Roundup Friday July 24, 2009

New York study says mother’s exposure to air pollution may harm child’s intelligence—Staff reports, The Oregonian 7/22/09

The report focuses on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in urban air and produced by burning coal, diesel, oil and gas, and organic substances such as tobacco.  Motor vehicles are considered a major source of PAHs.  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, along with the US EPA and a number of private foundations funded the study.

Children exposed to high levels of PAHs in New York City tested 4.31 and 4.67 points lower respectively on full scale and verbal IQ scores than less exposed children.  The study called the four point difference “educationally meaningful in terms of school success”, according to Oregonian staff.  This is the first such study to report an association between PAH exposure and IQ.

Scientists from the Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health used children born to non-smoking black and Dominican-American women aged 18 to 35 from Washington Heights, Harlem and the South Bronx in New York.  The study began during the women’s pregnancies and continued for 5 years.  Personal air monitors measured PAH exposure during pregnancy.  The 249 children were tested with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of the Intelligence at age 5.  The test is considered well validated, reliable and sensitive in assessing intelligence.

Models for the associations between prenatal PAH exposure and IQ accounted for second-hand smoke exposure, lead, the mother’s education and quality of caretaking environment.  Lead study author Frederica P. Perera said the decrease in IQ score among exposed children paralleled that found in low-level lead exposure.  Perera added that “IQ is an important predictor of future academic performance, and PAHs are widespread in urban environments” worldwide.  “Fortunately, airborne PAH concentrations can be reduced through currently available controls, alternative energy sources and policy interventions.”

Tribes ask governor to thwart train station on archaeological site—Brandon Loomis, SLT 7/22/09

Seven tribes petitioned lawmakers to protect the ancient Native American village site from proposed UTA train station development in Draper.  The rare joint resolution issued by the state’s tribal leaders decried the state’s dismissal of Native rights and historically significant sites.

The proposed FrontRunner station plan was accepted by the Utah Legislature after original plans in 2000 for a perpetual conservation easement were sidetracked.  The easement was set to go into effect, but at the request of then-House speaker Greg Curtis, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) delayed signing over the property into easement status in 2008.  Curtis at the time legally represented a potential purchaser for the land who eventually backed out.

The DNR’s present course is to trade the property with an adjacent private land owner so the station can be built, though not the only alternative.  A UTA spokesman identified the site as preferred, but said UTA was open to discussions.  The spokesman also said they had reached out to tribes.

Lieutenant Governor George Herbert asked the tribes to hold off on their press conference until he could arrange a meeting between all stakeholders, but tribal leaders said the issue was too important to wait.  The site dates back some 3,000 years, and may contain the earliest known corn farming in the Great Basin.  A spokesman for Herbert said “He certainly has no desire to see the disruption of culturally significant archaeological items and intends to bring together all interested parties soon.”  One former and one current board member with identified conflicts said they would recuse themselves from property discussions.

International company Monsanto wants tighter mercury rules in Idaho—Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman 7/22/09

International agrichemical conglomerate Monsanto in a quick reversal has teamed up with the Idaho Conservation League in petitioning the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to regulate mercury emissions for organizations such as Monsanto.  As recently as February, Monsanto had been fighting to keep the Idaho DEQ from setting and administering rules.

Monsanto is leading the way among Idaho’s industries in attempting to develop mercury emission regulation, though no other industry would be affected unless new facilities opened that emitted “hundreds of pounds of mercury”.  Proposed earlier rules rejected by the DEQ would have encouraged industries to voluntarily install best-available technology for removing mercury.  The new rules backed by Monsanto would require the same installed technology, but for different reasons.

Under previous proposed recommendations, the target was reducing mercury in nearby lakes and streams.  Monsanto recruited expert witness Steve Lindberg, a retired environmental chemist from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who said it was unlikely scientists could link emissions from large local industries to nearby mercury levels in fish and reservoirs.  A P4 phosphate plant owned by Monsanto in Southeast Idaho is reportedly Idaho’s largest source of mercury, which has been linked to accumulation in fish and brain damage and learning disabilities in children.

Lindberg testified that regulations should be set to limit overall mercury pollution, targeting new plants.  Current standards are set as high as 100,000 pounds, detrimental according to experts to aquatic systems, though aimed at protecting workers and plant neighbors from excessive mercury inhalation.  Monsanto’s P4 plant emits between 600-700 pounds.  “Sound regulation based on good science is the right thing for Monsanto,” McCullough said.

