy. Founded in 1988, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is a grassroots advocacy organization that works throughout the four states of the Delaware River watershed. Through independent advocacy, and the use of accurate facts, science and law, DRN works to ensure the rich and healthy future that can only exist with a clean, healthy and free flowing river system. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is unique in that it is founded upon the expectation of personal and community responsibility for river protection, as personified by the Delaware Riverkeeper.
 
Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is a non-partisan budget watchdog that has fought for fiscal responsibility in Washington for more than 15 years—working with Democrats and Republicans, and groups on the right and the left. TCS is best known for its campaign against spending “earmarks” and as the original whistle-blower on the “Bridge to Nowhere”—a proposed $380 million Alaskan bridge that became an infamous example of federal waste.
 
Water Protection Network (formerly Corps Reform Network), a coalition of hundreds of organizations from around the country, works to ensure water projects and policies are economically and environmentally sound.

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