It has been about a week since a devastating oil spill hit the Santa Barbara coastline. An underground pipeline burst and leaked an estimated 105,000 gallons of oil into the surrounding area, about 21,000 gallons of which found its way to the Pacific Ocean.
The Santa Barbara area has a rich marine life consisting of whales, dolphins, birds, fish, as well as many other plants and animals. The water contamination resulting from this oils spill has placed all of these creatures in grave danger. Cleanup crews have reported dead fish and shellfish washing ashore. Pelicans and other sea birds are becoming covered in oil and dying on the beaches. Similarly sea mammals like seals are dying after becoming covered by the toxic goo. Long term effects on the entire ecosystem are anticipated, but difficult to predict.
Seventy-three crews consisting, of 300 government responders and contractors sprang into action shortly after the spill was discovered. Several volunteers also joined and are currently working to remove as much oil from the beaches as possible. There are also nine boats with booms collecting oil and preventing it from spreading. So far crews have cleaned up approximately 6,090 gallons of the oil spilled. The cleanup process is expected to be tedious, manual, take some time to complete.
Campers at two state beaches were also evacuated along with beach closures. Shellfish gathering and traditional fishing have also been banned within a mile of the coastline.
The Plains All American Pipeline Company out of Texas has taken responsibility for the leak in their pipe and assures the public that they will rectify the situation as quickly as they can. Critics feel that the pipeline spill should come as no surprise since the Company had a history of violating environmental regulations. Since 2006 the company has had 175 safety violations, usually regarding the maintenance of their equipment and pipelines. The Department of Transportation is in charge of the investigation and states that the pipe that leaked had not had any previous infractions or issues. The cause is still being actively investigated.
The Port of Bellingham Commission has recently voted to approve a plan that would clean up the contaminated Whatcom Waterway. The site located in Bellingham, Washington was once the home of the Georgia-Pacific Corporation, a pulp and paper manufacturer. The 137 acre factory property is now owned by the city and no longer in use, but the water contamination that resulted from it operation remain. The paper plane had released mercury, heavy metals, as well as other hazardous waste materials into the Whatcom Waterway.
The cleanup plan is anticipated to cost about $35 million and take about two years to complete. The Washington Department of Ecology has dedicated $20 million toward the project, mainly using funded by the Model Taxes Control Act. The money generated by this Act comes from taxes collected by the state on all crude oils and other pollutants that are brought into the state. The remainder of the Whatcom Waterway project will be paid for by a private insurance policy that the Port of Bellingham took out.
The project would be headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as consulting group, Anchor QEA. The majority of the work would be done under water, with over 160,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment being removed. A layer of sand and rocks will be added to filter out any further contamination. Many timbers in the waterway will also be removed as they are contaminated after years of soaking up polluted water. In total about 265 tons of timbers will be removed.
There will be some work done to the shoreline, especially on the Southeast end of the waterway. The shores will be sloped to be more natural at the old Georgia-Pacific site. An old Chevron dock as well as other debris will also be removed.
The cleanup plan does face some opposition as officials are concerned over the removal of a hydraulic barge ramp. The ramps removal could affect the shipping trade that the local economy relies on. The cleanup plan has plans to create a temporary barge ramp, but has not yet indicated if it will include a permanent replacement.
Pine Rockland is a rare and important ecosystem located only in South Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba. The ecosystem consists of slash pines growing on large limestone slabs in higher elevations. The pines create a canopy with a diverse mixture of plants and animals below. The higher elevation keeps the forest unique from other marshland and coastal ecosystems in Florida.
Pine Rockland is home to a variety of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Currently there are only about 20,000 acres of Pine Rockland forests left in the world due to deforestation and the introduction of invasive species. The majority of the forests are now located in the Everglades National Park and are conserved under federal environmental regulations.
One South Floridian developer wishes to build a Walmart and other shops on a large parcel of Pine Rockland that they purchased from the University of Miami for $22 million. This is the second attempt by Ram Realty Services and developer, Peter Cummings at getting the plan approved by federal wildlife officials. The newest plan would conserve 52 acres of the 138 acres and include a “green corridor” connecting the remaining acreage so that animals can travel back and forth. The corridor would be the width of a two lane road. Wildlife experts state that a corridor is essential for the animals to have adequate habitat to roam for food and shelter. A green corridor is also essential to ensure mating diversity and a deep gene pool.
