Environmental groups have been cracking down on the handling of coal ash storage ponds since a 50,000 ton spill occurs into North Carolina’s Dan River in February 2014 as well as a large breach in late 2008 in Tennessee. These groups have made water contamination due to coal ash an extremely current environmental issue.
As a result of the focus, The Southern Environmental Law Center, Potomac River keeper, and Sierra Nevada Club have banded together to take on Dominion Virginia Power and their Possum Point Power Plant. Upon site assessment, five coal ash ponds were revealed, two of which remain active. The remaining ponds have been abandoned for the past 50 years and were only revealed after all of the attention the Dan River spill received. These ponds are completely unlined, allowing arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium to leach into ground water and ultimately the Potomac River. Testing has revealed water contamination from heavy metals at 127 times the Virginia standard.
The two active ponds are also contaminating groundwater with heavy metals, a fact that Dominion Virginia Power has been aware of at least the past ten years, if not longer. Office memos as well as official reports support this belief. Inspectors also left comments regarding the toxic waste disposal upon each visit. There is no evidence that efforts were ever made to change procedures and prevent contamination. The three environmental groups are threatening Dominion with a lawsuit if nothing is done to help resolve the contamination. If a case was filed, it would accuse the Power Company of violating the Clean Water Act.
The environmental groups pushing for action believe that the issue must be addressed to set an important precedence in the state of Virginia that unprotected coal ash ponds will not be tolerated. Ideally, Dominion Virginia Power would move all of the coal ash ponds to dry, lined storage facilities that are not located near waterways. The Power Company has several other sites across Virginia, all of which are expected to have equally concerning contamination issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also working on new environmental regulations regarding how coal can be disposed of and stored. These regulations are set to be implemented in mid-December 2014 and would help give environmentalist another legal leg to stand on and get large companies to clean up their toxic mess.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s board of commissioners has launched one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits in recent years. The Board headed by flood expert John Barry, is an attempt to hold the gas and oil industry responsible for their role in destroying Louisiana’s’ coastal wetlands.
Over the past 85 years or so, Louisiana’s coastal wetlands have all but disappeared. The Mississippi River has been dammed at several points which prevent flooding that carries vital sediment to the mouth of the river. Sediment has also been dredged to make way for major shipping routes. These routes allow saltwater to flow into the wetlands which becomes a major source of water contamination. Salt water kills much of the vegetation in the area, which proves especially harmful when the plant’s roots are what keep the marshland solid. The oil and gas industry has also dug an estimated 50,000 wells and laid 10,000 miles of pipeline. It is estimated that the wetlands are shrinking by about one football field each hour. The oil & gas industry takes the partial blame for only 36% of the land lost; researchers estimate that the numbers could actually be over 50% after site assessments.
The disappearing wetlands have been directly linked to the increase in coastal damages and flooding. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was a bleakly perfect example. The wetlands serve an extremely important purpose of buffering coastline communities from storm surges and other damages. If nothing is done to slow the loss of land in Louisiana, the state will need to continue to invest billions of dollars in flood protection systems.
The Board’s lawsuit hopes to hold the gas and oil industry responsible for not only the land loss, but also for financial retribution to fix the problem and protecting communities. Over 100 oil companies are being sued, and they all vow that they will fight the suit. The board also faces many critics in the form of Louisiana politicians, including Governor Bobby Jindal. The Governor feels that the Board has vastly overstepped their authority and have no right to propose the lawsuit. Jindal would like the oil and gas industry to reach a solution with the state in private negotiations, not a potentially ugly court battle.
The culinary world my soon be without pine nuts if deforestation continues. Unlike most produce, pine nuts are not grown on a farm or orchard, but rather continue to be gathered in a natural forest setting. Pine nuts are essentially the seeds inside of the cones of many species of pine trees. The majority of the world’s pin nut supply comes from China, as well as Russia, Portugal, and the United States. The majority of U.S. pine nuts can be found in Western states like Nevada and New Mexico where they have been harvested on for centuries. As a result the pine nut has deep roots in local culture.
Over the past twenty years about have of the pine forests have been destroyed. In many cases, pine trees have been clear cut to create more grassland for the cattle industry. In total, about three million acres were destroyed and converted for agricultural use. Historically, little was done to oppose the destruction as the trees since they were portrayed as an invasive species. Residents were warned that replacing the trees with grassland could prevent wildfires and make the area safer. Later research has revealed that pine nut trees are not invasive, but rather an important part of the local forest’s environmental safety. The destruction of pine forest in the Western United States has also led to the shrinking of several species of animals, including the pinyon jay. This bird is vital to the spreading of pine nuts so that future trees can be grown.
