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Apr 24, 2018, 09:19 PM
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 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Germany to Put 'Massive Restrictions' on Monsanto Weedkiller


German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner announced Tuesday she is drafting regulation to stop use of glyphosate in the country's home gardens, parks and sports facilities, Reuters reported.

The minister also plans to set "massive restrictions" for its use in agriculture, with exemptions for areas that are prone to erosion and cannot be worked with heavy machinery.

"I am planning a regulatory draft as a first building block in the strategy to minimize use of glyphosate," Kloeckner said.

She said the proposal would be vetted by other ministries but did not set a deadline to end use of the herbicide.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient Monsanto's Roundup, is the world's best-selling weedkiller and has been used for more than 40 years. In Germany, about 40 percent of crop-growing land is treated with glyphosate.

The chemical has been at the center of international controversy since 2015, when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as "probably carcinogenic." The European Food Safety Authority, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consider it safe.

In February, the new German coalition government agreed on a "systematic minimization strategy" to significantly restrict use glyphosate, "with the goal of fundamentally ending usage as fast as possible." The strategy did not include a timeframe.

Germany's new Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, from the center-left Social Democrats, welcomed Kloeckner's proposal as the first step to ending use of glyphosate. Eliminating its use is a key goal of Schulze's legislative term.

"We need a full exit from glyphosate during this legislative period. Glyphosate kills everything that is green, depriving insects of their food source," she said earlier this month.

In November, Kloeckner's conservative predecessor Christian Schmidt sparked outrage among glyphosate opponents and the previous German coalition after he unexpectedly voted in favor—and effectively swung the EU's decision—of renewing the weedkiller for the next five years.

According to Reuters, Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, which is acquiring Monsanto, said the issue has become too politicized in Europe and that Germany would wind up banning the chemical without an adequate regulatory framework.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Indonesia Calls in the Army to Fight Plastic Enemy


In March, a diver's video of masses of plastic floating off the Indonesian coast went viral. But that plastic often reaches the ocean through the country's rivers, clogging them to such an extent that Indonesia had to call in the army, the BBC reported Thursday.

The BBC spent time on the ground in Bandung, Indonesia's third largest city, and observed a concentration of bottles, plastic bags and styrofoam packaging so large it looked like an iceberg.

Reporters watched the army attempt to clear the river by riding a barge and removing debris with nets, but as they cleared, more trash would flow from upstream.

The soldiers filmed by the BBC had intended to load the plastic they collected onto trucks, but the trucks never arrived, so the soldiers used a digger to push it further downstream, where it would swamp the cleanup efforts of others.

"My current enemy is not a combat enemy, what I am fighting very hard now is rubbish, it is our biggest enemy," army Sergeant Sugito told the BBC.

West Java Environmental Protection Agency head Dr. Anang Sudarna, who petitioned the president to send in the army, said their efforts had made a difference, but there is still much more work to do.

"The result is a little bit improved ... but I am angry, I am sad, I am trying to think how best to solve this ... the most difficult thing is the people's attitude and the political will," Sudarna told t1he BBC.

Indonesia is one of five Asian countries that accounts for 60 percent of the plastic entering the world's oceans, a 2015 study found. Another 2017 study found that 86 percent of the plastic currently flushed through the world's rivers came from Asian countries, including Indonesia. The huge quantities of plastic pollution are the result of economic growth and increased quality of life in these countries, which have meant that waste collection has not kept pace with changing consumption patterns.

In Indonesia, plastic packaging has begun to replace traditional, biodegradable food storage devices like banana leaves, the BBC reported. Further, there is a local culture of disposing of waste in ditches and streams, which cannot support the quantities of plastic waste now being discarded.

Sugito said he wanted to encourage Indonesians to see plastic as a resource, and not just something to throw away.

"[P]lastic cartons and drinking bottles can be separated from the other rubbish and sold," he told the BBC.

To encourage this mindset, officials have set up "eco-villages" in Bandung where residents can trade in different kinds of plastic containers for cash.

While the problem is still overwhelming, the army's involvement illustrates an observation from Radboud University environmental science professor Ad Ragas that Indonesian authorities had begun to take plastic pollution much more seriously in the past two years.

He partly credited social media posts of clogged rivers for raising awareness and inspiring action.

"They immediately see that 'this is what my river look likes now and I'm doing that because I'm throwing all this plastic away' so they get feedback much quicker than they used to," he told the BBC.
The BBC's report arrives just in time for Earth Day, which is taking on the problem of plastic pollution this year. If the push is successful, Indonesia's rivers would finally have the freedom to flow again.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:39 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future

By Jen Fela

We're celebrating a huge moment in the global movement for a plastic-free future: More than one million people around the world have called on big corporations to do their part to end single-use plastics.

Now we're taking the next big step. We're setting an ambitious new goal: A Million Acts of Blue.

What's an Act of Blue?

An Act of Blue is any action that helps to stop single-use plastic from being created in the first place. It's inspired by love for our amazing blue planet and the urgent need to protect our oceans, waterways, landscapes and communities. It aims to hold corporations accountable for the plastic pollution crisis they helped to create.

Our marine life shouldn't have to live in a sea of plastic.

Ways to create change in your community.

We've created a comprehensive guide to creating change in your community with several kinds of actions you can take. These range from learning and sharing your passion for this issue to passing legislation in your city. Get started today to create a plastic-free future!

1. Learn, share and join

The first step towards action is knowledge. Are you a member of a community group that is eager to learn more about how they can protect our oceans and communities? Maybe your child's teacher is looking for ways to teach kids about environmental protection? Our toolkit has powerpoints and tips for giving a presentation—you can even host a movie night!