Environmentalist opposed to the development of a shopping center feel that the corridor created as well as small amount of Pine Rockland preserved is not enough. They feel Cummings should not be approved for any development. A campaign was created to fight the development, with thousands of individuals signing petitions and protesting. The Miami-Dade County Mayor even offered to purchase the land from Peter Cummings in order to ensure its protection. The Mayor was informed the land was not for sale.
The Pine Rockland area at risk for development may be saved due to the protected species that reside on it. A few of these endangered species include the Bartman’s hairstreak, Florida leafwig butterfly, Florida bonneted bat, and the Florida Indigo Snake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are looking to add more species to that list in the near future. Conversationalists hope they may be able to show that land development would be harmful to the survival of these protected species.
Cummings responds to all concerns by stating that his development team has done its legal due diligence by coming up with a detailed plan that will only help, not harm the precious Pine Rockland. Aside from the aforementioned green corridor, the plan includes periodic controlled fires to help keep the pine canopies open and prevent overgrowth. The plan also includes doing the majority of the construction on areas that the developers claim is overrun with the Burma reed which is an invasive species.
Conversationalists remain skeptical that this development plan will do anything other than destroy an already endangered ecosystem.
The sunshine state is taking a new stance on sustainable energy by investing in solar energy. The Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) has put forth a major effort to build a large solar plant on the site of a defunct coal burning plant. The site would include thousands of solar panels over about 30 acres of land. Half of the panels would be placed where the coal plant once stood. The other half would be built on a hill nearby that was formed from decades of coal ash waste.
The Orlando Utility Commission states that this solar project is just one of many they have planned in the near future. The OUC wishes to keep its utility crews busy building solar power plants. Florida Power & Light Co. has made a similar bid in the city of Tallahassee that would triple the amount of solar energy in the area.
The project would ultimately produce about 12 megawatts of power, which is the equivalent of power for hundreds of Floridian homes. While this is only a fraction of the energy produced by even the smallest natural gas plant, it is still a step in the right direction. The solar energy produced is also expected to cost the same rate for residents, making it an attractive option. Currently the OUC already has more than 100 customers interested in signing up for a solar energy option.
All of the momentum towards developing solar energy plants stems from The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was instituted to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from electric companies. Rules for the Clean Power Plan are expected to be issued in the summer, so the solar plant would be a proactive step for Florida. The other driving force behind the solar energy movement is the local community’s desire to have sustainable energy, long term construction jobs, and the government’s financial incentives associated with green energy.
The Ute Indian Tribe of Utah has recently reached out to the Utah Air Quality Board over concerns that the uranium ponds at a local mill are emitting radon gas at dangerously high levels.
The tribe has calculated a formula developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that estimates the amount of radon that will be emitted. The formula predicted that the White Mesa Uranium Mill’s uranium ponds would release levels over 50 times the EPA’s allowance.
The EPA has not responded to the concerns yet, but the mill’s owner Energy Fuels Resources has. The company stated that they monitor the radon levels emitted at all times and they are completely within legal limits. They believe that the Ute Tribe has been calculating the formula incorrectly, over stating the numbers.
The White Mesa Mill is the only uranium mill in the U.S., producing up to 8 million pounds of uranium a year. The uranium produced is then sold to nuclear power plants across the country. The Mill also houses radioactive waste from around the country in its five containment ponds.
Critics of the White Mesa Mill like the Ute Tribe feel that the state and EPA have been unfair in enforcing the environmental regulations surrounding acceptable radon levels for years. For instance, the EPA states that periods of higher than allowed radon may result during periods of time in which the Mill is shut down or not in heavy production. During these breaks in production things may dry out and be more concentrated. They state that this increase is inevitable and allowed even if it exceeds limits.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is created when radioactive materials like uranium decay. Exposure to high levels of radon can result in serious health problems like cancer. Lung cancer is the most common result since exposure to radon gas comes from inhalation.