1. McEntee: Birdwatcher: Know ‘the wildness within us’—Peg McEntee, SLT 8/13/09
Ella Sorensen of the National Audubon Society takes McEntee on a tour of the new 2,738 acre South Shore Preserve, a newly restored ancient Jordan River delta that has been designated as new migratory bird preserve. The delta has been restored in such a way that fresh, saline and brackish ponds can occur.
On their tour, the pair spot avocets, Wilson’s phalaropes, a great blue heron, pelicans, cormorants, yellowlegs, and a harrier hawk as well as a butcher bird or loggerhead shrike. Tamarisk trees spot the landscape.
The preserve has been in the making since the mid-1990’s. Salt Lake County, Bothwell and Swanner Inc. of California, the Utah Mitigation Commission, the Nature Conservancy, Kennecott Utah Copper and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all are shareholders in the land and stakeholders in the project. Local duck hunting clubs worked to make the project possible, and an anonymous donor provided a crucial generous land donation.
Sorensen has been oversight manager for the project, which has constructed culverts and water gates that can adjust the amount of water held from place to place. The preserve is not open to the public. Sorensen said “Birds remind us of our wildness…for wildness dwells within us. We are part of it. And when we stop talking and listen, we know.”
2. Exxon Mobil to pay $600,000 for killing 85 birds—AP, SLT 8/13/09
The migratory birds died mostly from exposure to natural-gas well reserve pits and wastewater storage facilities across Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas between 2004 and 2009. Birds often were coated in hydrocarbons or ingested toxic waste, killing the birds. None of the birds were listed as endangered or threatened species.
The fine, around $7,000 per bird, will go to wetlands preservation funds. Based on the $8.6 billion the company earned in the first half of 2009, that amounts to about what the company makes in 20 minutes. The company also says it has spent $2.5 million towards changes to prevent such deaths in the future, as per an agreement.
While the company formally pled guilty to five misdemeanor charges of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Assistant Attorney General lauded the company for taking steps to correct the problem and for working with the government. A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil said the company had “a long-standing water-bird protection program that focuses on deterring birds from landing in water on company property.”
3. California meat plant cited for cow handling—Trib Staff and Wire Reports, SLT 8/13/09
Fresno-based Beef Packers Inc. was cited last year for inhumane practices that could have caused last year’s recall, the biggest recall in history. Last week, 826,000 pounds of ground beef was recalled from Sam’s Club stores in Utah and elsewhere across the West as at least 28 people turned up with salmonella-related illnesses since late last week.
Production dates from mid-June to July 14, 2009 were identified in recent recalls and notices advising consumers to throw away such packages and seek refunds. Last year’s recall was linked to a Southern California slaughterhouse. When inspectors visited Beef Packers Fresno operation along with 17 other plants that sold meat to the National School Lunch Program, inspection records showed USDA violations.
The March 2008 records showed that as workers used electric cattle prods legally to move resistant cattle into the slaughterhouse, three refused to move. The three were stunned unconscious “so that they could be pulled through the restrainer to be shackled, hung and bled,” records report. While cattle prod use is considered humane by the USDA when used appropriately on moving animals, dragging unconscious cattle increased risk for E. coli and salmonella contamination from bacteria in feces around the chute that could collect on dragged hides.
The chutes are known to get very soiled with feces and urine throughout the day, and usually are not cleaned during intensive use periods. Cargill Meat Solutions, Beef Packers Inc.’s parent company, argued the cattle balked because too many auditors were present on the day in question. Cargill appealed the alleged violation, and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service replaced the citation with a letter of concern.
4. Recycling in Utah: A learning process—Ross Chambless, KUER 8/13/09
Chambless follows Salt Lake City recycling intern Mitch Davis on his rounds while Davis educates the public on appropriate recycling options.
