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By Emily Atkin on March 21, 2014 at 10:21 am
Photographs show Duke personnel using a portable water pump to empty its 1978 coal ash pond. The plant’s Clean Water Act permit only authorizes discharges when the pond level overtops the vertical discharge pipe visible in the photo, in order to reduce discharges of toxic solids in the effluent.
North Carolina regulators on Thursday cited Duke Energy for illegally and deliberately dumping 61 million gallons of toxic coal ash waste into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water for several cities and towns in the state.
The incident marks the eighth time in less than a month that the company has been accused of violating environmental regulations. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Duke — notorious for the February Dan River disaster which saw 82,000 tons of coal ash released into state waters — was taking bright blue wastewater from two of its coal ash impoundments and running it through hoses into a nearby canal and drain pipe.
Duke is reportedly permitted to discharge treated wastewater from the ash ponds into the canal, but only if they are filtered through so-called “risers,” pipes that allow heavier residue in the water to settle out. DENR told ABC News on Thursday that Duke’s pumping bypassed the risers.
“We’re concerned with the volume of water that was pumped and the manner it was pumped,” DENR Communications Director Drew Elliot told ABC. “It did not go through the treatment facility as it should have.”
Duke’s most recent incident was discovered after the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance last week released aerial surveillance photos taken from a fixed-wing aircraft that showed Duke workers pumping wastewater from the two toxic coal ash lagoons into a canal.
Waterkeeper Alliance tried to go to the source of the pollution via boat but were warned off by plant employees and a policeman, so they resorted to aerial surveillance, as seen in this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
The toxic water that Duke allegedly dumped is a byproduct of coal ash, a waste product from coal-fired power plants. Coal plants generate millions of tons of waste every year, and that waste is contaminated with toxic metals including lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, and selenium. More than two-thirds of that waste — called coal ash — is dumped into landfills, storage ponds, or old mines.
The news is just the latest in a string of environmental violations surrounding Duke in the last few months. But Duke is not the only North Carolina entity that has been engaging in questionable conduct. DENR itself has earned a good deal of mistrust from environmentalists in no small part due to its questionable handling Duke’s many serious environmental violations. The U.S. Justice Department has recently opened a criminal investigation into DENR due to its handing of the February Dan River spill, questioning the relationship between the agency and Duke — a company that also was a 28-year employer of Gov. Pat McCrory.
In addition, emails obtained by the Associated Press last week suggested staff at DENR were coordinating with Duke Energy officials before intervening in a suit by citizen groups against the company.
The state has also been in the spotlight in past years for its climate change denial, most notably marked by a law passed in 2012 to stop the use of climate-related science to plan for future events. Specifically, that law forces coastal counties to ignore observations and the best science-based projections in planning for future sea level rise.
And the Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury it.
—By Mariah Blake
| March/April 2014 Issue
Photographs by Evan Kafka
Update (3/3/14): After this story went to press, the US Food and Drug Administration published a paper finding that BPA was safe in low doses. However, the underlying testing was done on a strain of lab rat known as the Charles River Sprague Dawley, which doesn't readily respond to synthetic estrogens, such as BPA. And, due to laboratory contamination, all of the animals—including the control group—were exposed to this chemical. Academic scientists say this raises serious questions about the study's credibility. Stay tuned for more in-depth reporting on the shortcomings of the FDA's most recent study.
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green's home: He'd slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she'd howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette's sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is 'standing on a precipice'
The Observer, Saturday 8 February 2014
On 17 January, scientists downloaded fresh data from a pair of Nasa satellites and distributed the findings among the small group of researchers who track the world's water reserves. At the University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti looked over the data from the gravity-sensing Grace satellites with a rising sense of dread.
The data, released last week, showed California on the verge of an epic drought, with its backup systems of groundwater reserves so run down that the losses could be picked up by satellites orbiting 400km above the Earth's surface.
"It was definitely an 'oh my gosh moment'," Famiglietti said. "The groundwater is our strategic reserve. It's our backup, and so where do you go when the backup is gone?"
That same day, the state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency and appealed to Californians to cut their water use by 20%. "Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.
Seventeen rural communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 days and that number is expected to rise, after the main municipal water distribution system announced it did not have enough supplies and would have to turn off the taps to local agencies.
There are other shock moments ahead – and not just for California – in a world where water is increasingly in short supply because of growing demands from agriculture, an expanding population, energy production and climate change.
Listen to Federman speak about his reporting on corporate and state spying on environmentalists today on the radio show Making Contact.
In 2010 the American Petroleum Institute (API) paid the global intelligence firm Stratfor more than $13,000 a month for weekly intelligence bulletins profiling activist organizations and their campaigns on everything from energy and climate change to tax policy and human rights, according to documents published by WikiLeaks in 2012.
