The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene. This week's edition includes:
- ArcelorMittal agrees to clean up contaminated Lake Michigan site
- Latinos’ attitudes toward the environment
- Rainforest havens at risk
- Fracking: who’s in control?
- Texans poisoned by oil and gas facilities
- Utilities spend millions on attacking EPA action while deaths accumulate
- Murder of environmental activists
- Oil company threatens 284 remaining beluga whales
- Oil dispersants disrupt the ocean food chain
Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
ArcelorMittal agrees to clean up contaminated Lake Michigan site
Steelmaker ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor has agreed to clean up a site near Lake Michigan and the Dunes National Lakeshore that it contaminated with industrial waste, according to the July 25 Save the Dunes eNews.
The waste is composed of 1.8 million tons of secondary wastewater treatment plant sludge; 870,000 million tons of blast furnace filter waste dumped adjacent to the Indiana Harbor; a 24-acre waste pile with sludge from the mill’s blast furnace, basic oxygen furnace and sinter plant located within 200 feet of Lake Michigan; and several hundred tons a year of newly generated wastes from the mill’s current operations.
The settlement is the result of a legal challenge by Save the Dunes and the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) with ArcelorMittal and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management “requiring one of the largest steel mills in North America to properly manage, control, monitor and clean up more than 3 million tons of toxic steel-making waste at its Burns Harbor facility,” according to the email.
Save the Dunes and HEC contended that the company’s dumping violated the federal Resource Conservation ad Recovery Act and Indiana’s solid waste management laws, which prohibit open dumping of solid waste.
“By bringing this challenge,” said Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, “we arrived at an agreement that protects one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.”
Latinos’ attitudes toward the environment
The fastest growing population in the country, Latinos are enthusiastic environmentalists, according to a new study done by the Sierra Club and National Council of La Raza and reported in the Aug. 1 issue of Coming Clean, the blog of Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
The study had five outstanding findings:
- “Overall, Latinos are strongly pro-environment.”
- “Nearly all Latino voters (91 percent) view outdoor activities as important to their way of life and support environmental safeguards that protect their family, community, and culture.”
- Many Latinos live or work near toxic sites and therefore distrust polluters.
- Latinos overwhelmingly prefer clean energy to fossil fuels and see jobs associated with clean energy.
- “Nine in 10 Latino voters believe that global climate change is already happening or will happen in the future.”
As the blog points out, Latino communities have been in the forefront of fights against incinerators and toxic dumps for many years and led the fight for California’s climate law (Proposition 23).
Rainforest havens at risk
Rainforest areas established to protect the diverse species that live there are threatened by the habitat destruction and deforestation taking place outside those areas, according to a July 27 Independent article.
“The health of protected tropical forests and their rich wildlife, from exotic frogs and freshwater fish to tigers and forest elephants, is on the brink of collapse, researchers have warned,” the post said.
The biodiversity of rainforests has declined over the last 20 or 30 years, and the decline has adversely affected the wildlife reserves.
The study, which analyzed data from 36 countries with wildlife havens, found that half the havens were affected by the destruction outside their borders.
"Tropical forests are the biologically richest real estate on the planet, and they're rapidly falling before the bulldozer and chainsaw,” said Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University in Australia, one of more than 200 scientists who participated in the study. "Protected areas are quickly becoming the final refuges for many species and ecosystems, and we need to know if they're going to do their job of preserving tropical nature."
In the half of the havens that aren’t doing well, he said, “it’s striking how sweeping the declines in biodiversity tend to be. It’s not just one or a few groups but whole suites of forest-dependent species that are declining.”
Fracking: who’s in control?
Wherever fracking is used to produce natural gas, the issue of who should have control over it, states or localities, comes up.
“A Pennsylvania court overturned key parts of the state's new natural gas development law that would have stripped municipalities of zoning rights and handed state agencies sole authority to determine where the controversial practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing should occur,” according to a July 26 Los Angeles Times article.
Critics of the law, Act 13, say it would have forced municipalities to permit fracking wherever a company wanted, without taking into consideration the proximity of houses, schools and waterways, the post says.
The law, according to the post, would have allowed the oil and gas industries in Pennsylvania to be exempt from local zoning ordinances.
"States are failing to protect communities from fracking and its various impacts, so the only place people can turn to is local government," said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, an environmental advocacy group, says the post.
Texans poisoned by oil and gas facilities
Texans are suffering from cancer, respiratory ailments, kidney disease and other ailments they claim are from exposure to toxic chemicals from industrial sources in their communities.
“Flares, leaking pipelines and tanks emitted 92,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the air during accidents, break-downs and maintenance at Texas oil and gas facilities, refineries and petrochemical plants over the past three years, finds a report released today by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, EIP,” according to the July 18 Environmental News Service.
Those emissions are in addition to those from normal operations and consisted of 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 50,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, the post says.
“Community groups, including the EIP, notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that they will take the agency to court if it fails to crack down on this toxic pollution,” the post says.