Idaho Conservation League’s Justin Hayes said P4 manager Bruce Pallante won him over to the idea that “Monsanto is in this for the right reasons.”  Other industries of the Idaho Association of Commerce and the Idaho Council for Industry and Environment aren’t so sure.  Meetings are underway to discuss whether other industries would abide by the agreement.  Monsanto could reach a separate deal with the state, but argued that this would allow new industrial development in Idaho without regulation.

The Idaho Conservation League successfully prevented Potlatch in 2008 from utilizing a new process that would have increased its mercury emissions.  And Idaho industry is notably anti-regulation.  Hayes said Monsanto is “breaking from the herd mentality”, but Monsanto reportedly has a new phosphate mine in eastern Idaho, and must convince local, state and federal officials that the mine won’t “leave a legacy of pollution”.

Monsanto’s Idaho environmental manager, Trent Clark—also current chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry—pointed out that mercury emissions weren’t tied to the mine, but leading the way for new mercury emission regulations would go beyond Idaho’s borders.  “[T]he new arena in the world of international competitiveness is sustainability,” Clark added.

CU study warns of scarce water—Bruce Finley, The Denver Post 7/22/09

A recent University of Colorado (CU) study, which included National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Bureau of Reclamation researchers, predicts that all Colorado River reservoirs “could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse.”

The predictions are based on a 10% reduction of flow.  10% reduction in flow could increase likelihood of depletion to 25%, and a 20% flow reduction due to global warming could raise the chance of depletion to 50%, according to the study.

Balaji Rajagopalan, lead author of the study and a civil environmental and architectural engineering professor at CU, said the short term risk was low.  The study will be published by the American Geophysical Union.  Rajagopalan asserted, however, that much greater risk occurs if nothing is done, to the point that even drastic measures like eliminating users from the water source would not prevent failure.

The research responded to a 2008 University of California study that found a “one-in-two chance that overuse and warming” could see depletion by 2021.  The spark for these studies has been an extensive 10 year drought that has affected end-users in California and elsewhere.

Denver Water authorities have rejected the findings.  According to David Little, director of planning for Denver Water, other studies suggest the upper Colorado River Basin will become wetter.   Little’s belief is that if lower basin reservoirs Powell and Mead dry up, lower basin users will migrate to water-rich towns like Denver.

60 million acre-feet of water has been captured by dozens of Colorado River dams, four times the river’s annual flow. But recent droughts in the Southwest have seen drops to less than half full, though current storage is at 59% of capacity.

The study emphasizes the need for “adaptive management” policies, ones that collaborate across the basin stakeholders to reduce lower river use and increase efficiency.

Anti-Chevron campaign punishes community—Open Forum letter from Mike Coyle, General Manager of Chevron’s Richmond refinery, San Francisco Chronicle 7/22/09

According to Mike Coyle, General Manager for Chevron’s Richmond refinery, the refinery has been stymied in its four-year attempt to upgrade the refinery with newer, cleaner technology, energy efficiency upgrades, and emissions reductions with no heavier crude oil processed.  The process has been blocked by a lawsuit filed by Communities for a Better Environment, West Contra Costa Toxics Coalition and Asia Pacific Network.  Coyle made little mention of the plaintiffs’ argument in the lawsuit.

Coyle dismissed the claim opponents have made that the upgrade will extend oil processing from current medium and light crude oils to heavier crude.  The Chevron refinery general manager was quick to point out that an “extensive multiyear environmental review of the project was conducted by experts hired by the city and with oversight from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District—the agency charged with safeguarding regional air quality.”  According to Coyle, the findings affirmed that reduced emissions and improved air quality in Richmond and the greater Bay Area was predicted, with the refinery bound to meet air district emission limits.

The lawsuit, which halted upgrade construction, according to Coyle has resulted in 1,300 construction worker layoffs for a total of 2,000 jobs unfilled.  $61 million slated for Richmond’s community and environment also has been terminated by the lawsuit, though $565,000 already committed to 19 Richmond-area groups was exchanged.

While Chevron is appealing the decision, Coyle pointed out Chevron’s presence in California for 130 years and Richmond since 1902, before the city was chartered.  He noted that Chevron was the city’s largest employer and taxpayer, with taxes helping to “fund critical local government programs and services.”  Additionally, Coyle said, Chevron contributed $20 million to California state community programs, with employees volunteering over 16,000 hours and donating more than $4 million to nonprofits.  Referring to a Milken Institute study, Coyle said Chevron generated better than $9 billion in economic activity in 2007 and mentioned over $1 billion in supplies had been purchased between 2007 and 2008 from “California minority and women-owned businesses.”