5. Interior Department: California water a national priority—Garance Burke, AP, SLT 8/12/09
A top level Obama administration official placed California’s water crisis akin to restoring Florida’s Everglades or the East Coast’s Chesapeake Bay. Interior Secretary Salazar will hold meetings in Washington in September over plans to save the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, considered one of the most important wildlife habitats on the West Coast and the freshwater estuary where 2/3 of Californians get their drinking water.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hays informed the Sacramento region Wednesday in a visit that the department would be looking to make water supplies available for crops and fisheries as the state moves through a third drought-affected year. “Not only is it a crucial ecosystem that is in peril, but more than 20 million Americans in the most populated state in the nation rely on it for their drinking water. The status quo is not sustainable,” Hayes said.
Recent water battles and diversions over limited water in the San Joaquin Valley, along with drought, further threatens agriculture in the area that produces much of the nation’s produce. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been laid fallow, and farm workers have been laid off. Less water in the delta has additionally threatened native salmon and the fishing industry. One consideration involves a $17 billion canal for deploying water around the ecosystem.
6. Beetle battle involves variety of weapons—Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole News & Guide 8/12/09
The wildland-urban interface at the base of the Tetons is considered a high-risk area for pine beetles by a fuels specialist with the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “We are trying to figure out how to let fires burn in the Palisades and the Caribou-Targhee but have a fire break that stops [the blaze] before it gets to Red Top,” one of a number of developments. Current thinking is the beetle epidemic will end when they run out of food, and the landscape will be forever changed.
Beetle damage affects everything from campgrounds and campground use, where danger exists from falling dead branches and burning trees, to power lines, road corridors, and log-able timber. And the whitebark pine, a keystone high-elevation species, could go extinct from beetle and blister rust fungus invasion. Currently forest managers and management plans adopt plans of actions individually. Many of these policies and responses are adapted to the kinds of lands they manage.
In wilderness or roadless areas, nature is let alone to take its course, providing “a mosaic of tree types and age classes that encourages diversity of plants and animals.” Campgrounds and other more developed sites are aggressively protected with insecticides such as carbaryl and pheromones like verbenone. Removal is not favored, owing to its labor intensity and impacts on ambience of campgrounds.
Carbaryl is applied every other year with an industrial sprayer and saturates the trunk. Though less effective, a verbenone patch is used in more remote areas or near water annually. Such treatments and tree removal cost the Bridger-Teton $150,000 per year. In wildland-urban interface areas, forest managers are using thinning practices. The projects are subject to environmental review before action is taken.
Where feasible, forest managers are encouraging timber salvage, especially if logging has been deemed an appropriate use in the area. Two years beyond death, however, many lodgepole pines crack and twist, depreciating their value as lumber. Timbering could also accelerate regeneration of the forest.
Whitebark pines typically grow in a dispersed fashion in high and remote areas, making them poor candidates for chemical treatment. Seed collection by biologists and ecologists hopefully will avoid extinction. Prescribed burns and seedling restoration is being recommended in one region, though the project is on hold. Infestation wouldn’t be possible for 80-100 years, and the technique has been used elsewhere with success.
Wyoming’s director for Greater Yellowstone Coalition complimented Bridger-Teton and Shoshone forest managers. “They tried to stay as much as they could out of roadless areas and sensitive habitat. All of the work was in the front country, not in the backcountry. As a result, in the front country they’re creating defensible space [and in the backcountry] they’ve now allowed for fire to come on the natural landscape.” Efforts such as clear-cuts in the backcountry would disturb habitat for a number of species.
Owing to drought and climate change, and the fact that the beetle epidemic is a natural phenomena, the director said, clear-cuts would not likely work anyway. He adds the ecosystem shift that is happening is unstoppable.
The executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics had a more critical stance. His experience began with cutting down infested trees in the Dillon Ranger District in 1979. Regardless of the efforts, he believes they have no impact, policy or no. His preference is simply to let nature take its course in all circumstances.
7. Leasing Blue Ribbon Fisheries—Bill Schneider, NewWest.net 8/12/09
According to Trout Unlimited (TU), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing management plans for oil and gas leasing in western states that would affect blue ribbon trout streams such as the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Boulder rivers and their tributaries. Overwhelming is the notion that the Rocky Mountain States has 158 million of the BLM’s leasable acres, 30 million already leased.
