April 18th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Thursday is Earth Day!
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a guidance designed to strengthen requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining projects.
The agency’s stated goal is prevention of significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity.
It’s too little, too late. The practice of mountaintop removal to access eco-filthy coal must be banned altogether.
Waste & Water Quality
Even the EPA admits that a growing body of scientific literature shows significant damage to local streams that are polluted with runoff from mountaintop removal.
As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes:
“Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen ‘valley fills’—some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.”
This waste can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
Salt Levels Kill Fish
A new EPA report establishes a scientific benchmark for unacceptable levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution from mining practices). The EPA says its new parameters are intended to protect 95% of aquatic life and freshwater streams in central Appalachia.
And the other 5% (assuming the EPA is even close to being right)?
Runoff from dumped mining materials raises salinity level, turning fresh water into salty water. When this happens, living organisms must struggle to survive.
As with any federal guidance, EPA will solicit public comments; however, the guidance will be effective immediately on an interim basis. EPA will decide whether to modify the guidance after consideration of public comments and further technical review.
How You Can Help
Please sign the NRDC’s petition, which asks Congress to pass the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). It would end mountaintop-removal mining and prevent coal companies from dumping waste into streams.
The bill is also supported by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice—and, not surprisingly, opposed by the National Mining Association.
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future
Photo: nrdc_media | Creative Commons
Read More:EPA Guidance on Mining Endangers Environment
April 5th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Mountaintop mining involves blasting off the top of a mountain so excess rock can be pushed to a neighboring valley. This allows miners to more easily reach coal.
The eco-obnoxious practice, which has doubled in the last 8 years, has buried more than 1,000 miles of Appalachian streams over the last 20 years.
Now, residents in states like West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky are finding huge numbers of dead and deformed fish, a result of toxic selenium that leaches into rivers and streams.
High selenium levels threaten fish survival and reproduction, and contaminated fish have offspring with serious birth defects—from crooked spines to deformed heads. Ultimately, the fish population could be wiped out.
Selenium pollution affects fish first, so they serve as a barometer for future damage to ecosystems and human health.
“Once in the aquatic environment, waterborne selenium can enter the food chain and reach levels that are toxic to fish and wildlife,” says Dennis Lemly, PhD, a research professor of biology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.
“The threat is expanding as use of this destructive process expands,” he adds. “Once these ecosystems are polluted, damage to the environment is permanent.”
Taking It to Washington, DC
Dr. Lemly, who supports tougher regulations on the disposal of coal waste, was part of a 12-member team of ecologists and engineers who provided the first comprehensive analysis of damage caused by mountaintop removal mining. He and his colleagues shared their scientific findings in February with representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
Dr. Lemly has studied West Virginia’s Mud River Reservoir, which was polluted with selenium released from a mountaintop mining operation. Between 50% and 60% of young fish were deformed because of high selenium concentrations.
Not Fit for Human Consumption
Selenium levels in fish caught in some of West Virginia’s rivers are more than twice what is considered safe for human consumption.
Humans need to absorb certain amounts of selenium daily, but extremely high concentrations can cause reproductive failure and birth defects.
“I specialize in fish, but that is only one part of the overall picture,” Dr. Lemly says. “Public health is also an issue with mountaintop removal mining.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Coal Country: Rising Up Against Mountaintop Removal Mining
Photo: nrdc_media | Creative Commons
Read More:Mountaintop Mining Poisons Fish Supply
March 22nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Today is World Water Day, and if you live along one of the nation’s coastlines, you’ve probably noticed that you’re not alone when going for a swim.
Ocean pollution is a major problem, and litter is a primary culprit. While laws have been designed to prevent people from dumping their trash into the sea, they haven’t eradicated the problem. Garbage still finds its way into our oceans and threatens marine life.
After last year’s annual Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers in more than 100 countries and 42 U.S. states had removed more than 6.8 million pounds of trash. As Greenpeace notes, only a fraction of the 300 billion pounds of plastic produced globally is recycled, with massive quantities dumped in landfills or oceans.
When exposed to the sun, wind and ocean currents, plastic degrades and is often mistaken for food. Dolphins, sharks, whales and other marine animals die painful suffocation deaths when carelessly discarded plastics become lodged in their throats or digestive systems. Seemingly innocuous pop tabs from aluminum cans and plastic six-pack wrappers are common killers. Simply cutting up your six-pack wrappers before discarding them is one small step toward protecting sea life.
You’re not off the hook if you live in a landlocked state, as litter along streets often ends up in storm drains and rivers, eventually navigating its way into the ocean. Once there, it can survive for decades.
Reducing litter and volunteering for cleanup programs are highly effective ways to safeguard our oceans. Click here to volunteer for a coastal cleanup program.