US scraps Bush plan on logging Northwest—Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian 7/17/09

The Bush-era Western Oregon Plan Revisions, or WOPR, would have quadrupled logging on millions of western Oregon acres.  Salmon, owls and other high profile and endangered animals that were at risk benefit while rural counties and jobs will suffer.  The Obama administration called the plan “illegal and politically motivated.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that Oregon forests would return to mid-1990’s rules from the Clinton administration.  Those rules heightened spotted owl protection and lowered timber cutting.  No sales were completed under the Bush-era plan, which was pushed through in December of last year.  Salazar said the plan would not hold up in court.

Douglas County, encompassing a fifth of the BLM-held lands in question, has been noted for its timber industry boom and bust cycles.  Current unemployment stands at 18.3%.  Almost 1 in 10 jobs in the county are linked to lumber and wood industries.  The state employment department reported as well that only about 1 job in 50 was linked to timber statewide.

The Clinton era Northwest Forest Plan, put into place in 1994, intervened in a fierce battle between timber advocates and environmental protections favoring the northern spotted owl.  The plan intended to protect logging as well as old-growth forests and the owl, but timber cutting did not reach expected levels.  The northern spotted owl continues to decline at about 4% per year, partially due to barred owl competition.  Subsidies authorized by congress fills in the gap for timber sales, but are set to expire in 2011.

The question of what plan the region will adopt goes beyond avoidance of litigation and gridlock, economy or the environment, to stakeholders such as tourism and commercial fishing that depend on healthy habitats.  Unsustainable logging has been linked to serious salmon declines in the region.  Salazar has announced he will quickly implement timber sales under the re-activated Northwest Forest Plan to aid economically stressed communities in the region that could benefit.

Collaborative restoration projects between industry and conservation groups are likely to move ahead.  These, such as “regeneration harvest” sales, would replace mature trees with rapid-growing young trees, but a spokesperson for the conservation group Oregon Wild said that was code for clear-cutting.  Such practices could drive further conflict over forest management.  Oregon Wild’s spokesman said “For the next several decades BLM should focus on noncontroversial thinning of dense, young stands that were previously clear-cut.”

Navajo Nation to go after ‘green jobs’—SLT 7/22/09

Navajo Nation Council legislation recently created the Navajo Green Economy Commission, which will set up an infrastructure for capturing federal green jobs monies for small scale community projects.

Report surveys Four Corners air quality—Susan Montoya Bryan, AP, SLT 7/22/09

The study finds that if emissions from coal-fired power plants and gas operations in the Four Corners area are reduced, lower ozone pollution levels would occur.  The New Mexico Environment Department’s study is part of an attempt to inventory pollution sources and cultivate strategies for managing air quality in the region long-term.  At stake is the ability to continue meeting federal air quality standards.

Power plants and oil and gas operations were found to be the main contributors of air pollution in the area.  Northwestern New Mexico has been on the verge of exceeding federal standards, though this year’s ozone levels have been exceptionally low, likely due to cooler, moist weather.  Less industrial activity in the area may also be lowering levels.  Alternatives for lowering emissions have focused both on lowering power plant emissions as well as oil and gas well site equipment emissions.

Study calculates warming threat to Colorado River—AP, SLT, 7/22/09

This paragraph-sized overview of findings is covered in detail by The Denver Post above.

Leaving the garden behind—Maggie Wolf, SLT 7/21/09

Wolf offers checklists to prepare gardens for time away, and a stress-free return.  She includes some garden vacation destinations and hyperlinks as well.

City plows beneath Indian site for Sam’s Club—Jay Reeves, AP, SLT, 7/21/09

In Oxford Alabama, a 200-foot rise topped by a stone mound and considered a likely religious site for Indians of the Woodlands circa 1000 A.D. is being used by the city to provide fill dirt for the superstore.  A city-commissioned study found tribal artifacts in the red clay of the mound, but Mayor Leon Smith dismissed the damage as unimportant, calling the site in Oxford “the ugliest old hill in the world.

The rock mound atop the hill has not yet been damaged, but the sides of the hill have been stripped and the soil trucked down to new development to provide foundation soil.  A spokesperson for the Alabama Historical Commission said the state lacked the power to stop digging, and petitions and protests have failed.  The mayor and other pro-development city officials want to see the hill, after the top is removed, turned into motel- or restaurant-based development.

Similar mounds have been identified all along the Eastern Seaboard, and preserved mounds exist in places such as Montague, Mass. and North Smithfield, R.I.  A historian and member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama said the site was sacred.  He also chairs culture and heritage for the United South and Eastern Tribes.