2. Be heard in the media

If you want to make change in your community, start with local media! Local newspapers, blogs and magazines are a great venue for getting the word out. In the toolkit, we walk you through how to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and how to get it published.

3. Help create plastic-free supermarkets and restaurants

Nowhere is the dominance of single-use plastics and wasteful packaging more obvious than at the local supermarket. Make waves in your community by working to get a local supermarket to reduce their use of single-use plastics.

4. Get restaurants to ditch single-use plastics

Fed up with all the plastic straws and utensils at fast food places and cafes? Join the growing movement urging establishments to get rid of throwaway plastic products.

5. Lobby for local legislation

All over the world, towns, cities and villages are standing up for a plastic-free future by implementing local bans and laws restricting the use of throwaway plastic. Be part of this movement by working with your neighbors to get your local government to do the same.

6. Organize a local cleanup and #BreakFreeFromPlastic brand audit

Everyone loves a cleanup event, so why not take it to the next level? Get your community together to clean up a local beach, park, or riverbank—but don't stop there. Go through the single-use plastics collected and identify which companies produced them. Let's hold corporations responsible for their plastic waste!

7. Start a community group!

You don't have to go it alone. We have a lot of work to do, and we'll get a lot further—and have more fun—together. Get some friends and neighbors together for a plastic-free future!

Greenpeace and MCS (Marine Conservation Society) Mull Beach Clean at Kilninian Beach with pupils from Ulver Primary School, Isle Of Mull. Greenpeace brought its ship the Beluga II on an expedition of scientific research around Scotland, sampling seawater for microplastics and documenting the impact of ocean plastic on some of the UK's most precious marine life.

Excited to get started? Check out the full Million Acts of Blue toolkit to find out more about how you can work in your own community to end single-use plastics.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

UK to Review Climate Goals, Explore 'Net-Zero' Emissions Strategy


The UK will review its long-term climate target and explore how to reach "net-zero" emissions by 2050, Environment Minister Claire Perry announced Tuesday.

The UK is the first G7 country to commit to such an analysis, which would seek to align the country's emissions trajectory to the Paris agreement's more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The review will happen after the IPCC releases its special report on 1.5°C in October in order to use the best and most recent science, Perry said. Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris agreement, praised the announcement: "This decision ... sends a strong message to the EU and other big economies ... it's time they too considered what more they can do."

As reported by The Guardian:

"Ways of meeting the net-zero target could include investing in projects to grow trees and restore soils, to take up greater carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as more controversial measures such as investing in emissions reduction projects overseas. Even with such methods, the UK is likely to have to bring forward targets on phasing out diesel and petrol engines, and expand renewable energy generation and, potentially, nuclear power.

Many actions under Conservative-led governments since 2010, however, have dismayed climate campaigners and may have to be reconsidered. These include the failure to insulate the UK's draughty homes, limits on renewable energy, the scrapping of carbon capture and storage projects and tax breaks for fossil fuels."

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:34 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief

The Conversation
23 Apr 2018 at 08:15 ET                  

We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions that sustain life, but it is also increasingly clear that we are pushing the Earth into an entirely new geological era, often described as the Anthropocene.

Research shows that people increasingly feel the effects of these planetary changes and associated ecological losses in their daily lives, and that these changes present significant direct and indirect threats to mental health and well-being. Climate change, and the associated impacts to land and environment, for example, have recently been linked to a range of negative mental health impacts, including depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress, as well as feelings of anger, hopelessness, distress, and despair.

Not well represented in the literature, however, is an emotional response we term ‘ecological grief,’ which we have defined in a recent Nature Climate Change article: “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”

We believe ecological grief is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss, and one that is likely to affect more of us into the future.

Understanding ecological grief

Grief takes many forms and differs greatly between individuals and cultures. Although grief is well understood in relation to human losses, ‘to grieve’ is rarely considered something that we do in relation to losses in the natural world.

The eminent American naturalist Aldo Leopold was among the first to describe the emotional toll of ecological loss in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education,” he wrote, “is to live alone in a world of wounds.”

More recently, many respected ecologists and climate scientists have expressed their feelings of grief and distress in response to climate change and the environmental destruction it entails in places like: “Climate scientists feel weight of the world on their shoulders” and “Is this how you feel?”

Ecological grief is also a significant theme in our own work. In different research projects working with Inuit in Inuit Nunangat in Arctic Canada and farmers in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, both of us have spent a combined total of almost 20 years working with people living in areas experiencing significant climatic changes and environmental shifts.

Despite very different geographical and cultural contexts, our research revealed a surprising degree of commonality between Inuit and family farming communities as they struggled to cope, both emotionally and psychologically, with mounting ecological losses and the prospect of an uncertain future.
Voices of ecological grief

Our research shows that climate-related ecological losses can trigger grief experiences in several ways. Foremost, people grieve for lost landscapes, ecosystems, species, or places that carry personal or collective meaning.

For Inuit communities in the Inuit Land Claim Settlement Area of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, the land is foundational to mental health. In recent years, melting sea ice prevented travel to significant cultural sites and engagement in traditional cultural activities, such as hunting and fishing. These disruptions to an Inuit sense of place was accompanied by strong emotional reactions, including grief, anger, sadness, frustration and despair.

One male who grew up hunting and trapping on the land in the community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut explained:

    “People are not who they are. They’re not comfortable and can’t do the same things. If something is taken away from you, you don’t have it. If a way of life is taken away because of circumstances you have no control over, you lose control over your life.”