Climate change has also changed the environment that the trees grown in, which has resulted in many issues. For instance, the change in climate may be linked to an increase of insect populations. These bugs are consuming more and more of the pine nuts, leaving less for harvesting. Warmer temperatures have also changed the gathering season since the pine cones fall from the trees at different times now.
Pine nuts are already a relatively expensive culinary delicacy due to their rarity and that they come from the wild and not a farm where that can be grown in mass quantities. The continued destruction of their habitat due to clear cutting forests and climate change promises to endanger their future. The only solution is for the remaining pine nut forests to be protected by environmental regulations.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and that is unfortunately the case when it comes to carbon pollution created by the state’s power plants. Based on 2012 air quality testing Texas created as much pollution as the entire nation of Egypt. If that isn’t impressive enough, the state’s carbon emissions is the equivalent to about 47 million cars. These comparisons are quite shocking and will help encourage the passage of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan would limit the amount of carbon that can be emitted by a power plant. Currently there are only limitations on heavy metals like mercury and arsenic. The EPA promises that the Plan and its goals are flexible in order for each state to adapt and make the most out of it.
Ultimately, the Clean Power Plan should reduce the carbon pollution from power plants by as much as 30% which is about the amount that the entire nation of Canada produces. The reduction of carbon pollution will not only help slow down climate change, but it will directly benefit the health of the community. Less carbon pollution in the form of smog and dangerous haze means less breathing problems. According to the EPA’s website: “The Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.”
Texas supporters of the Clean Power Plan, including Governor Rick Perry, believe that this is the opportunity that the state has been waiting for to transition toward sustainable energy. Becoming leaders in clean energy would set an excellent precedent for other states in the nation. It would also benefit the state of Texas economically. There would be more than the obvious environmental benefits, the state could see over 100,000 new jobs created. Residents would also see their electric bill, water bill, and healthcare costs go down as an indirect result.
Alaskan conservationists are now doing everything they can to help protect some of the last virgin trees in the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. and spans thousands of islands off Alaska’s Southeastern Pacific Coast. In 2010 President Obama vowed that the timber industry would be forced to phase out the logging of previously undistributed forest. Despite the national efforts, Forest Service’s plans to auction of almost 20 square miles in the near future.
Environmentalists believe that Forest Services are in clear violation of environmental regulations. They may be able to use several protected or endangered animals that call the Tongass home to stop the auction. In particular they hope to use the Alaskan wolf and the Alexander Archipelago wolf in court cases against Forest Service. Since the 1950’s the timber industry has clear cut approximately 700 square miles of the Tongass National Forest, destroying important habitats and creating even more conflict with environmental groups. Aside from the clear cutting of trees, over 4,500 miles of road have been created to transport the logs. Roads are created by simply bulldozing an area, no matter what may have called it home.
Supporters of the Alaska’s Timber industry, including many politicians, feel that the auction of the Tongass is essential to saving the state’s vulnerable economy. Supporters do not deny that here has been a massive decline in the number of milling jobs, from 4,500 down to only 200 in 2013. The drop in jobs comes as no surprise since; almost all of the logs are shipped overseas in a raw state to be milled more cheaply. Despite the decline, many officials feel it is vital to save what few jobs remain. They note that a job in Alaska is not merely a job, but could be what makes or breaks a community. In many remote Alaskan towns a school must have at least ten students to receive state funding, if a parent becomes unemployed a school could have to shut down. That parent would most likely have to move their family to town miles away just to gain new employment.
Conversationalists also acknowledge that it is important to develop Alaska into a more prosperous state, but they feel as though other, potentially more lucrative, options must be explored. For example fisheries have become a very successful industry. Tourism has become an even bigger success, boasting almost 11,000 employees and growing by about 700 jobs annually. In order for tourism to be even more lucrative, natural sites like the Tongass National Forest must be preserved so that they can be enjoyed. Tourists travel to Alaska for the majesty of the nature and its exotic wildlife, not to see a clear-cut area void of life.
Another option is for timber companies to explore is to begin logging young forests that were already clear-cut years ago. These second-growth areas are almost like tree farms and are not as environmentally devastating when cut down, since they lack a rich underbrush for animals to call home. The logging industry feels as though it is the unique properties of the older trees that result in a more expensive, higher quality wood. Young trees would have less quality and put them in a cheaper market. Alaska’s remoteness makes shipping and exporting more expensive so entering a cheaper market is not ideal.