'Earth Focus' Documents How a New Jersey Town Reclaimed Its Water Supply After Decades of Chemical Pollution
Toms River, N.J. was the sort of place people romanticized about as a quintessential setting for the American dream—until a dye manufacturer began dumping its toxic waste in the local water supply.
People were thrilled to welcome Ciba Geigy to Toms River in the '50s, but soon the town's reputation inspired monikers like "cancer hotspot." Unfortunately, that didn't happen until after more and more people moved to town believing the local government's assurance that everything was just fine.
Earth Focus spoke to some of those people who are old enough to remember the transition their town underwent, including the horror their families felt when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the company a permit to build a 10-mile pipeline enabling the company to dump its waste directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Those people also recall how the pipeline burst in the middle of town years later and how residents, attorneys media and more fought back to reclaim their drinking water.
In the episode's latter half, Earth Focus examines illegal gold mining in Peru and its tragic impact on human health and the environment. The topic was featured in the 2012 film, Amazon Gold.
EARTH FOCUS airs every Thursday at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT) on Link TV—channel 375 on DIRECTV and channel 9410 on DISH Network. Episodes are also available to watch online at linktv.org/earthfocus.
University of Colorado Boulder Scientists Link 10,800-Foot-Deep Fracking Wastewater Well to More Than 200 Earthquakes
[Editor's note: This article was updated Aug. 1.]
A team of University of Colorado Boulder researchers began a seismic investigation after a May 31 earthquake. The researchers' information led the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to request a 20-day halt to NGL Water Solutions' fracking wastewater injection operations.
NGL, formerly known as High Sierra Water Services, was given permission to resume its activities at a 10,800-foot-deep well a few weeks later. Anne Sheehan and her team found that the well is linked to more than 200 earthquakes, the geophysics professor in the CU Department of Geological Sciences told Boulder County Business Report. NGL made modifications to the well, cementing the bottom 400 feet of the well, and it is has come back into production at a lower rate of pressure and injection. CU continues to monitor the earthquake activity and has found it has decreased. The information from the study will help the researchers find out why some wells have earthquakes and some do not, and how to fix the wells that do have earthquakes, if possible.
Sheehan said the group found "quite a few" earthquakes with epicenters within two miles of the well.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Two earthquakes—with magnitudes of 3.4 and 2.6—took place within mere miles of the well. Shemin Ge and Matthew Weingarten, also of CU, also found that activity within fracking wastewater injection wells likely caused earthquakes in central Oklahoma.
NGL operates 11 of the 29 fracking wastewater injection wells in Weld County, CO. When the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission allowed NGL to resume activities, it began injecting 7,500 barrels per day at maximum pressure.
"We’ll continue to closely monitor and accumulate all available information at this location,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman told the Report, “and work with partners to continue understanding how best to limit and prevent potential seismic impacts related to deep injection generally.”
By installing solar panels, homeowners can curb their dependence on traditional utilities, reducing their monthly electric bills while also minimizing their environmental impact. Of course, solar energy is more viable in some places than in others; it's best suited for homeowners who live in areas that get ample sun exposure. And the Lone Star State is certainly on that list.
In fact, a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, shows that Texas installed the second-most solar in 2020 and the most in the first quarter of 2021. And some municipalities have gone especially heavy on solar power. So, what are the top cities for solar in Texas? Let's find out if your city made our top 10 list.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in Texas
To rank the top cities for solar in Texas, the EcoWatch team took into account reports furnished by the SEIA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's solar irradiance maps, and Environment America's most recent Shining Cities report among other data points.
Based on our findings, these we've determined the following cities to be Texas' top 10 solar energy hubs:
- San Antonio
- El Paso
- Fort Worth
- Round Rock
San Antonio is a sun-soaked city, so it makes sense that local home and business owners have invested heavily in harnessing the sun's power. We rate San Antonio as No. 1 among the top cities for solar in Texas, and there's plenty of evidence to back that up. In terms of total installed solar capacity, San Antonio ranks first in the state and fifth in the nation, according to Environment America. (First in the nation? Los Angeles.) It also boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person, one of just 38 cities in the nation to earn this distinction.
The Austin community is well-known for environmental activism and advocacy, and with residents' investments in solar energy, they're really putting their money where their mouth is. Like San Antonio, Austin boasts more than 50 watts of solar energy per person.
Thanks to its average of 302 days of sunshine annually, El Paso is nicknamed the "Sun City" — and it's taking advantage of its weather with over 54 MW of solar capacity installed. A lot of this comes down to significant solar installations built into the city's municipal infrastructure, including solar arrays on the main library and other government buildings.