Currently EPA doesn’t include emissions of sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds in the data it uses to initiate regulation or assess public health effects.
The communities affected see the issue as one of environmental justice because the pollution is being emitted in low-income and minority communities.
“The Clean Air Act makes polluters strictly liable for their mistakes, but loopholes in regulations either excuse violations that result from malfunctions altogether, or allow polluters to escape penalties by claiming that such mishaps are beyond the control of plant operators,” the post says. "As a result, federal or state agencies rarely even investigate these events, much less take enforcement action."
Utilities spend millions on attacking EPA action while deaths accumulate
While eight utility companies spent millions opposing EPA’s Clean Air Act, their coal-fired power plants caused almost 10,400 deaths and nearly $78 billion in health care costs, according to a news release from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Pollutants from coal plants contribute to four of the five main causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory diseases -- the news release quotes Dr. Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“In ‘The Price of Pollution Politics,’ NRDC links the 2010 to 2012 lobbying expenditures and litigation to the pollution and associated health impacts of these utilities: AEP, (Columbus, OH); Ameren, (Collinsville, IL); DTE Energy, (Detroit); Energy Future Holdings, (Dallas); FirstEnergy, (Akron, OH); GenOn, (Houston); PPL, (Allentown, PA); and Southern Company, (Atlanta, GA). The analysis estimates health impacts based on 2011 emissions reported to the Environmental Protection Agency,” the news release says.
Besides the deaths, the utility companies were responsible for about 65,000 asthma attacks, 6,600 hospital and emergency room visits, and 3.4 million lost workdays.
”The ‘Gang of Eight’ utilities are putting their profits over protecting kids and communities from deadly and dangerous air pollution,” said Pete Altman, climate and clean air campaign director at NRDC. “Without these health protections from the Clean Air Act, we will see more premature deaths, asthma attacks and other illnesses every year, together with billions of dollars in estimated health costs that go with them. We want to see these companies focus their money on cleaning up pollution rather than using litigation and lobbying to delay important improvements in clean air protections.”
Murder of environmental activists
In 2011, environmental activists – campaigners, community leaders and journalists -- were killed at the rate of more than two per week around the world, according to a June 18 Raw Story article.
More than half the murders occurred in Brazil, although the number decreased slightly last year, perhaps since “dozens of activists and informers are now under state protection,” according to the post.
Most of the deaths in Brazil were associated with illegal forest clearance by loggers and farmers in the Amazon and other remote regions.
The Philippines saw four activists killed in May.
“Though Brazil, Peru and Colombia have reported high rates of killing in the past 10 years,” the post says, “this is partly because they are relatively transparent about the problem thanks to strong civil society groups, media organisations and church groups – notably the Catholic Land Commission in Brazil – which can monitor such crimes. Under-reporting is thought likely in China and Central Asia, which have more closed systems, said the report. The full picture has still to emerge.”
In December the UN special rapporteur on human rights said activists “working on land and environmental issues in connection with extractive industries and construction and development projects in the Americas … face the highest risk of death as result of their human rights activities.”
Oil company threatens 284 remaining beluga whales
Four years ago, the Barack Obama administration placed the 284 remaining beluga whales on the endangered species list and designated 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet, Alaska, as “critical habitat,” yet today the administration has okayed practices that would injure or kill those whales, according to a recent email from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The administration has approved Apache Alaska Corporation’s use of airguns to explore for oil and gas in the Cook Inlet.
The corporation plans to set off sonic blasts every 10 to 12 seconds for three to five years. Such blasts can deafen, injure and kill whales.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service predicts that the airguns will harm at least 30 belugas during the first year of Apache’s operations alone,” the email says. “After three years, those harmed would equal one third of all the Cook Inlet belugas left on Earth.”
Cook Inlet is the whales’ only home.
“It’s outrageous that the Obama Administration would allow Apache to proceed with this potentially lethal operation in the midst of whale habitat the government is supposed to be protecting,” the email says.
You can send a protest letter here.
Oil dispersants disrupt the ocean food chain
New findings from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama show that the oil dispersants BP used in the Gulf of Mexico are disturbing the marine food chain, according to a July 31 Local 15 TV article.
The smallest fish eat phytoplankton, but "by applying dispersants to break up the oil, the phytoplankton become nonexistent in the food chain," said Rob Condon, who works at the lab.
This is the first time dispersants have been studied closely.
“It could be removing the link between the really small things and the really big things," said Alice Ortmann, another scientist working on the project, “and that means it's cutting off the food supply."
According to Ortmann, their samples demonstrated that the dispersants had worse effects than the oil.
The chemicals' long-term effects on larger sea life have yet to be seen, according to the post.
A project in progress at the lab is a study on the oil spill’s effects on oxygen levels in the Gulf.
Linda Greene is a freelance writer and activist in Bloomington. She can be reached at email@example.com.