Will EPA Protect Our Families From Toxic Coal Water Pollution?
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Mary Anne Hitt
In 1982, complying with a federal court order stemming from a lawsuit filed by environmentalists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), finally issued regulations governing toxic pollution discharges under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Industry polluters had used political clout to delay those regulations for a decade. But even as EPA was promulgating maximum standards for every other industry that year, powerful operatives for the big utilities and King Coal were able to persuade Ronald Reagan's EPA to omit prohibitions on the worst sources of toxic water pollution in America—the poisoned flows from waste lagoons and coal ash piles at power plants.
As a result of these interventions, EPA's 1982 guidelines allow coal plants to flush millions of pounds of poisonous heavy metals from toxic ash piles and waste impoundments into rivers and streams every year with virtually no federal limits. In fact, coal-fired power plants and the coal ash they leave behind are responsible for over one half of all toxic water pollution in the U.S., out-dumping the next nine industries combined including chemical and paper plants and refineries. According to the EPA, some 267 coal plants have contaminated 23,000 miles of waterways with an often lethal alphabet soup of toxins including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, and selenium to name a few. Every year, coal generators vomit 80,000 pounds of arsenic and 65,000 pounds of lead into American waterways.
The lack of federal regulations puts the burden on states to regulate coal ash toxins, but coal and utility lobbyists are even more adept at dominating state political landscapes. According to data in a new report from the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and Clean Water Action, the states are doing next to nothing to protect our families from King Coal's water pollution. And as coal plants are required to finally clean up their toxic air emissions, toxins that are being scrubbed from our smokestacks are now ending up in the water instead. According to the EPA's estimates, as more power plants comply with new air safeguards, this toxic wastewater stream will increase by 28 percent over the next 15 years.
The good news is that after three decades, the EPA—in compliance with yet another lawsuit in 2009 brought by environmental groups—has finally proposed new guidelines that would limit toxic discharges from coal-fired power plants into waterways. Power plant operators can easily afford these new guidelines without any significant disruption to electricity prices or reliability. Indeed, many plants already employ these protocols. Unfortunately, coal and utility lobbyists have once more polluted the democratic process. Draft copies of the EPA's proposed standards show that after EPA scientists and economists developed new science based regulations last year, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—a sock puppet for King Coal and the coal fired electric generators—took the unusual step of writing three weaker options into the draft prepared by EPA experts, while barring EPA from focusing on stronger choices that it had preferred. Those OMB options will effectively allow America's filthiest power plants to go on polluting unabated.
Coal plant pollution is not a victimless crime. Americans who drink the polluted water or eat contaminated fish can suffer lowered IQs, cancer and an inventory of other devastating health problems. Because the EPA hasn't acted for the last 31 years, Waterkeeper Alliance, our local Waterkeepers, Sierra Club and other partner organizations have taken legal action to stop illegal contamination of groundwater and surface water at several coal-fired power plants. Unfortunately, the lack of regulations makes it hard to protect the public.
EPA should discard OMB's bloodless proposals and adopt the strongest standard—known as Option 5—to protect our families and our waterways. Option 5 wisely requires power plants to dry their coal ash waste and dispose of it in landfills, with zero liquid discharges. There is a serious risk, however, that the EPA will cave to intense industry pressure to weaken the standards, allowing much of this pollution to continue indefinitely. The White House should let the scientists at EPA devise science-based regulations without interference from OMB bureaucrats.
The Clean Water Act is one of our nation's greatest statutory achievements. Thanks to this landmark legislation, our rivers are no longer catching on fire and our waterways are safer and healthier than they were decades ago. But 40 years after the act was passed, the coal industry is still polluting with impunity, thanks to a loophole that no other industry enjoys.
We have suffered enough coal industry abuses—from the destruction of mountains to the poisoning of our air and water to the cataclysmic discharges of carbon that have brought us to the brink of climate chaos Armageddon. It's time for the coal barons to obey the laws that apply to every other American and eliminate industry's toxic discharges altogether.
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By Taison Bell
"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal
This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.