While TU has focused on preserving cold-water fisheries, and oil and gas development has typically occurred in warm-water regions, new threats have changed that priority. “We’re not saying there shouldn’t be oil and gas development,” TU’s energy field coordinator said. “It’s a matter of where you do it and having proper planning at the front end.”
Whereas everybody seems to want development “somewhere else”, TU is only asking a half-mile setback from cold-water fisheries and streams and those that might be used in the future for restoration. Energy companies could directionally drill under the rivers, but the BLM would rank the areas as “no surface occupancy”. The benefit is that sediments would be prevented from washing into waterways.
At least one office, the BLM’s Butte Resource Office, already provided those protections in the region it manages near the Big Hole, Madison and other nearby rivers. TU hopes that the Billings Resource Area too will adopt the designation for its new management plan, and the trend will continue nationwide. TU is requesting similar setbacks on red ribbon streams and smaller streams that may play a significant role in restoration efforts.
One of the risks of leaving the designation out of future resource management plans is that once lands are leased, fewer options for control and prevention are available. Some leases already abut the Yellowstone, though these have yet to be developed. The Yellowstone and other blue ribbon fisheries are magnets for extensive private as well as guided fishing.
Conservation easements, another route that conservation organizations could go, are often encumbered as “split estates”, meaning subsurface leasing takes priority, and protections are lost to the letter of the law. If “fracking” in natural gas wells occurred nearby, proprietary chemical mixtures could seep into the water table and finally into the river, contaminating the water and its life forms. TU reminds everyone that resource management plans must undertake a public comment period before being signed into policy, and TU has an action alert list for “when your voice is needed.”
8. EnShale begins operations—Mary Bernard, Vernal Express, Vernal.com 8/12/09
The Uintah County facility south of Naples is working out some problems, but expected to begin processing as early as this week. The pilot plant under Bullion Monarch Mining’s subsidiary EnShale is expected to provide engineers with final commercial plant designs.
EnShale’s president said “[T]here are other shale extracting plants like Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras company and Estonia’s oil shale extraction for power generation, but this facility will be the first of its kind in the West.” EnShale seeks to test their proprietary extraction process and develop a commercial grade product.
The company has dredged enormous piles of crushed shale from its 4,650 acres of state lands leases. The six month testing period will determine the quality of gas, diesel, jet fuel and fuel oils produced from the shale. The patented process has thus far been tested through computer modeling by the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.
Kilns heat, separate and cool the shale and its byproducts. Driers release oil vapors that are condensed through cooling. EnShale wants to reduce emissions, minimize water consumption and produce oil at $30 a barrel or less. Years may be necessary to finalize commercial production.
9. Plasma screen TVs: The next environmental threat?—Amy Littlefield, Greenspace Environmental News, Los Angeles Times 8/12/09
As television consumption goes up in California, so do accessory purchases and use like DVD players, DVRs and cable boxes, accounting for 10% of a home’s energy consumption, the California Energy Commission reported recently. New standards about to be issued by the leading-edge commission would decrease TV energy use by 30%-50%, saving up to $1 billion in electricity costs.
The limits would hinge on the size of the television, keeping freedom of choice in purchase intact. Flat-screen models such as one produced by Vizio and others by Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Sharp, Sylvania and Insignia, already meet the new requirements. The Natural Resources Defense Council has offered its approval.
The coalition of industry interests Consumer Electronics Association, objects over threatened job losses, tax revenues and potentially banned TV models. A spokesman for the energy commission noted that the commission had a track record over the past 30-plus years of saving consumers money while providing energy-efficient and cost-effective standards on a spectrum of appliances including lighting, air conditioning and refrigerators. That track record, he added, saved Californians $56 billion since its inception. The energy commission reports 4 million TV purchases per year.
10. Economy and environment; Residents debate biomass plant—Jessi Chapin, WMBB/ABC News, Panama City, Fla. 8/12/09
Port St. Joe, Florida near Tallahassee in Gulf County is debating a proposed renewable energy biomass plant in the region. Air quality was the chief concern for area residents.