A sprawling metropolitan area with ample exposure to sunlight, Houston has an impressive commitment to solar power. In terms of total installed solar energy capacity, the city is in the top 20 for the entire nation, falling just behind New Orleans and just in front of Boston in Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Fort Worth is home to some of the state's top solar companies, making it easy and relatively affordable for local homeowners to make the jump to solar power. The general Dallas-Fort Worth area tends to be a standout solar power hub, both at state and national levels.
Likewise, Dallas boasts an impressive level of solar investment. In the Shining Cities report of the nation's most prolific solar builders, Dallas ranks at No. 43 in the nation, just behind Cincinnati.
Located north of Dallas, Plano is in prime "Sun Belt" position. The city boasts a solid (and growing) solar infrastructure, earning it a place on our list. According to NREL's solar irradiance maps, Plano has some of the highest potential for residential roof-mounted solar power generation in the state.
This central Texas town just north of Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. As the population expands, so does its commitment to clean, renewable energy. NREL maps show Round Rock is located in a part of the state with above-average annual solar power generation potential and a high number of buildings suitable for solar installation.
Though it's not as sizable as some of the other municipalities on our list, Bruceville-Eddy has a surprisingly robust solar infrastructure, allowing homeowners to harness the renewable energy of the sun. In fact, in the latest Shining Cities report, Bruceville-Eddy was reported as No. 1 in the state for per capita photovoltaic solar installation.
Rounding out our list is Tyler, located east of Dallas near the Texas-Louisiana border. Homes in Tyler represent a not-insignificant portion of the state's solar energy potential, according to NREL. The area has a high number of solar-suitable buildings and high roof-mounted solar potential in terms of both capacity and generation.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
There are a few different factors that can make a city particularly well-suited for solar energy. One is exposure to sunlight; consistent, year-round solar exposure is common throughout Texas, which explains why the Lone Star State has so many major solar-producing and solar-ready hubs.
Average Texas Electricity Costs
Another factor to consider? High energy costs. As a general rule, when local electrical costs are higher, the value of solar power increases. By contrast, if electrical costs are already low, the benefits of going solar tend to be more modest.
In 2019, the average monthly electric bill in Texas was just over $134, according to the EIA. This is considerably higher than surrounding states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The relatively high cost of electrical power makes Texas well-positioned for maximum solar benefits. Also note that the average monthly electric consumption was 1,140 kWh; again, this is higher than in neighboring states.
Texas Solar Tax Incentives
One reason some cities stand out over others for solar installations is that local utility companies offer rebates to help with the cost of solar panels. In addition to the federal tax rebate, which we'll explain in a moment, Texas homeowners should to aware of the following incentives:
|Solar Energy Incentive||Details|
|Statewide Property Tax Incentive||State law includes a property tax exemption for solar installations. Basically, this means installing solar panels increases the value of a home without increasing property taxes.|
|City-Specific Utility Incentives||Local utilities offer additional savings opportunities to residents of many cities across the state.|
Net Metering in Texas
Net metering programs allow solar users to take any excess energy their panels produce and sell it back to a local utility company. Currently, there is no statewide net-metering program in Texas, though some municipalities offer it to local utility users.
Homeowners are encouraged to check with their utility companies to see if they can get energy credits for any surplus solar energy they feed back into the electrical grid. Most of the best solar companies in Texas will also help you identify and apply for any tax breaks and rebates you're eligible for.
Federal Solar Tax Credits
As for federal programs, there is currently a 26% tax credit available for homeowners who install solar panels before 2023. In 2023, that incentive is set to lower to 22%, and it is scheduled to drop off completely in 2024.
Texas Solar Regulations
Statewide regulations also play a part in how and where Texans can install residential solar panel systems.
One regulation relevant to solar installation is Texas HB-362, which states that homeowners associations cannot ban solar panels within their community outright. However, homeowners must still go through their HOA's normal architecture review approvals process.
The Texas Property Code gives HOAs some specific grounds on which they can prohibit homeowners from installing solar panels, including:
- Instances where the solar installation is a threat to health or safety
- Installations that impede on public property or common areas
- Installations that extend higher than the roofline
- Installations that are ground-mounted but extend above the fence line
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in Texas
Did your city make our list of the 10 top cities for solar energy in Texas? If you want to raise your area's solar profile, one of the best ways is to install a solar panel system on your roof. You can also contact your local and state legislators to urge for ambitious city- and statewide renewable energy goals that will drive Texas toward more solar power in the future.
