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Chesapeake Bay to Go on Pollution Diet

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled a restoration plan for the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.

EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin called the agreement with six states and the District of Columbia “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation” and possibly “number one or number two” in the world, the Washington Post reported.

The comprehensive plan applies to the following areas in the bay’s watershed: Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. All the states and the District submitted individual plans this fall addressing how they hoped to slash pollution runoff into the bay by 2025. EPA compiled these proposals in its plan.

Pollution from farm, urban, and suburban runoff have stifled oxygen levels in the 200-mile-long estuary and harmed fish and oyster populations.

Garvin said EPA may have to “place additional controls on permanent sources of pollution” to counterbalance three potentially problematic areas: New York wastewater treatment, West Virginia’s agricultural sector, and Pennsylvania’s stormwater treatment.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution by imposing total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on areas in the estuary’s watershed.

Opponents of the new pollution measures say they will give farmers, developers, and local officials unneeded costs and difficulties. Environmentalists counter that the plan will bring economic benefits to the bay by boosting tourism and fishing.

“This is a very historic moment in the history, and the future, of the Chesapeake Bay,” Garvin told the press.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Gulf Oil Rig Explosion Caused by Collapse of Defenses, Report Finds

The oil rig explosion that left millions of gallons of crude streaming into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th occurred because all of the Deepwater Horizon’s defenses against a blowout failed, the New York Times reported Sunday.

The Times collected interviews with 21 Horizon crew members, accounts of the 94 survivors who escaped the disaster, and documents describing the rig’s operations in order to perform a comprehensive investigation of the tragedy that spurred the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The newspaper found that failure to prepare for the worst combined with the complexity of the Horizon’s defenses contributed to the disaster.

Much of the crew was unaware of the crisis for nine minutes as the drilling crew fought the blowout, the Times said.

Crew members were paralyzed by the complexity of the rig’s defenses and could not coordinate a response. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons, the paper noted.

While Transocean had provided the crew with a handbook detailing how to respond to a blowout, the emergency protocols called for rapid action while advising against overreaction.

Posted in Drilling for Oil, Environmental Disasters, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Gas Prices Will Rise to $5 by 2012, Shell Exec Warns

Gas prices will climb to $5 and rationing will be necessary by 2012 if ineffective governing continues, a former Shell executive said Tuesday.

John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, told the Platts news service that political indecision could lead to all-time high prices at the pump and national shortages as soon as a year down the road.

“The politically driven choices that are being made, which are non-choices, essentially frittering at the edges of renewable energy, stifling production in hydrocarbon energy — that’s a sure path for not enough energy for American consumers,” Hofmeister said, according to UPI.

He predicted that lawmakers will panic when they “suddenly” realize they need to rework the U.S. energy strategy around 2012.

“When American consumers are short or prices are so high — $5 a gallon for gasoline, for example, by 2012 — that’s going to set a new tone,” he added.

Hofmeister also expects that the newly Republican-controlled House will make for political gridlock in 2011, fixing energy dependency on hydrocarbons and preventing the exploration of sustainable methods.

The national average price of unleaded gasoline rose Tuesday to $3.049 per gallon, up from $3.042 Monday, AAA said. Oil was up 10 cents at $91.03 a barrel on the Nymex.

Posted in Biofuels & Biomass, Energy Industry, Natural Gas, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Rockefeller Asks Obama Administration for Mining Accident Update

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., has requested that the government update the families of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims on the ongoing federal investigation of the accident.

The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has not provided the families of the 29 miners with any information since September, Rockefeller said in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

“Three months is too long for these families to wait for information,” Rockefeller wrote, according to The Associated Press. “I request that MSHA meet with these families as soon as possible, and that you provide me with the expected date that this briefing will occur. Further, I would also request an update on the status of MSHA’s investigation, including when we can expect the investigation to be completed.”

The April 5 disaster occurred 1,000 feet underground in a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was the deadliest mining accident in the U.S. since 1970.

In addition to MSHA’s civil investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a criminal probe. Massey Energy denies responsibility for the accident, claiming the blast was caused by an unexpected overflow of natural gas. MSHA has largely rejected this explanation, AP reports.

The agency announced that it plans to meet with the families after the holidays.

“Our response to Senator Rockefeller’s letter will provide additional details, including an outline of our ongoing efforts to keep the victims’ families up to date on the status of the investigation,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

Posted in Coal, Minerals & Mining, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

Texas Farmers, Pecan Growers Blame Vegetation Death on Power Plant

Environmentalists, scientists, plant specialists, and farmers say that sulfur dioxide from a Texas coal-fired power plant is causing extensive swaths of vegetation death in the region.

Pecan growers have reported plant devastation near the Fayette Power Project, a 30-year-old facility in Ellinger, Texas. They say the power plant, which is operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, emits sulfur dioxide that has caused thousands of trees to die and nut production to steadily plummet.

“There was an environmental catastrophe,” local horticulturalist Jim Berry told MSNBC.

“It wasn’t just the pecan groves,” he said. “It was the entire ecosystem that was under duress.”

Sulfur dioxide has been known to kill plants in other parts of the country, AP reports.

The Lower Colorado River Authority claims that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the plant is responsible for the dying trees, blaming the damage on recent droughts instead.