The city bought the hill years ago with the intention of developing the land.  A $60,000 University of Alabama study found a few pottery shards and identified the mound as a likely late Woodlands Indians period construct.  No burial sites were identified, leaving the mayor with the sentiment “It’s just a pile of rocks is all it is”.  Another site about ½ mile away has been protected by the city.

Water experts:  Mining near Grand Canyon is risky—Joan Lowy, AP, SLT 7/21/09

The testimony comes as the parks subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee considers a bill by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) that would permanently eliminate the filing of new mining claims on 1.1 million acres of federal lands north and south of the Grand Canyon.  David Kreamer, a professor and researcher from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who has studied springs in Grand Canyon for 25 years, found uranium levels three times greater than the EPA’s recommended tolerances for canyon creeks. He attributes the toxic levels to mining from over a decade ago.

“I believe that an assumption that uranium mining will have minimal impact on springs, people and ecosystems in the Grand Canyon is unreasonable and is not supported by past investigations, research or data,” Kreamer testified.  Madan Singh, who directs the Arizona Department of Mines and Minerals, attributed the toxic uranium levels to natural erosion.  Former Atomic Energy Agency Geologist Karen Wenrich testified that current mining practices are much better, and the industry should be allowed to mine.

The questions raised by Kreamer’s research expanded to consider what might happen if a mining disaster should occur.  Kay Brothers, deputy general manager for Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the Colorado River supplies almost all their potable water.  Her concern is that a disaster would render the water supply unusable.

With uranium at $55 per pound, renewed interest in staking and developing claims, especially in the Arizona Strip where high grade ore sits just north of the Grand Canyon, has increased.  If the bill passes, new claims would be prohibited.  10,000 existing hardrock claims of all varieties would not be affected.  That figure includes 1,100 uranium claims lying within a five mile perimeter of the canyon.  Uranium mining in the area has been dormant for 20 years.

Planes ‘should fly on biofuels’—BBC News 7/22/09

The EU right-of-center think tank Policy Exchange was reported to say the EU should fund research into biofuels for cutting aviation CO emissions.  “A crop area the size of the USA would be needed to biofuel all the worlds cars, and alternatives, such as electricity, exist for them”, the think tank said.  Formerly, the think tank has advised the UK spend annual biofuel subsidies on halting the destruction of forests and peatland.

The UK is funding a research center to find viable alternatives to fossil fuels, and reports 25% of GHGs come from transport.  The UK also introduced a “Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation” law requiring 2.5% of all fuels sold to contain 2.5% biofuel last year, a downward revision from original 5% stipulations.  Another stipulation requiring 10% of transport fuel come from crops was changed to allow for any renewable source.

Virgin Atlantic and other airlines have tested flights with up to 20% biofuel, and Policy Exchange noted that aircraft currently have no other alternatives for reducing GHGs.  Environmental groups including Friends of the Earth noted that biofuel production has increased rainforest and peatland destruction and removed agriculture from much needed food production, creating greater rather than lesser GHGs and driving a worldwide food shortage.

Feds:  Eliminate or re-route Logan’s killer canal—Nate Carlisle with Brooke Adams, SLT 7/22/09

USDA engineers have proposed re-routing water from the long troubled Logan Northern Canal north to the Smithfield Canal.  An alternative would be to pipe the water along Canyon Road in The Island neighborhood.  The section of Logan Northern Canal that has run above the neighborhood on a slide-prone hillside will be permanently closed.  Costs of the re-routing for either plan could begin at $17.2 million.  The Smithfield Canal alternative would require major upgrades to that canal, doubling its carrying capacity.  A board member for Smithfield Canal was unsure if the upgrades could even be done.  The looming question is who will pay for the upgrade and changes.  Other cities could contribute, owing to their stake in using canals to route storm runoff.  The USDA analysis was funded, according to Trib reporters, by a $400,000 stipend garnered by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-UT last week.

Trail closure expands as Zion fire grows—Mark Havnes, SLT 7/21/09

The Horse Fire in Zion National Park was 25% contained as of Monday, and had burned 900 acres.  Fire crews are utilizing a new protocol that combines suppression with allowing controlled burning to benefit the ecosystem.  The lightning-induced fire resulted in closure of the West Rim Trail, part of new designated wilderness under the recent Washington County lands bill, from Lava Point to the junction with the Telephone Canyon Trail.  Imlay Canyon was also closed.


Great Old Broads mark 20 years of hiking, advocacy—Andrew Gulliford, Writers on the Range, SLT 7/23/09

Does “Clean Coal” Add Up?  Let’s See.—Bradford Plummer, The New Republic 7/22/09


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