Chronic drought conditions in the Western Australian Wheatbelt elicited similar emotional reactions for some family farmers. As one long-time farmer described:

    “There’s probably nothing worse than seeing your farm go in a dust storm. I reckon it’s probably one of the worst feelings […] I find that one of the most depressing things of the lot, seeing the farm blow away in a dust storm. That really gets up my nose, and a long way up too. If its blowing dust I come inside – I just come inside here. I can’t stand to watch it.”

Sweeping away the dust in the central Western Australian Wheatbelt Feb. 2013.
Neville Ellis

In both cases, such experiences resonate strongly with the concept of “solastagia,” described both as a form of homesickness while still in place, and as a type of grief over the loss of a healthy place or a thriving ecosystem.

People also grieve for lost environmental knowledge and associated identities. In these cases, people mourn the part of self-identity that is lost when the land upon which it is based changes or disappears.

For Australian family farmers, the inability to maintain a healthy landscape in the context of worsening seasonal variability and chronic dryness often elicited feelings of self-blame and shame:

    “Farmers just hate seeing their farm lift; it somehow says to them ‘I’m a bad farmer’. And I think all farmers are good farmers. They all try their hardest to be. They all love their land.”

For older Inuit in Nunatsiavut, changes to weather and landscape are invalidating long-standing and multi-generational ecological knowledge, and with it, a coherent sense of culture and self. As one well-respected hunter shared:

    “It’s hurting in a way. It’s hurting in a lot of ways. Because I kinda thinks I’m not going to show my grandkids the way we used to do it. It’s hurting me. It’s hurting me big time. And I just keep that to myself.”

Many Inuit and family farmers also worry about their futures, and express grief in anticipation of worsening ecological losses. As one woman explained from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut:

    “I think that [the changes] will have an impact maybe on mental health, because it’s a depressing feeling when you’re stuck. I mean for us to go off [on the land] is just a part of life. If you don’t have it, then that part of your life is gone, and I think that’s very depressing.”

Similarly, a farmer in Australia worried about the future shared their thoughts on the possibility of losing their family farm:

    “It would be like a death. Yeah, there would be a grieving process because the farm embodies everything that the family farm is … And I think if we were to lose it, it would be like losing a person … but it would be sadder than losing a person … I don’t know, it would be hard definitely.”

Ecological grief in a climate-changed future

Ecological grief reminds us that climate change is not just some abstract scientific concept or a distant environmental problem. Rather, it draws our attention to the personally experienced emotional and psychological losses suffered when there are changes or deaths in the natural world. In doing so, ecological grief also illuminates the ways in which more-than-humans are integral to our mental wellness, our communities, our cultures, and for our ability to thrive in a human-dominated world.

From what we have seen in our own research, although this type of grief is already being experienced, it often lacks an appropriate avenue for expression or for healing. Indeed, not only do we lack the rituals and practices to help address feelings of ecological grief, until recently we did not even have the language to give such feelings voice. And it is for these reasons that grief over losses in the natural world can feel, as American ecologist Phyllis Windle put it, ‘irrational, inappropriate, anthropomorphic.’

We argue that recognising ecological grief as a legitimate response to ecological loss is an important first step for humanising climate change and its related impacts, and for expanding our understanding of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene. How to grieve ecological losses well — particularly when they are ambiguous, cumulative and ongoing — is a question currently without answer. However, it is a question that we expect will become more pressing as further impacts from climate change, including loss, are experienced.

The ConversationWe do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke. Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us. There is much grief work to be done, and much of it will be hard. However, being open to the pain of ecological loss may be what is needed to prevent such losses from occurring in the first place.
Moonrise near Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.
Ashlee Cunsolo

Neville Ellis, Research fellow, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Director, Labrador Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Canary in the coal pond

Pro Publica
23 Apr 2018 at 08:22 ET  

In tests conducted in late 2017, one in three coal-fired power plants nationwide detected “statistically significant” amounts of contaminants, including harmful chemicals like arsenic, in the groundwater around their facilities.

This information, which utility companies had to post on their websites in March, became public for the first time under an Obama-era environmental rule regulating coal ash, the waste generated from burning coal.

Mixed with water and stored in ponds and landfills at nearly 300 facilities across the country, coal ash has been found to contain carcinogens and toxins like mercury and lead. For decades, people living near coal-fired plants have feared the ash was seeping into the ground and contaminating their drinking water.

But now, just as residents are getting their first indication of whether neighboring plants might pose a threat, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is advancing a proposal to amend the rule, giving states the authority to lessen consequences and weaken requirements for polluting power plants.

As the rule stands today, if a plant exceeds federal limits for certain pollutants in groundwater and the utility company can’t prove its coal ash pond has an adequate liner to hold in the toxins, the pond would be shut down. The new proposal would give states the power to allow the pond to remain open while the plant cleans up the contamination. It would also set more lenient thresholds for types of contaminants that trigger mandated cleanups.

Pruitt has said the plan would save utilities an estimated $31 million to $100 million per year in compliance costs and give states flexibility to set their own standards that are “at least as protective” as the federal ones, rather than simply installing the EPA’s nationwide.

The EPA didn’t respond to requests to elaborate on the reasoning behind the proposal.

Relative to the more dramatic examples of regulatory rollback at the EPA under the Trump administration, the proposed changes to the rule regulating coal ash are relatively subtle and targeted, not like the planned wholesale elimination of the Clean Power Plan or new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Still, the effects stand to be substantial.

With a public hearing on the proposal scheduled for April 24, operators of plants across the country have reported results from their initial groundwater tests, but have a second phase — the one that leads to remediation under the existing rule — still ahead.It is uncertain if those remedies would still be required if the EPA amends the rule.

The operator of the Healy Power Plant, located two hours southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, has completed the second round of testing and detected troubling levels of antimony, arsenic, lithium, molybdenum and selenium. The company says it will follow the rule’s current guidelines to address these problems even though the rule is in flux.