“You’ve done so much in this community, if you put a biomass plant here and 143 tons of particulate matter falls down on these boats, what do you think that’d do to the fishing industry?” said one local.
Supportively, others compared the new plant to other local industries. “The emissions that come out of the biomass are thousands of times less than the paper mill and Arizona Chemical,” one woman said.
“The goal is really to create a healthy economically-viable and sustainable community,” an Economic Development Council member responded. “If there’s a reason to stop this because it’s going to be harmful to this community then we’ll stop it,” added Port St. Joe’s mayor. Public comment meetings will continue through August.
11. Acid in the oceans: A growing threat to sea life—Richard Harris, NPR 8/12/09
When the oceans absorb CO2, carbonic acid is formed from the process, an acid especially corrosive to shellfish and corals. Rising acid levels correspond to rising CO2 in the atmosphere, where Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute Biologist Eric Pane says about a third of increased atmospheric CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans. Oceans are currently measuring a tenth of a unit more acidic on the pH scale than in previous times, and rates are expected to rise as much as half a unit by the end of the century.
Pane says in actuality the increase is three-fold, due to the logarithmic nature of the scale. Given a high enough acid level, sea life with known sensitivities, like corals and shellfish, will be eaten away. Pane and other scientists are studying the impact on other organisms, as well as how the ecosystem reacts. Their research is expansive, covering as many vertebrates and invertebrates as possible.
One subset of such marine life is deep water loving, such as gastropods, marine snails, brachiopods, decapod crabs, and basic crustacea. Blood samples and other techniques suggest that these life forms may expend more energy balancing their pH levels, robbing energy for activities such as growth and reproduction. Studies are centering on fecundity, amount of offspring produced and the relative health. Pane says the expectation is for “profound changes to ocean ecosystems.”
Peter Brewer, a fellow researcher with Eric Pane, began identifying the problem as early as the 1960’s. Brewer says that with current absorption levels at over 500 billion tons, physical and biological properties are going to change. He’s seen the ocean chemistry alterations affect the way sound travels through the ocean, which may affect whale communications.
Advancing techniques include utilizing a chamber on the ocean floor that will allow impacts to be studied on animals in the chamber.
12. Recent hurricanes not matched since Middle Ages—Jon Hamilton, NPR 8/12/09
A recent study published in the journal Nature has studied hurricane activity over the past 1,500 years utilizing paleotempestology techniques. The study shows the Atlantic Ocean’s hurricanes over the past decade have been unmatched in 1,000 years. 2005 was the busiest season in recorded history, with 28 named storms such as Katrina and Rita.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and an author of the study, said one technique used for study was searching for physical evidence in lagoons that are removed from ocean behavior except when storms blow water over land barriers. Core studies in the sediment of the lagoons identify ocean debris.
Additional studies involve searching for evidence suggesting conditions ripe for hurricanes in past centuries. Warmer Atlantic temperature evidence and suggestions of La Nina conditions—where the atmosphere fosters winds that promote hurricane development—are useful indicators suggested by coral growth patterns and ice cores respectively.
These conditions were especially ripe in the Middle Ages, researchers found, though ripe conditions do not necessarily lead to a heavy storm era. Medieval era sediment cores taken from lagoons between Massachusetts and Puerto Rico, however, confirmed frequent activity during the era.
One key difference Mann and his fellow researchers identified was that while the older storm era had La Nina influences, storms of the past decade are known to be primarily associated with warmer ocean temperatures. Scientists believe “that recent anomalous warmth” is in large part due to human influenced climate change, Mann said. A professor of geography from Florida State University added that the study supports the link between global warming and increased storm activity.