One thing is for sure—you can't accuse Boulder County District Court Judge D.D. Mallard of being dishonest.
Her decision Thursday regarding Longmont, CO's fracking ban includes no ambiguity. Instead it clearly states that concerns about health risks to residents don't quite stack up against Colorado's stake in the oil and gas industries.
"While the court appreciates the Longmont citizens' sincerely held beliefs about risks to their health and safety, the court does not find this is sufficient to completely devalue the state's interest," Mallard wrote in the decision, uploaded to Scribd by the Denver Post.
Voters approved the ban in 2012, but the Colorado Oil and Gas Association never stopped fighting to overturn it. Earthworks, the Sierra Club, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont and the other environmental groups listed as defendants plan on appealing the decision. The judge ruled that the ban can remain in place while an appeal is considered.
“While we respectfully disagree with the court’s final decision, [Mallard] was correct that we were asking this Court, in part, to place protection from the health, safety and environmental risks from fracking over the development of mineral resources,” Kaye Fissinger, president of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, said in a statement on Earthworks' website.
“It’s tragic that the judge views the current law in Colorado is one in which fracking is more important than public health; reversing that backwards priority is a long-term battle that we’re determined to continue.”
According to the Post, the City of Longmont had spent $116,324 defending the ban as of June 30. Though the groups argued that the language the industry relied on to get its desired result was written far before modern practices like fracking, Mallard said the issue should be taken up with a higher court or state legislators.
“This decision means two things: The judge has invited us to seek the change we need either through the higher courts or the legislature," said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks Energy Program director. “We fully intend to pursue the former on appeal, while the latter underscores the need for the citizens of Colorado to get out and support the Environmental Bill of Rights ballot measure this Fall.”
Elon Musk received his widest TV exposure earlier this year on 60 Minutes, providing insight into his multiple technologies in response to a serious line of questioning. Obviously, things were different Thursday night when Comedy Central's audience saw him sitting on the set of the Colbert Report.
The interview, broken into two videos, features a bit of Stephen Colbert rightfully marveling at Musk's innovations before asking him to explain why he allowed other automakers access to the electric vehicle patents his company, Tesla, uses to advance the market.
"You saw the future as a kid and said, 'let's make that happen,'" Colbert hypothesized. Musk didn't deny it.
The videos also include Colbert asking Musk what he'll do next to "blow my mind with" and test-flight footage for a reusable SpaceX rocket that Colbert could only describe as "the most badass thing I've ever seen in my life."
As jet shootings intensified the Ukraine crisis this week, some U.S. politicians took the opportunity to advocate for more oil drilling.
Hours after the jets were shot down, Congress members from both sides of the aisle presented cases to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. The oil would cut Europe's oil dependence on Russia and provide an economic boost to the U.S.—but at the cost of further damaging our environment and collective health by drilling.
MSNBC's The Ed Show features U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who does not advocate for more drilling, and Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters in a lengthy segment that shows why this isn't a good idea. The clip puts recent news about the warmest June ever and raging wildfires in Washington State into perspective as part of the climate problem. Drilling for more oil certainly wouldn't help that problem.
Earlier in the week, Ring of Fire’s Mike Papantonio appeared on the show to discuss some politicians' desire to lift the ban.
A new ad campaign from the League of Conservation Voters characterizes the recent behavior of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other fossil fuel supporters and donors with three D's—dirty, desperate and dangerous.
The $250,000 "Desperate" campaign blasts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies’ attempts to kill the Environmental Protection Agency's emissions proposal in advance of next week's public hearings in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver and Washington D.C. The ad is in response to the analysis from Chamber and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stating that the power plan would cost the country more than 224,000 jobs and $17 billion in electricity bill costs.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s phony analysis of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan should be shelved under ‘Fiction,’ LCV President Gene Karpinski said in a statement announcing the campaign. "Politicians like Speaker Boehner should be ashamed for doing the bidding of polluters and pedaling its proven lies to just help their campaign contributors make even more money.”
Several of the Chamber’s largest donors are fossil fuel companies and its board of directors includes senior officials from ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, big coal producer Alliance Resource Partners, CONSOL Energy, and Southern Company.
The LCV ad campaign airs this week in the four markets where the EPA hearings will be held.
In the case of the Japanese macaques, the radioactive material spewed by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has led to abnormally low white and red blood cell levels and low haemoglobin. The findings, published Thursday in the Scientific Reports journal, show that the low counts make the monkeys more susceptible to various diseases.