Hard-Hit States Quickly Learned Value of Masks<p>As a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted mainly through droplets that leave the mouth and nose as a person talks, sneezes, coughs or exhales. It thrives in environments where there are lots of people in enclosed spaces – <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">especially if they are laughing, talking, singing</a> or otherwise coming into close contact. It thrives physically in the same settings where we thrive socially.</p><p>This is why the early hard-hit areas were able to crush the curve by closing businesses and implementing stay-at-home orders. Without significant close human interaction, the coronavirus couldn't spread.</p><p>While other states are now seeing hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, most of the Northeast is maintaining control of community spread as its economies reopen. The difference reflects, at least in part, each state's behavior expectations and the willingness of residents to keep up safety precautions like wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, maintaining social distance of at least six feet and staying isolated when they are ill or may have been exposed to the virus.</p>
How Rhode Island's Daily COVID-19 Case Numbers Fell<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ2MTAwOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDE1MDUxMH0.Ce8r6qCwhkJm8D8vUnTl5CblhFPXj_eBIlYqJ5yobqE/img.png?width=980" id="32ce3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f15da39d4dab6393216510dbed678840" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Northeastern states now <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/26/politics/maskwearing-coronavirus-analysis/index.html" target="_blank">lead the nation</a> in mask-wearing and adherence to other best practices. An <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/26/which-part-of-the-u-s-leads-the-country-in-mask-wearing/" target="_blank">Axios/Ipsos poll</a> showed that in states with high mask use, virus circulation is at <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/covid-19-coronavirus-face-masks-infection-rates-20200624.html" target="_blank">lower levels compared to states with less mask use</a>. Studies on the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">effects of how quickly coronavirus restrictions have been lifted</a> around the world have found that slow, careful strategies have led to fewer illnesses and deaths during reopening.</p><p>In many parts of the Northeast, the months of illnesses, deaths and the struggle to turn the COVID-19 tide are still <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/23/most-americans-say-they-regularly-wore-a-mask-in-stores-in-the-past-month-fewer-see-others-doing-it/" target="_blank">fresh in people's minds</a>. The progress isn't uniform, however. <a href="https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-cases-among-20-somethings-nyc-rise-prompting-de-blasio-issue-new-mask-guidance" target="_blank">New York City's mayor has expressed concern</a> about an uptick in positive cases among people in their 20s.</p>
The Problems of a Political Divide<p>Elsewhere in the country, the current surge in COVID-19 cases <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-surges-of-the-coronavirus-across-the-nation-could-force-more-shutdowns/2020/06/12/e6985b94-acd9-11ea-a9d9-a81c1a491c52_story.html" target="_blank">began to pick up after Memorial Day weekend</a>, when people in several states that hadn't seen the same toll from the pandemic let their guard down. <a href="https://theconversation.com/covid-19-messes-with-texas-what-went-wrong-and-what-other-states-can-learn-as-younger-people-get-sick-141563" target="_blank">Video and pictures</a> showed parties, barbecues, crowded beaches and political rallies – all with very little social distancing or mask-wearing – giving more fuel for the coronavirus to spread.</p><p>Despite the overwhelming evidence for what we should be doing, following the advice of public health experts has also, sadly, become politicized. Depending on the news sources people listen to, they might hear warnings from health officials being taken seriously or being dismissed by pundits and politicians.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.axios.com/axios-ipsos-poll-coronavirus-index-15-weeks-e4eb53cc-9bc8-4cac-8285-07e5e5ef6b2b.html" target="_blank">recent national poll</a> shows that Democrats report consistently wearing a mask 68% of the time, while Republicans reported doing the same only 34% of the time. The national conversation has devolved into a false dichotomy: Either you're on the side of prioritizing safety or you're on the side of personal freedom and opening the economy.</p><p>In reality, the two should be partners, as these preventative measures are the best tools we have to reach our common goals of reopening businesses and schools safely. It's the same reason we stop at stoplights and go through metal detectors at the airport – we make a small sacrifice for the greater public good.</p><p>For the foreseeable future, Americans will have to collectively agree to live life a little differently. Until we can all agree on this, the coronavirus will continue to have the upper hand, and our health and wealth will suffer.</p>
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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