13. GM says new Volt could get 230 mpg in city driving—Kimberly S. Johnson, AP, SLT 8/11/09
The electric car’s mileage has yet to be confirmed by federal regulators. The four-door sedan is expected to hit showrooms late next year at $40,000. The Volt would be the first mainstream plug-in. The battery pack has a 40-mile range. A small internal combustion engine generates electricity and the car has a 300 mile total range. Recharge will be accessible from a standard home outlet. Toyota’s hybrid Prius, starting at around $22,000, gets 51 mpg city miles and 48 mpg on the highway. The Tesla electric Roadster at $100,000 plus has a range of 224 miles.
14. GM says mercury not its problem anymore—Ken Thomas, AP, SLT 8/11/09
In the wake of the “Cash for Clunkers” program, General Motors has left a partnership that has collected mercury-containing parts from junk-bound autos. An estimated 750,000 vehicles, many of which contain mercury switches, are expected to torn apart and recycled due to the recent stimulus program.
GM argues the post-bankruptcy re-structured company is not producing autos with mercury switches in assemblies such as trunk convenience lights and antilock brakes. Around 36 million of the switches were used in assemblies during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Over half were installed in pre-2000 GM vehicles. End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corp.(ELVS), the auto industry partnership, was formed in 2005 to prevent mercury emissions due to the crushing and shredding of vehicles. The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, organized by the EPA with automakers, the steel industry and environmentalists in 2006, has so far recovered 5,600 pounds of mercury.
GM was the program’s largest participant ahead of its bankruptcy. The company has not paid its organization dues since the bankruptcy filing. The organization in turn may be forced to cut back or end operations without GM’s support. The partnership’s executive director said “We’re surprised that GM, who wants to have this great, green image, would do this.”
15. Coal’s future wagered on carbon capture—Steven Mufson, The Washington Post 8/11/09
The new capture technology installed on a 30-year-old coal plant near New Haven, West Virginia has a 150-foot-tall exhaust stack as wide as six adults stretched hand to hand and a warehouse four stories tall and larger than a football field. Pipelines run from the capture unit two miles underground into saline aquifers. The process may be in operation by September.
Of the $2.4 billion devoted in the recent stimulus bill to pilot capture projects, $20 million is going to a program using supersonic airwaves to compress carbon ahead of storage. $408 million has been awarded to two other carbon pilot projects, and $1 billion has been promised to FutureGen’s model plant. The Waxman-Markey climate bill could provide $1.1 billion per year to Carbon Storage Research Corporation, a new research firm. Bonus emission allowances that could be sold in the cap-and-trade market are additional incentives for carbon capture technology providers.
Coal plants cause 1/3 of US greenhouse emissions. China has surpassed the US in coal-fired electricity generation, with no signs of slowing. But carbon capture and storage, making “clean coal”, remains expensive, energy-intensive and largely untested. Commercial viability is not expected for another 6-10 years. The process could also prove to be cost-prohibitive.
American Electric Power, who owns the West Virginia plant, is the nation’s largest consumer of coal. Still, the new project will only capture emissions from 20 megawatts of power generation, or 15% of the plant’s output. Finding the room for such a large technological expansion at other power plants could be impossible. Energy use for the new process is expected to be 15%-30% of output.
Alstom, a French company, manufactured the technology. Exhaust from burned coal bubbles through a solution of chilled ammonia where CO2 bonds with it and can be separated from other gasses. After separation from the ammonia, the gas is compressed for storage. A 235 megawatt plant, modestly sized, could pay $700 million for the new technology, or about $100 per ton of CO2. Earlier estimates from MIT placed costs at from $50 to $70 per ton. The Waxman-Markey bill aims to provide the first six gigawatts of plants, about seven average-sized plants, a $90 per ton subsidy through free allowances.
Some experts recommend retrofitting old coal plants at a 4%-5% emission reduction or replacing them with more efficient ones, cutting more than ¼ of emissions. Storage requires non-porous underground chambers that don’t exist everywhere. Pipelines may be designed and built to carry the gas to locales with useable underground chambers. Sale of compressed CO2 could be made to oil companies that use it to increase oil recovery in aging wells.