But activists in Alaska wonder how long that commitment will survive if the rule is amended.

Pamela Miller is the executive director for Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Before the monitoring requirements, the group conducted its own limited sampling that found contamination around disposal areas in Fairbanks.

Even before Pruitt intervened, the rule granted the EPA no direct authority to sanction plant operators caught exceeding limits on groundwater pollution, leaving it to states to do so or to groups like Miller’s to sue. If the new proposal goes forward, it’ll be even harder to compel action on contamination, Miller said.

“We knew the regulations for coal ash were too weak,” she said. “The Obama administration made some progress in that area, but we weren’t happy with it. To see attempts to roll those back — the already inadequate regulations — is just an abomination.”

For decades, the EPA didn’t regulate coal ash, deciding it wasn’t hazardous waste — a designation reserved mostly for chemicals that ignite and corrode, or kill humans in low doses — and was instead solid waste, a category managed by states.

There were patchy state requirements for how coal ash ponds and landfills should be built and how much contamination they could release. Fifteen states required plant operators to install liners in ponds to prevent chemicals from seeping out. The rest didn’t. In some locations, the industry moved on its own toward installing liners and monitoring ponds and landfills, but many storage sites had no such controls in place.

As cases of contamination cropped up in cities across the country, the EPA announced in May 2000 that national standards were necessary, but made no progress toward setting them.

It took a spill of epic proportions to shock officials to attention.

Initial 911 calls reported what happened as a mudslide. Three days before Christmas 2008, in eastern Tennessee, a coal ash storage unit at the Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, unleashing 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge into the Emory and Clinch rivers.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which owned the plant, had been storing the coal ash in what looked like a hill, but was really a stack of ponds called “cells,” sealed and layered on top of each other like a tiered cake. The earthen walls deteriorated, weakening the foundation. And as the cells started to collapse, decades of loose, wet ash began to flow, piling up fast against the dikes before the weight overpowered and crushed them.

The muck toppled a cell phone tower, moved a bulldozer and shifted a house off its foundation. In the end, three homes were destroyed, dozens of others were damaged and the equivalent of 100 city blocks were blanketed in sludge. At a committee meeting on Capitol Hill, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. passed around a jar of the stuff. “This is why the community is so up in arms,” she said. “This isn’t harmless mud.”

When environmental regulators had focused on coal ash previously, they had concentrated on its potential to contaminate groundwater — not on structural failures like what happened at Kingston.

“It was completely out of the blue,” said Suzanne Rudzinski, who retired in 2013 as head of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, which had studied coal ash. “Nobody had thought about that. There may have been an assumption that someone else was regulating it, but states didn’t control it, mining offices didn’t control it. It was just sort of out there… It fell through the cracks.”

The EPA began overseeing the cleanup, along with a nationwide study of coal ash disposal sites. It gathered information from 240 facilities that operated 676 ponds and landfills and looked for the same risk factors that led to the collapse, including whether the structure stretched more than six feet high.

The survey flagged 49 sites at 26 facilities around the country as “high hazard” — located in areas that would suffer economic, environmental or infrastructure damage if they were to fail.

Seven years after the spill, the EPA finalized regulations designed to prevent structural collapses like Kingston from ever happening again. The requirements for shoring up landfills and ponds were uncontroversial.

But the 2015 rule went further. It required new landfills and ponds to have liners, set limits on where coal ash could be stored and dictated how companies should decommission retired ponds. The rule created requirements for monitoring the groundwater around disposal sites, specified where companies needed to collect samples and created a stringent threshold for contaminants.

But the federal government could do little to enforce these mandates beyond requiring plant operators to hire qualified engineers to certify that facilities are in compliance and insisting they post engineers’ reports on websites accessible to the public. Residents and state regulators can scour the documents and perhaps challenge a company’s compliance by bringing a lawsuit.

“There wasn’t a better tool out there,” Rudzinski said. “So, it was the best way.”

Then, in 2016, a new law created another path to enforcement. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act empowered states to create permit programs for plants that generate coal ash, making permits contingent on at least meeting federal standards for monitoring groundwater and limiting contaminants.

But in giving states a mechanism to enforce the federal requirements, it also gave them the authority to make site-specific modifications to the rule. This, in turn, opened the door for industry to argue that states should have even more latitude and that the rule should be rewritten to reflect that flexibility.

In May 2017, the EPA received a petition from Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, an industry lobbying organization. It noted that because states now had the power to issue permits for coal ash ponds, the states should have the flexibility to tailor monitoring standards and corrective actions like they do when regulating other kinds of solid waste.

The group did not challenge the key structural protections designed to prevent another catastrophic failure like the Kingston spill. “We’re not suggesting that (the rule) be thrown out,” said Jim Roewer, executive director of USWAG. “We do want those federal standards to make sense.”

USWAG asked the EPA to reconsider mandates on what concentration of chemicals trigger additional action in groundwater monitoring tests, the location of monitoring wells and standards governing inactive coal ponds. States should be able to determine what constitutes an adequate liner, the industry group said.

The EPA’s proposed amended rule, released last month, tracks closely with what USWAG wanted. Among the changes, the rule would move one contaminant, boron, to a later stage in the groundwater monitoring scheme, meaning that only facilities that detect other abnormal levels of chemicals need to test for it. The proposal would give states the power to alter deadlines for facilities to show their corrective action measures are working. Instead of professional engineers, states would certify that facilities were in compliance. States could set different groundwater protection standards for certain contaminants, and give more flexibility to facilities in how they address contamination.

So far, only Oklahoma has submitted an application to create a state permitting program, but officials in states with lots of coal plants like North Carolina, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas all expect to submit them. Other states, including South Carolina, Florida and Illinois, say they are still considering their options.