“This first data from non-human primates—the closest taxonomic relatives of humans—should make a notable contribution to future research on the health effects of radiation exposure in humans,” Professor Shin-ichi Hayama, of the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo, told The Guardian.
One of the study's 11 authors, Hayama said that the monkeys were likely exposed to radiation from feeding on tree buds and bark that accumulated radioactive caesium from the power plant explosions. The researchers examined wild monkeys who were 43 miles away from the plant reactors in the forest area of Fukushima City. Their counts of white and red blood cells, as well as hemoglobin, and hematocrit, were much lower than those of monkeys about 250 miles away in the Shimokita Peninsula in the Aomori Prefecture.
Hamaya would not make a definitive claim that caesium caused the low blood counts, despite the suggestive findings and the inability to find any other cause.
“The low haematological values in the Fukushima monkeys could have therefore been due to the effect of any radioactive materials,” he said. “We did not conclude the low-blood cell counts are caused by caesium but so far we cannot find other reasons except radiation.”
Professor Geraldine Thomas of Imperial College in London didn't believe the study at all.
“Unfortunately this is yet another paper with insufficient power to distinguish real effects and relevance to human health,” she said. “We know that one of the most damaging health effects comes from fear of radiation, not radiation itself.”
A new report from Friends of the Earth Europe aims to expose Shell, Total and ExxonMobil, along with groups like BusinessEurope and OGP, to reveal what it calls a "thick web of lobbying activity." The report says public relations and law firms, paid-for scientific reports, and even members of Parliament have all been used to advance fracking for shale gas around the continent.
"The legislative process has been taken hostage by private interests," Antoine Simon, a shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. "They have created a climate of industry-funded misinformation that sells shale gas as a responsible resource—this could not be further from reality. The European Commission needs to put the interest of people and planet before the profits of big oil companies, by re-opening the debate on shale gas regulation.”
The report hopes to reignite the discussion of stronger shale gas industry regulation within the European Commission and increased lobbying transparency. At the very least, FOE Europe hopes for a moratorium on fracking, similar to those passed in the U.S. by the New York Assembly and in cities like Los Angeles.
In the meantime, the organization seeks to explain who is making contributions to keep a practice with proven health risks alive. Here is a visualization of the tangled web of gas companies and lobbyists in Europe. Each line shows membership, affiliation or financial contributions from energy companies to lobby groups in Brussels who represent their interests. Europia, European Union of the Natural Gas Industry and European Federation of Energy Traders are among the names included.
“An underground offensive by the oil industry has managed to silence well-founded concerns about the dangers of fracking," Simon said. "It has side-stepped the growing body of evidence on the environmental, economic and health risks of shale gas development, and undermines Europe-wide opposition from citizens to the unconventional fossil fuel.”
President Barack Obama is part of a "very long list" of global officials slated to attend a climate summit in September in New York, United Nations Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said, and for good reason.
A wildfire that has burned nearly 400 square miles in North-Central Washington was only about half contained as of Thursday morning, and Obama minced no words Wednesday when describing its cause.
The Carlton Complex—the largest wildfire in the state's history—has destroyed about 150 homes and has been fought by about 2,500 people. Earlier this week, Chelan HD Productions provided drone footage of devastated land in Washington.
The other fires damaging North-Central Washington are the Chiwaukum Complex fire near Leavenworth, which has burned 12,225 acres, and the Mills Canyon fire, which has burned 22,571 acres. The latter was about 90 percent contained by Thursday morning.
Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to battle wildfires in the West. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have coordinated disaster relief, aiding state and local agencies with more equipment and resources following the the president's declaration of a state of emergency.
"These additional resources will significantly help our efforts to restore power to thousands of people affected by these fires," Gov. Jay Inslee said. "I appreciate his prompt response and partnership in helping our state."
Earlier this year, California, Arizona and Alaska all dealt with severe wildfires. Nearly one dozen wildfires burned more than 25,000 acres in San Diego County alone in May.
The nation's largest-ever climate march is scheduled to take place in New York the day before the UN climate summit.
Environmental groups believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got it right by denying the emergency use request Texas filed in order to use hazardous herbicide propazine to kill superweeds infesting the state's cotton.
Environmental groups, public health advocates and organic farmers all pleaded with the EPA to recognize the health and water risks that would arise from permitting propazine to be used on 3 million acres of cotton fields across the humongous state.