Free Online Resource: Guide to Marine Debris
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth
Photo: Hans Sautter/Aurora Photos, courtesy of Ocean Conservancy
Read More:Don’t Trash Our Oceans; It’s World Water Day
March 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Just in time for tonight’s Academy Awards ceremony, leading environmental groups have run full-page ads in Hollywood trade publications to praise Oscar-nominated filmmaker James Cameron for exposing the dangers of tar sands oil in Avatar.
Environmental Defence Canada’s ad in Variety (top left) shows a 797B Heavy Hauler, one of the first trucks used to mine the tar sands—and identical to some of the trucks used in Avatar. It also features the vast open pit mines that cut across the once-pristine boreal forests in Cameron’s Ontario hometown.
“We want Hollywood, and the powerful thought leaders there, to know Avatar does a great job of exposing the tar sands,” says EDC Executive Director Rick Smith. “It’s the world’s most destructive project. Pandora’s ‘unobtanium’ is Canada’s tar sands.”
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has run a similar ad in The Hollywood Reporter (top right), which reads: “Pandora Isn’t the Only Planet in Peril.” The group is asking Americans to sign a petition that will be sent to President Obama.
“Avatar is like one big advertisement for our fight against tar sands oil,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “This is one of the most destructive projects on Earth, and we can’t let it expand into the U.S.”
“The photos of oil sands mining operations are frightening,” adds Dirty Fuels Campaign Coordinator Kate Colarulli. “It’s like you’re actually looking at stills from the movie Avatar. The giant trucks they use to destroy forests and mine earth are dead ringers. The lifeless, scarred earth that’s left behind looks exactly the same.
“One of the most important similarities between Avatar and the oil sands is the impacts on people,” she adds. “Indigenous communities near oil sands operations have reported high rates of cancer linked to pollution from the project. They are watching the oil industry destroy the landscape their families have lived in for hundreds of years.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Read More:Life Imitates “Avatar”
December 11th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Several groups are lauding Monday’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, which officially concluded that human activity causes greenhouse gases that threaten our health and welfare.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, has long maintained that the impacts of climate change would be devastating to the health of world populations through increased famine, heat waves, disruption of the ocean food supply, flooding, disease encroachment, drought, population displacement, war and chronic illness from air pollution.
“As an organization, our goal is to protect public health through reduction of pollution and environmental factors contributing to illness,” say Executive Director Anna Gilmore Hall, RN. “We welcome the EPA statement as a powerful commitment of support to our climate change reduction efforts.”
“With this announcement, the EPA is taking an important step forward,” adds Josh Karliner, the HCWH’s international coordinator. “It is now up to the President to follow through by negotiating a strong and fair agreement in Copenhagen that leads to a binding accord to protect public health from climate change.”
HCWH has placed an advertisement in the New York Times to draw attention to the public health aspects of climate change, and the group has also helped launch an online Prescription for a Healthy Planet initiative. For more information on HCWH’s climate change program, click here.
The National Wildlife Association also hails the EPA decision.
“This action clears the way for serious measures to reduce the pollution that is accelerating global warming, and the timing couldn’t be better,” says Joe Mendelson, the organization’s global warming policy director. “The Obama administration’s action enforces the Clean Air Act and strengthens the President’s hand for the upcoming talks to forge a global deal to fight climate change.
“The announcement follows the recent diplomatic breakthrough with China and India, who both announced their willingness to take action to control pollution if the world acts. For the first time ever, the leaders of the world will gather with offers to act from China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters. I am optimistic that the talks will yield a workable plan to protect our children’s future.”
Read More:Groups Praise EPA Report on Greenhouse Gases
October 21st, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) are holding public hearings this week on the country’s first greenhouse gas emissions limits for passenger vehicles.
Hearings began today in Detroit and will continue in New York City on Friday and Los Angeles on Tuesday. You can thank President Obama for pushing this environmental agenda, in concert with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, automakers, the United Auto Workers Union and eco-conscious organizations.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), passenger cars and light trucks emit “nearly 20% of the nation’s greenhouse gases, in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons. In April, EPA provisionally found that these four contaminants and two other greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.”
The proposed standards would apply to new cars produced from 2012 to 2016. The EDF cites the following benefits:
- Breaking Our Oil Addiction and Strengthening National Security. The vehicles subject to the proposed standards are responsible for about 40% of all U.S. oil consumption. The standards would reduce our oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels, while achieving a 5% annual improvement in fuel efficiency for U.S. passenger cars.
- Reducing Global-Warming Pollution. Vehicles covered by the proposed standards account for 60% of heat-trapping emissions from the transportation sector and about 20% of all U.S. heat-trapping gases. These emissions have increased by more than 1% annually. The proposal would cut carbon dioxide pollution from passenger vehicles approximately 21% by 2030, reducing emissions by 950 million tons.