Former EPA officials, experts and activists are worried the changes could lead to the same patchy standards in place before the rule. Allowing flexibility on where a plant can put a monitoring well, they said, could skew results. States have historically had poor track records for setting adequate standards on liners, testing and contaminants, they said.

“States don’t necessarily see the rest of the picture,” said Rudzinski, now an environmental consultant. “The federal government sees the bigger picture.”

ProPublica asked EPA officials how they respond to criticism that the proposed revisions giving states more leeway would dilute environmental protections, and what they will do to ensure that state oversight will remain standardized across the country.

The EPA did not respond to those questions.

The rule, as written, is showing signs it can be effective.

In the first months of 2017, its monitoring requirements caught the potential contamination of an aquifer near a facility run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the massive power provider involved in the Kingston spill.

TVA was planning to retire a coal-fired power plant it operated in Memphis and replace it with a new natural gas generator. It needed a water source to cool the generator, and tapped into a pristine one — the Memphis Sand aquifer, the city’s source of drinking water.

From TVA’s standpoint, drilling wells directly into the aquifer wasn’t a big deal — “dozens” of companies around Memphis do the same thing, said Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman. So, after getting the requisite approvals in fall 2016, it started drilling five groundwater wells.

Around the same time, the coal-fired plant across the street — the one on its way out — got eight new wells, too. To comply with the federal coal ash rule, TVA was required to install these monitoring wells to check groundwater for potential contaminants.

In November 2016, the first baseline samples from those monitoring wells produced elevated levels of arsenic, fluoride and lead. The company tested again in January, February, March and April 2017. Each time, it found elevated levels of contaminants.

The standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion; tests in May 2017 found arsenic levels as high as 3,560 parts per billion in one well. Lead was present in that well, too, at 63.9 parts per billion — four times the federal action level.

That summer, TVA alerted state regulators, and local news outlets alerted the community. The levels were “uncharacteristic for coal ash, based on historical data” from TVA’s fleet, which suggests that contaminants from other facilities may have migrated into the area. Regardless of the source, TVA and the local government now had to contend with the information that Memphis’ aquifer was at risk for contamination, and drilling deeper wells at the gas plant could make it worse.

“We wake up and it’s like, ‘Jesus,’” said Ward Archer, president of the citizen group Protect Our Aquifer. “If it wasn’t for that mandate — for those test wells, for those monitoring wells — we would have never known this. It absolutely would have gone by unnoticed.”

Under state oversight, TVA conducted an investigation into the contamination. It found that contamination was limited to the upper alluvial aquifer, which is separated from the Memphis aquifer by a layer of clay — shielding the drinking water from contamination. But as a precaution, TVA will buy water from the local utility, Memphis Light, Gas and Water, instead of using the wells to cool the plant, which will come online before summer, Brooks said. TDEC is reviewing the investigation results and will work with TVA if any additional testing is required, he said.

Now, preliminary results for all of the country’s coal ash storage sites are online. And they are indicating more potential contamination.

The rule requires companies to check one set of constituents first, including boron, calcium, sulfate and total dissolved solids. They’re like a canary in a coal mine, their presence in groundwater signaling that further contamination might be present.

If a facility finds a statistically significant increase in those chemicals, it must then test for an additional set that the EPA has deemed to be more harmful, including arsenic, mercury, radium, cobalt, lithium and lead.

In the 259 reports that were posted in March, facilities were required to show the work they’d completed last year — taking enough samples to establish baseline levels and initiating the first round of tests. The deadline for analyzing the first round of tests hasn’t hit yet, but of the 111 facilities that completed this step early, 86 detected the canary-in-a-coal-mine chemicals.

If those results are confirmed, they could spur the second round of tests for more harmful chemicals.

Of the reports ProPublica obtained, two facilities so far have tested for and discovered such toxins: the Healy Power Plant in Alaska and James De Young Power Plant in Holland, Mich. The De Young Power Plant has already been decommissioned — the contamination was discovered through tests in 2011 before the coal ash rule was in place — and the ponds removed as the city works to clean up the site for reuse.

At the Healy plant, Naomi Morton Knight, environmental officer at Golden Valley Electric Association said the company is “committed to meeting all requirements” of the rule, and was working to design and test alternatives to using coal ash ponds.

Under the current coal ash rule, if values in that second tier exceed the federal groundwater protection standard for any contaminants, the facility must tell state and local officials and put a notice on the facility’s website. The facility is also required to install additional wells, collect data and figure out what chemicals are leaking from the site, and how much contamination was released.

If the contamination has left the boundaries of the facility’s property, the owner is required to tell landowners and residents affected. The facility then has 90 days to fix the problem — by installing a liner, closing the pond or landfill or some other measure. Once the fix is implemented, the facility has to continue groundwater monitoring for three years to show that the contaminants have been lowered to an acceptable level, according to federal standards.

Under the proposed rule, though, states could weaken those requirements.

“Instead of reacting to this data by requiring additional cleanups and protections,” said Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, “what Pruitt is proposing to do is put in place a system that will protect the utilities from having to do anything about the serious pollution they are causing.”

There are moments, walking through Lakeshore Park in Kingston, Tenn., when it’s easy to forget what happened there. The Emory river glints in the sun. The breeze ripples over the water and shakes the leaves of trees.

Melinda Hillman remembers. She always thought she would retire at her home on the other side of the river cove in the city of Harriman. “We had exactly what we wanted,” she said. “Not too big, not too small. We could keep our boats in the water year round.”

She remembers standing in her yard that morning in 2008, and seeing boats, jet skis and docks swallowed by the ash. Within a month, she sat in lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill, trying to explain what it’s like to see your backyard “look like the moon.”