The Environmental Protection Agency toured some of the farms and is currently reviewing data, AP reports.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Industrial Pollution, Plants, Algae, & Fungi (Botany)0 Comments

Stephen Baldwin Sues Kevin Costner over BP Oil Machine

Stephen Baldwin is suing fellow actor Kevin Costner over their investments in a machine that BP used to separate oil from water.

Baldwin reportedly owned 10 percent of the Costner-backed company that made oil-separating centrifuges. A federal lawsuit filed in New Orleans, Louisiana Wednesday alleges that Costner and his business partners “schemed” to get Baldwin to sell back his shares of an $18 million deal for BP to purchase the devices in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Costner’s representatives declined to comment, AP reported.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Posted in Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Environmental Disasters, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

EPA Takes Over Texas Carbon Emission Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced its plans to take over carbon dioxide permitting of any new power plants and refineries in Texas, citing the state’s refusal to comply with emissions regulations going into effect Jan. 2.

Texas industries have openly opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Air Act, a program designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They claim that the cuts will threaten productivity, and that the economy, in turn, will take a hit.

The EPA said Thursday that it was reassuming the state’s Clean Air Act Permits because “officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program,” The Associated Press reported.

“EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources,” the agency said in a statement. “In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas).”

The EPA constructed a framework for carbon emissions regulations in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming.

The agency also devised a timetable for establishing the cuts for all U.S. facilities and power plants. It plans to propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions beginning in July for powerplants and for oil refineries by December. The standards will be finalized in May 2012 for powerplants and November 2012 for refineries.

Gov. Rick Perry spokeswoman spoke out against the EPA’s decision to directly issue air permits in Texas.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families,” Cesinger said, according to the San Antonio Express.

An estimated 167 new or expanding projects would be subject to the EPA takeover. Texas lays claim to more oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants than any other state and produces the most greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the country, AP reports.

The new carbon emissions standards were adopted after a 2007 Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be classified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and EPA research in 2009 revealed that the gases have a harmful effect on human health.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Coal, Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Global Warming, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Ozone, Policies, Pollution Prevention0 Comments

United Nations Building Evacuated Due to Suspicious Odor

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly were forced to evacuate the U.N. building Tuesday because of a “suspicious” odor, Reuters reported.

Security officials first told the press that there was a gas leak in the Manhattan compound. But spokesman Farhan Haq said he could not confirm that was the case.

Haq said the evacuation was just a precautionary measure. “We are currently trying to identify the odor with local authorities,” he told reporters crowded outside the building.

The smell was later blamed on a sewage backup caused by high tides in the nearby East River.

“This is not a hazard, there were gases released by the sewage but it is not harmful,” Haq told reporters. “Public tours and General Assembly meetings should be able to resume by tomorrow.”

The U.N. compound is currently undergoing a $2 billion refurbishment. The Security Council has been meeting in the basement of the 39-story Secretariat building during renovations, and repairs have not begun for the adjoining General Assembly building, which is still being used.

Posted in Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, International Relations & Treaties, Organizations0 Comments

Hexavalent Chromium Carcinogen Found in Tap Water of Most Cities

Hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical at the center of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” was found present in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested in a recent survey.

The findings, released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, are the first study of hexavalent chromium to be made public.

Researchers with the advocacy group have released the study at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is debating whether to set a cap on the “probable carcinogen”‘s levels in tap water, the Washington Post reports.

Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president of research, says the toxin has been linked to stomach cancer and leukemia along with other health problems, CBS News reported Monday.

Hexavelent chromium, also known as chromium-6, originates as refuse from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, EWG said in a statement. It can also contaminate tap water through erosion of natural deposits.

The carcinogen first came into the public eye in 1993, when Erin Brockovich famously sued Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. The lawsuit eventually yielded $333 million in damages.

Today, the highest levels of chromium-6 can be found in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif., EWG claimed.

“Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking water laced with this cancer-causing chemical,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D said in the statement. “If the EPA required local water utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day.”

With regulations on the water supply possibly in the works, what can consumers do to reduce their intake of the toxin?

“With levels this high, it’s critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water,” Houlihan told CBS News. Unfortunately, inexpensive carbon filters commonly found in filtration pitchers and faucet attachments don’t do much to remove chromium-6. Reverse osmosis filtration systems should do the trick, but they can cause hundreds of dollars.

There are no legal restrictions for hexavalent chromium in bottled water, so plastic water bottles may not be a safe option either.

“It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” Brockovich said in EWG’s statement. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”

Posted in Carcinogens, Chemicals, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Policies, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

Ethanol Fuel Additive Law Brings Automakers to Appeals Court

U.S. carmakers and engine manufacturers have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its decision to allow the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

The EPA ruled on Oct. 13th that filling stations could start selling gasoline containing more of the corn-based additive for vehicles built in 2007 or later. The current blend contains 10 percent ethanol.

The various organizations Monday asked a federal appeals court in Washington to review the October decision. They claim the approval of the E15 blend violates the Clean Air Act, and that the fuel could damage engines.

“We want to be sure that any new fuel will not increase air pollution, harm engines or endanger consumer safety,” Michael J. Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, said in a joint statement with the other members of the Engine Products Group, according to BusinessWeek.

The Renewable Fuels Association,  an ethanol trade group, said the EPA should have allowed E15 for more models.

“The only way to meet the nation’s energy, economic and environmental goals as put forth in the Renewable Fuels Standard is to increase ethanol consumption,” the group said in a statement.

The suit, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 10-1414, was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Policies0 Comments

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