- Saving Money at the Pump. Families can save more than $3,000 over a vehicle’s lifetime.
Read More:Feds Hold Public Hearings on Auto Emissions Limits
September 26th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, director of documentaries like The Civil War and Baseball, trains his lens on The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a six-episode series that premieres Sunday on PBS. (Click here to view a preview. You may also purchase the DVD boxed set or companion book on Oct. 6.)
Sadly, well-known parks like Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Acadia (right) are beginning to show their age, and they’re now threatened by funding shortfalls, pollution, climate change and encroaching developers.
This hasn’t stopped committed individuals from fighting for the parks’ survival:
- Maxine Johnston, dubbed the “Godmother” of Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, worked tirelessly for 50 years to help protect some 100,000 acres of highly diverse wildlife habitat.
- Former Miami Herald reporter Juanita Green, featured in Burns’s film, wrote stories that were instrumental in creating and protecting Biscayne National Park. In the 1960s, the park was threatened by a proposal to dredge a channel through the bay and turn the area into a city.
So, what can you do to help?
- Visit and explore one of our 391 national parks. Share your experiences with others to build support.
- Join the movement without leaving home. Sign up for news and action alerts. Write to President Obama, and contact your congressional representatives and other decision makers. Voice your concerns about park conservation.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. Global warming’s effects are already visible at national parks. At Glacier National Park, glaciers are disappearing faster than scientists predicted. In parks across the country, native trees and animals are losing ground because changing temperature and weather patterns affect the availability of food, water and shelter. Visit the Do Your Part! For Climate Friendly Parks website, which helps you calculate your carbon footprint. Set goals for buying local foods, reducing automobile use and saving energy at home.
Photo courtesy of ARA
Read More:Nature’s National Treasures at Risk
August 10th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Two half-hour documentaries will debut Wednesday evening on Planet Green: Focus Earth with Bob Woodruff: Troubled Waters (10 p.m. ET/PT) and Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification (10:30 p.m. ET/PT), produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council and narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver.
As the documentaries reveal, our oceans, freshwater rivers, lakes and streams have become increasingly plagued by dead zones, toxic runoff and dying wildlife. Fish populations are in serious decline, and carbon dioxide pollution is making the oceans more acidic.
Woodruff shows how banks and shores in every part of the world are facing similar threats. Among his interviewees is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for the environmental group Riverkeeper.
Acid Test explains that since the Industrial Revolution, the ocean has absorbed 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, causing a 30% increase in ocean acidity. Sea creatures’ shells dissolve, threatening the ocean’s ecosystem.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water, Our World
Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images
Read More:Troubled Waters
June 8th, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
I’m a cat lover. They’re cute, cuddly and awesome, but I have no doubt that cats will eventually enslave mankind and take over the world. Now, to make their job easier, some cats are actually sprouting wings. Yes, wings.
In the Chinese city of Chongqing, some kitties are growing small fur-covered wings on their backs. Flying cats! We’re doomed. But luckily for humanity, the little wings are too small to for flight.
Now, even though they look cute—I want one—the cause of the wings may be man made. Chongqing is heavily industrialized and local factories spew out tons of pollution. Toxins passed on from mother to kitten may explain the deformity.
A more ironic explanation is that the wings are merely Siamese twins. Either way you look at it, if cats take to the skies. We’re going to need an army robot terminator dogs—stat!
Read More:Pollution Making Winged Cats!
May 27th, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
New York’s Hudson River is getting cleaned up, finally. Twenty-five years ago, the federal government declared the Hudson River a Superfund site, meaning it’s a filthy polluted mess in need of a good scrubbing.
Good news, starting last Friday a computer-guided dredging system began scooping out piles of disgusting mud, old tires, broken bottles, dead mafia henchmen and whatever else is under there.
Twelve dredging machines will work round the clock, six days a week, hunting for sediment contaminated with PCBs. Then the gunk will be hauled to a hazardous waste landfill in Texas. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyl are harmful to both humans and animals.
Prior to 1977, before they were banned, an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs flowed into the Hudson. New York officials are calling the cleanup the healing of the Hudson, but Hudson River pollution isn’t all bad.
Here’s my hero. The late, great George Carlin:
When I was a little boy in New York City in the nineteen-forties, we swam in the Hudson River, and it was filled with raw sewage! We swam in raw sewage, you know, to cool off!
And at that time the big fear was polio. Thousands of kids died from polio every year. But you know something? In my neighborhood no one ever got polio. No one, ever!
You know why? Cause we swam in raw sewage! It strengthened our immune system. The polio never had a prayer. We were tempered in raw sh**!
Via The New York Times.
Read More:Hudson River Gets a Dredging