Life in her neighborhood became unbearable. The cacophony of train horns, truck engines and heavy machinery was nearly non-stop as crews worked around the clock to clean the site. In her backyard, ash swirled, leaving a thick layer of soot on the patio table. Her 2-year-old daughter developed breathing problems.

In the end, Hillman couldn’t stay. Her family accepted a settlement and moved. Almost all of her neighbors left, too. TVA bought 180 properties and razed them to the ground. Instead of a neighborhood, the area would become a park.

As a part of the six-year, $1.1 billion cleanup, TVA built a new landfill to hold the remaining ash from the spill, capped it and covered the area with grass. It is phasing out its coal ash pond and will continue to monitor groundwater in the area for the next 30 years as part of an agreement with the EPA.

The Kingston plant is back and running at full capacity.

In the groundwater monitoring report released last month, four of the five wells at the site showed statistically significant increases of the first level of contaminants. In fact, all nine of TVA’s facilities subject to the coal ash rule showed elevated levels of those contaminants in their groundwater monitoring reports, including the plant near the aquifer in Memphis.

Brooks, the TVA spokesman, said the results are preliminary. The company will do further testing to confirm the findings, and if they remain statistically significant, it will trigger an additional round of testing for more harmful contaminants, including arsenic.

“What’s important for the public to know is that we take this seriously and are committed to the environment,” Brooks said. “These initial results do not mean that there are confirmed interactions with groundwater and coal ash or TVA operations. It also doesn’t mean there are any levels of concern beyond TVA property. Decades of monitoring at all our sites confirm that there are no impacts to drinking water sources.”

Hillman is watching the EPA’s proposal to amend the coal-ash rule intently, from a different home in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“It’s very frustrating because I know that my personal opinion is that this all comes down to making it easy for business and industry to make more money by loosening rules that protect the general public,” she said. “I guess the government doesn’t care what we breathe or absorb into our bodies.”

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Mozambique prays for rain as water shortages hit country’s poor

Taps in capital city of Maputo being turned off every other day as climate change exacerbates southern African drought

Karen McVeigh
23 Apr 2018 00.05 BST

In the township of Chamanculo, in Maputo, Mozambique, a network of household taps made the community water pump obsolete years ago, freeing residents from the daily burden of lugging massive jerrycans of water long distances.

But a water crisis, partly caused by an ongoing drought affecting much of southern Africa, is already reversing progress in this coastal city. An emergency “orange alert”, declared last February by the country’s disaster management council after failed rains, has triggered such strict water rationing across the capital city that the taps are turned off every other day and irrigation is banned.

Unable to afford the private wells, boreholes and extra tanks used by the rich to buffer themselves from the restrictions, Chamanculo’s residents once again find themselves gathering at a single tap. At 9am, a steady stream of mostly women, some with babies strapped to their backs, line up at Pragosa, a Portuguese construction firm, which is providing free water from a private borehole to the community during the emergency for an hour every day. They fill up 25-litre canisters and carefully balance them on their heads, often making repeat trips home and back again.

Helena Metela, 20, a mother of a three-month-old boy, Ali, says it is a struggle but she has no choice. “The construction company is a little bit far from my home,” she says. “It takes time. Maybe an hour.”

With no end to the current water shortage in sight, the municipality is considering bringing back community pumps to deal with the dwindling supply.

Unlike Capetown, in neighbouring South Africa where the water supply is at breaking point, Maputo has not got to the stage where officials have predicted a “day zero”, when taps are forecast to run dry. But it is clear that without urgent action, Maputo could be the next southern African city to suffer extreme water shortages. Worse still, future projections are for the city to double in size, from 1.7 million people to 3.5million by 2035, sending demand for already scant water resources soaring further.

So pressing is the issue that late last month government departments, water utilities, regulators and NGOs gathered in downtown Maputo for a crisis meeting to discuss possible solutions. At the meeting, held jointly by the Mozambique government and WaterAid, official after official warned that the situation was “critical”.

Nobody present was in any doubt of the role climate change is playing in the water shortages. Meteorologists who talked to the Observer reported shifting rainfall patterns, high temperatures and more extreme weather events in recent years. Predictions are that in Maputo and other coastal cities increased pressure on fresh water supply is set to increase.

Jonathan Farr, a senior policy analyst at Wateraid, said climate change was “eating up the world’s water”, while also making it harder to find a solution. “Things that have worked in the past are no longer enough. Climate change makes everything considerably more serious. Cape Town was something you wouldn’t expect to happen. We are now seeing it potentially in Maputo.”

An hour’s drive west from Maputo is the vast Pequenos Libombos dam, which feeds into the Umbeluzi river, the main source of water supply to Greater Maputo. Completed in 1987, the dam has a capacity of 400 million square metres. But in the last two years, the water level has dropped dramatically. Standing on the bridge above the reservoir, Jaime Timba, the dam’s director, points to a series of yellow guages on the dam’s wall, well above the current water level.

“The water level is too low for the scale,” Timba said “We need to build a new one.” It is only the second time in a decade that the water level has been so depleted. The last time was in 2016, when it fell to 13%. Some water restrictions were enacted then, but they were not sufficient. Meanwhile, everyone prayed for more rain.

In the last four years the Umbeluzi river basin has recorded below average rainfall for the whole basin, while evaporation rates have risen, according to Wateraid. Swathes of land across the region, from South Africa to Zambia, have been hit by high temperatures and low rainfall. Though rainfall in Mozambique has been reasonably good elsewhere, Swaziland in the south-west, whose rivers feed into the Pequenos Libombos dam, has suffered.