According to a research fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Environmental Science and Policy, what is happening now is far from the 1.5 billion to 2 billion tons of sequestration needed by 2025. The International Carbon Bank and Exchange, a private sector trading company, a new VW beetle averaging 12,000 miles per year would fill up the Washington Monument three times over. The US produces enough CO2 to cover the entire country a foot deep every year. Greenpeace says sequestering all coal plant emissions would require 28 million train cars a day or a Grand Canyon twice a month.
Monitoring and storage site maintenance over hundreds of years has yet to be worked out. One spokesperson called that far “beyond the likely lifespan of any corporation.” Legacy costs could grow as they are handed down as well. And corporations are looking to the government to limit liability should unexpected consequences occur. “A naturally occurring “burp” of carbon dioxide in a Cameroon lake in 1986 killed hundreds of people,” the Post reported.
Optimists depend on technology growing cheaper and better over time. Policymakers too are depending on ingenuity and what Senator John Kerry D-Mass. calls “game-changing possibilities”. For instance, one company is pursuing a technique that bubbles emissions through sea water and traps them in cement. Pre-combustion extraction technologies are also under study.
A Stanford University study of the technologies warns “the conventional wisdom that experience with technologies inevitably reduces costs does not necessarily hold…the opposite of the conventional wisdom” is true. For both nuclear power in 1960-1980 and global liquefied natural gas from 1960-1995, costs increased even with government subsidy.
16. Salt Lake Valley drivers cleared the air—Michele Straube, Deseret News 8/10/09
Michele Straube is a mediator/facilitator with Salt Lake Solutions, Mayor Ralph Becker’s collaborative government initiative.
Vehicle exhaust manufactures directly or indirectly 50% of year-round pollution in the Salt Lake Valley, including winter’s brown haze inversions and summer’s “yellow” and “red” air alert days. Salt Lake Valley drivers responding to the Clean the Air Challenge eliminated over 1 million miles and 1.7 million pounds of emissions during the six weeks of the challenge in June and July.
Presented by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Coroon, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a 20-organization Partners Team, participants drove fewer miles, carpooled, took mass transit, worked from home, biked and walked. Additional practices included trip chaining. But such habits are needed beyond a challenge. The website is available to foster changes with information and daily trip diaries.
Straube describes herself as one especially vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution, with a heart condition that becomes aggravated, dizziness and other likely symptoms on bad air days.
17. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts rally to ‘Take Back Utah’—Sarah Dallof, KSL.com 8/8/09
The frustrated crowd showed up to protest backcountry road access and federal government control over the state’s public lands. Hundreds rode on four-wheelers and dirt bikes from the City-County Building to the state capitol Saturday for the “Take Back Utah” rally. Their message was to keep public lands public, open to each and every one and every vehicle.
Coupled with frustrations over blocked access by federal—not state—mandate, the protesters also are anxious over the future of access under the Obama administration. According to Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, “They’re going to shut down public lands. They’re canceling leases. They’ve shut off the resources management plans. We spent 10 years on those plans, and a lot of money for Utah. They’ve shut them off.”
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT said “I just want you to know we’re fighting the battle back there. We’re a small majority with just 40 Republicans but we’re doing the best we can.” According to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), however, the majority of Utahns want greater environmental protection. “Seventy-eight percent of Utahns we polled in 2005 said off-road vehicle use needs to be reigned in, needs to be better managed,” SUWA’s associate director said.
Tens of thousands of miles of trails already are open to off-road enthusiasts, SUWA’s spokesperson said. “What you see is soil erosion, the loss of native vegetation,” she added. “A lot of times weeds will attach to the undercarriage of these vehicles. So wherever you see a road, an off-road vehicle trail, you tend to see a lot of weeds, which tend to be very flammable.”
18. Pushing back against feds—Deseret News editorial, Deseret News 8/12/09
On healthcare reform
19. Conserve critical lands—Editorial, KSL.com 8/12/09
On preserving the McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund
20. Land sustains valley life—Thad Box, freelance columnist, The Logan Herald Journal 8/12/09
On preserving the natural beauty around Logan