"Based on an assessment consistent with EPA's legal responsibilities, drinking water estimates suggest that risks from drinking water alone may lead to unacceptable risks in some cases," Jack Housenger, EPA director of the office of pesticide programs, wrote in the agency's response to the request, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Though the EPA found that the request met urgent and non-routine emergency criteria, groups like Beyond Pesticides were pleased with the final decision.
"While we disagree with the EPA that this meets any of the criteria for emergency exemption, we applaud the EPA for putting the health of people and the environment first and upholding the health and environmental standards under the law," Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said in a statement.
Beyond Pesticides filed comments opposing emergency status for the use of propazine.
"This is not an emergency because the weed resistance is predictable since it has been known for many years that GMO cotton sprayed with glyphosate would create resistant superweeds," Feldman said. "It is an abuse of the law to prop up failed GMO cropping systems with toxic chemicals when viable alternatives, like organic growing methods, exist."
Texas Department of Agriculture officials lamented the news.
"Once again, members of the current administration have turned their back on the hard-working farmers of Texas," said Bryan Black, a department spokesman.
Propazine is a possible human carcinogen and a “restricted use pesticide”—the EPA’s category for particularly hazardous agricultural chemicals. The EPA has found that propazine, like atrazine, is an endocrine disruptor (disrupts the hormonal system) and that when fed to pregnant rats, it causes birth defects in their young. Propazine is persistent, requiring years to break down, and is detected in both ground and surface waters. The European Union has banned propazine due to its toxicity.
The City of San Diego claimed a week ago that its permanent mandatory water use restrictions were good enough as a response to California's continuous drought. The city believed it didn't need any additional or different actions.
That line of thinking didn't sit well with environmental groups. As a result, San Diego Coastkeeper and the Save the Colorado River Campaign banded together to call out the nation's eighth-largest city for what they view as a laissez–faire approach to the drought.
"Governor Jerry Brown has asked for statewide water conservation of 20 percent, and the City of San Diego contributed to an eight percent increase in water use—how is it acceptable to not take action?" Matt O'Malley, waterkeeper for San Diego Coastkeeper, asked in a joint statement.
"We don't want the City to be a bad actor. At a bare minimum, it must follow the State Water Board's regulations and enact its level two drought response conditions to ensure this region does its part to reduce water use."
California is in the midst of its driest year on record in 115 years. San Diego imports more than half of its water from the Colorado River, which no longer capable of reaching the Gulf of California because cities, farms and industry drain 5 trillion gallons of water from the river per year. The Colorado also feeds Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, which fell to its lowest level in history a week ago.
"As Lake Mead drops and other states in the Southwest U.S. face water shortages, San Diego needs to know that a dwindling supply of water is the new normal," said Gary Wockner with the Save the Colorado River Campaign. "We think San Diego, the nation's 8th largest city, should be a national leader and acknowledge with action that its California way of life can still flourish on less water."
The organizations hope the city implements its predetermined and approved level-two drought response conditions that are stated in its water shortage contingency plan. O'Malley pointed to the fact that the State Water Board said emergency regulations set a "minimum standard requiring only modest lifestyle changes across the state."
"Many irrigated landscapes would not suffer greatly from receiving a decreased amount of water," according to the board.
The proposal would phase out older DOT 111 tank cars that ship packing group I flammable liquids, a category that includes most Bakken crude oil. Retrofitting the tank cars to comply with new standards is the only way that wouldn't be phased out.
Other elements of the proposal include braking controls, lower speed laws and a testing program for mined gases and liquids.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
“Safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials since my first week in office,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”
The proposal is subject to 60 days of public comment. The proposal is based on an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in September that received more than 150,000 comments. Here are some highlights of Wednesday's proposal:
- Carriers would be required to perform a routing analysis for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) that would consider 27 safety and security factors and select a route based on findings of the route's analysis.
- HHFTs that contain any tank cars that don't meet enhanced tank car standards would be required to choose one of three speed restrictions: A 40-miles-per-hour maximum speed restriction in all areas; a 40-mph speed restriction in "high-threat urban areas"; or a 40-mph speed restriction in areas with populations of 100,000 or more.
- All HHFTs would be equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems. Depending on the outcome of the tank car standard proposal and implementation timing, all HHFTs would be operated with either electronic controlled pneumatic brakes, a two-way end of train device or distributed power.
More crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. The trend continued this year with derailments like one that spilled thousands of crude oil gallons into the James River in Virginia.
The DOT in February issued an emergency order requiring all shippers to test product from the Bakken region to ensure the proper classification of crude oil before it was transported by rail.