Jacinto Laureiro, the major of Boane, a town in Greater Maputo, said: “We need to change from thinking about the next 10 years or even 20 years, to thinking long term.”

The current situation, he said, had developed over time, due to population growth, a lack of investment in infrastructure measures to capture water, and because of climate change.

Asked if the situation could deteriorate, he said: “Only God knows.”

Antonieta Ruben, 53, a widow, was sceptical that she would see improvements any time soon.

“I don’t have hope,” said Ruben, who has two sons at university in Maputo and sells chickens to support her family. “This is a normal crisis. They can have promises of getting water but nothing is done.”

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Species Threatened as Climate Crisis Pushes Mother Nature 'Out of Synch'

By Julia Conley

The warming of the Earth over the past several decades is throwing Mother Nature's food chain out of whack and leaving many species struggling to survive, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study offers the latest evidence that the climate crisis that human activity has contributed to has had far-reaching effects throughout the planet.

A paper by ecologists at the University of Ottawa examined 88 species on four continents, and more than 50 relationships between predator and pray as well as herbivores and the plants they eat, and found that food chain events are taking place earlier in the year than they have in the past, because of the warming climate.

"Most of the examples were about food," Heather Kharouba, lead author of the paper, told the National Observer. "Is it available or is it not?"

In the study's findings, Kharouba added, "everything is consistent with the fact it's getting warmer ... All the changes we see are exactly what we would predict with warmer temperatures and how we would expect biology to respond."

"It demonstrates that many species interactions from around the world are in a state of rapid flux," Boston University biology professor Richard Primack told the Associated Press. "Prior to this study, studies of changing species interactions focused on one place or one group of species."

The scientists looked at research going back to 1951, which showed that in previous decades, birds would migrate, animals would mate and give birth, and plants would bloom later in the year, allowing the animals to find the food they needed at specific times.

These events have been occurring about four days earlier per decade since the 1980s, according to the National Observer. On average, the timing is now off by a full 21 days for the 88 species the researchers examined.

In Washington state's Lake Washington, the very bottom of the food chain has been affected, according to the research, as plant plankton is now blooming 34 days earlier than the organisms that feed on them.

Even smaller changes can have a major impact on animal populations: plants in Greenland are now blossoming just three days earlier than baby caribou are born, throwing off the species that has survived on them and causing more of the animals to starve.

"It leads to a mismatch," Kharouba said. "These events are out of synch."

The "mismatch" could begin contributing to the endangerment of species that are unable to find food they've relied on, the researchers said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

33 years on, a long-term solution to live export trade remains elusive

Reports show the economic importance of the industry is shrinking for everyone but the exporters themselves

Calla Wahlquist
23 Apr 2018 00.16 BST

The first parliamentary report decrying the cruelty of the Australian live export trade was delivered in 1985.

Live sheep export, the senate report found, was not compatible with good animal welfare. But it was also profitable and deemed necessary for the livelihoods of Australian farmers.

“The committee,” said the 1985 report, “came to the conclusion that, if a decision were to be made on the future of the trade purely on animal welfare grounds, there is enough evidence to stop the trade. The trade is, in many respects, inimical to good animal welfare, and it is not in the interests of the animal to be transported to the Middle East for slaughter.”

It went on to say that an immediate halt to the trade would be too “disruptive,” but said a long-term solution of phasing out live sheep exports in favour of exporting chilled or “boxed” meat must be pursued.

It has been 33 years. That long-term solution has been repeatedly delayed.

Despite the outrage and disgust that followed the release of footage showing conditions on Australian sheep ships headed to the Middle East, and the resulting ministerial reviews and promises for change by the industry, it is likely to be delayed again.

On Friday the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, told ABC AM host Sabra Lane that Australian farmers needed the live export trade.

He said it was “naive” to assume the growth of the middle class in Australia’s key live sheep import countries of Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman meant the chilled meat trade could replace live export.

“The reality is there is going to be a demand for live trade for some time and if it’s not our cattle, it’s not our sheep, it’s going to be someone else’s,” Littleproud said.

Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon suggested Australia might one day pull out of the trade, but said it should be an “orderly transition”. His Western Australian counterpart, Alannah MacTiernan, has suggested the same thing, citing the growth of the chilled or boxed meat trade to key live export markets.

According to a report by Pegasus Economics, commissioned by non-government organisation Animals Australia, the chilled meat trade to the Middle East is now 2.5 times bigger by volume than the live export trade.

It said the economic impact to WA farmers of ceasing the trade would be $9m, or about $2,000 per farmer, based on an assumption that farmers get an $8 premium per head for selling to live exporters.

“There is no support for the contention that the live sheep export trade somehow underwrites the domestic sheep prices,” the report said.

That was disputed by the WA Farmers Federation, which released a report on Friday by market analysts Mercardo that said there was a price interdependence and that cutting the trade and selling an extra 1.6m sheep a year on the domestic market would drive down prices by between 18 and 35%.

It predicted a revenue loss to WA producers of between $80m and $150m per year, saying that could be up to $100,000 per farmer for core sheep producers.

Both reports show the economic importance of the live export industry is shrinking for everyone but the exporters themselves.

New Zealand pulled out of the live sheep trade in 2003, saying the “reputational risk” to its farmers was too great.

In Australia, the voices of the export lobby are louder than those of animal welfare experts.

The federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said he was waiting on scientific evidence to determine if and under what conditions live sheep exports to the Middle East in the high-risk summer months might be able to continue.

There has been considerable evidence produced in the past 20 years on the risk of heat stress, the conditions under which heat stress occurs, and the strong correlation between heat stress deaths and shipments bound for the Middle East between June and September.

Some of it has been produced by the federal Department of Agriculture, industry bodies such as Meat and Livestock Australia, and Murdoch University.

The Murdoch study found sheep began to show signs of heat stress at wet bulb temperatures of 26C, about 4.5C below the high risk threshold set in the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).

Wet bulb temperatures of up to 38C have been recorded on live export ships. At those temperatures, says former shipboard veterinarian Lynn Simpson, sheep are being cooked alive.

    It’s a business model that can’t make money if animals don’t suffer.
    RSPCA chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones

But Littleproud is waiting for evidence contained in the outcome of a review he commissioned from vet Michael McCarthy in response to whistleblower footage of voyages to the Middle East in 2017, including footage from the August Awassi Express voyage on which 2,400 sheep died of heat stress. It is due on 1 May.

If McCarthy concluded that the only option was to halt the summer trade, Littleproud said he would “definitely” do it.

“If I am looking at evidence that Dr McCarthy comes back with that says there is no way in any sense that this could be undertaken then we have to listen to that,” he said. “We have to listen to the scientific evidence.”

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has called for an immediate suspension of shipments and a three-month ban over the Middle Eastern summer, saying anyone who allowed it to continue after seeing the Awassi footage was a monster.

But Shorten is not backing a private member’s bill by government MP and former sheep farmer Sussan Ley to end the trade for good.

At the very least, the McCarthy review is likely to recommend a reduction in stocking densities, an improvement in shipboard ventilation, and possibly the installation of air conditioners, all of which subtract from the bottom line.

Littleproud has described mass mortality events such as that on the Awassi as the actions of a few rogue exporters who can be cut like a “cancer” out of the industry, but one of the biggest contributions to that cruelty – the cramped conditions – is built into the government regulations.

Current stocking densities allocate 0.38m2 per sheep, meaning they cannot lay down or easily access food and water.

Attempts to change it have ended up in court, as with the 2008 directive to cut stocking densities by 10 to 15% that exporters said would cut profits by 35 to 100%, or quietly shelved, as with the 2012 ASEL review.

The RSPCA says a minimum 50% reduction in stocking densities would be required. By their own reckoning, exporters cannot afford more than a token reduction.

“It’s a business model that can’t make money if animals don’t suffer,” RSPCA chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones said.

 on: Apr 23, 2018, 04:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

The way some pigs are reared is 'upsetting and wrong', say shoppers

Most people willing to swap to supermarkets trying to improve farming standards, survey finds
Animals farmed is supported by

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent
23 Apr 2018 00.02 BST

Shoppers around the world overwhelmingly support high animal welfare standards for pigs, and most would also be prepared to change their supermarket habits in response, an international survey on pork consumption has found.

Seven out of 10 people questioned said they found the manner in which pigs are reared for slaughter on some factory farms “upsetting”, “wrong” or “shocking”, after being shown photographs of some pig-keeping conditions in the online poll. The survey highlighted practices such as sows kept in small cages, antibiotic use, as well as tail-docking, teeth-grinding and castration, sometimes without pain relief.

Eight out of 10 shoppers surveyed in more than ten countries agreed that high welfare for pigs was important, and nearly nine of out of 10 in three key countries said they could be persuaded to shop at a supermarket committed to improving the lives of pigs.

However, fewer than one in three shoppers in most countries polled said they actively looked for labels on pork products indicating the animals had been reared in high-welfare conditions, and the great majority of those surveyed globally cited price, quality and appearance as more important in choosing which pork products to eat.

The survey was carried out on behalf of World Animal Protection, and involved interviews with nearly 10,000 consumers worldwide, including the UK, the US and China, all major consumers of pork products, by the polling company Voodoo. About 1,000 interviews were conducted in each country in the report.

World Animal Protection, a campaigning organisation, called on major supermarkets to pledge higher pig welfare in sourcing their meat, and urged consumers to demand change from retailers. Steve McIvor, chief executive, said: “Supermarkets hold the power to create better lives for pigs. We are encouraging customers of leading supermarkets to let them know they expect higher welfare standards for pork products, with the guarantee that pigs are raised right.”

The group wants pigs to be allowed to live in social groups in comfortable environments, with opportunities to express natural behaviour, and an end to practices such as those highlighted in the survey: sows in small cages, pigs kept in “dark, squalid warehouses and cramped, stressful conditions”, piglets having their teeth ground and tail docked without anaesthetic, and the overuse of antibiotics.

Consumer concerns over poor conditions for many pigs was outlined in the UK recently in the BBC programme Countryfile, in which a farmer showed pigs being reared in cages, provoking furious responses on social media both from those shocked by what they saw and defenders of intensive farming for enabling cheaper meat.

Changing buying habits among consumers may be a challenge, as most surveyed do not currently base their consumption on welfare considerations and many showed little awareness of key aspects of pig-rearing.

Minimum standards such as the space in which sows are kept and basic restrictions on antibiotics are enforced in countries such as Europe but are not enough, according to campaigners, while the rearing of pigs in “mega-farms” in which they rarely have access to the outdoors is on the increase.

Some supermarkets around the world have already committed to higher welfare standards. From July, for instance, the Co-op in the UK will source all of its own-brand fresh pork, bacon, sausage, gammon and ham from outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA-assured farms.

Jo Whitfield, the retail chief executive of Co-op, said: “The highest animal welfare standards should not just be the preserve of top-tier products and we want to ensure that the very best-quality British pork is available at everyday affordable prices.”

On outdoor-bred farms, piglets and their mothers have access to the outdoors for about four to six weeks from birth. After that, they can be reared indoors. In outdoor-reared systems, the pigs have access to fields for about half their lives.

Contact us with your stories and thoughts at animalsfarmed@theguardian.com

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