Photo by Greenpeace FinlandThe weekly reports provided details on a wide range of environmental organizations including Greenpeace, NRDC, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. API was interested in anticipating which groups might be out to “attack” them.
API’s tracking of environmental organizations comes as the oil and gas industry faces a kind of existential crisis — or public relations dilemma, depending on your point of view — in how to address climate change and related issues. Even as some of API’s own members are inching toward compromise on relatively modest proposals like cap and trade legislation the lobbying group seems to be fighting a rearguard battle.
by Jason Mark – January 9, 2014
Twenty-first Century Conservation Corps gets off the ground
I’ll admit that in the grand scheme of Washington politics, the news yesterday out of the Department of the Interior isn’t exactly earthshaking. During a news conference at the FDR Memorial in DC, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that retailer American Eagle Outfitters will contribute $1 million to her effort to create a “Twenty-first Century Conservation Corps” that will, as a DOI press release explains, “put America’s youth and veterans to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s natural and cultural resources.”
photo of children and a woman looking at grass seeds outdoorsphoto by Tina Shaw / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on FlickrSecretary Sally Jewell helped Minneapolis second graders collect native prairie seeds
during her visit to Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Maybe it’s not as headline generating as the Chris Christie contretemps, but for people who care about the environment, it’s the start of something potentially big. Here’s why.
The environmental movement faces a serious challenge. More people are more disconnected from natural systems than at any other time in the history of humanity. The reasons and evidence for this are so obvious that they hardly bear repeating. In short, most of us live in vast urban areas where the rhythms and patterns of wild nature are almost totally obscured. Nor do we have much interaction with what I would call “pastoral nature,” meaning agricultural landscapes. I think it’s fair to say that most Americans couldn’t tell a spruce from a hemlock, or an adolescent cabbage from an adolescent beet. In our post-industrial world, such knowledge is superfluous. If all of your basic needs are met through the modern magic of fossil fuels and industrial farming, then it’s easy to ignore nonhuman nature, to forget that it even exists.
Sunday, 17 November 2013 00:20 By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | News
(Image: Locally grown via Shutterstock)
According to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the number of women-operated farms more than doubled in the 25 years between 1982 and 2007. In fact, female farmers now make up the fastest-growing sector of the country's changing agricultural landscape and nearly 1 million women - approximately one-third of total domestic farmers - list farming as their primary occupation. The National Women in Agriculture Association calls it "breaking the grass ceiling." It's that and more.
Some are choosing to farm as a way of maintaining continuity, tending land that has been in their families for decades. Others, however, are choosing farming for many different reasons, among them the desire to do something concrete, constructive and quickly gratifying; to tweak gender norms; or simply to have better control over their work lives. Many see their efforts as overtly political.
"Women are leading the way in sustainable and organic agriculture," Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers' Coalition told Truthout. Although she works for the Coalition full time, as co-owner of the Healthy Roots Community Farm in Tivoli, New York - 100 miles north of the city - she is involved intimately in all aspects of growing fruits and vegetables in a sustainable manner.
A Midwesterner whose grandfather farmed, Lusher Shute's career was launched in Brooklyn, New York, where she helped create the East Williamsburg Community Garden in 2002. "We grew vegetables, ornamental plants and flowers," she begins. "I loved the interface between gardening and the community. The community started out divided between residents who'd been there for a long time and newcomers, but the opportunity to work together on something to beautify the neighborhood led to friendships that might not have happened otherwise. We held weekly barbecues, and the garden became a place to work out community tensions and problems."
Lusher Shute, now 34, ultimately left Brooklyn, married had children and moved upstate. Nonetheless, the desire to farm led her and her farmer spouse to buy 70 acres of farmland. "It is critical for farms to ring cities," she said. "We employ eight or nine people, some of them year-round and some seasonal, and grow vegetables and produce eggs for a community-supported agriculture program that runs 22 weeks a year."
As Lusher Shute speaks, her enthusiasm and pride are obvious. "For me, farming is an amazing career. It allows you to be an entrepreneur and offers flexibility. I like being able to put high-quality, healthy food in the hands of people. It's something you can feel good about. It's a way to give back and at the same time earn a paycheck."
But this is not to say that it is easy. "Over the next 20 years, 70 percent of the nation's farmland will change hands," she said. "At this point the social circles you see farmers running in are largely male. They're typically very buddy-buddy and may never think to involve younger female farmers. It's hard to know why, if it's gender-driven discrimination or if they've just known each other forever and are comfortable doing what they've always done. Plus, the young people may want to do things differently."
In addition to being ignored or greeted with overtly sexist derision, Lusher Shute reports that a lot of young farm women are working hard to figure out how best to balance parenthood with their work lives. Indeed, the Young Farmers' discussion board is filled with questions, concerns and suggestions about achieving an effective balance. A closed thread called "Moms and Dad/baby wearing on the farm" includes Emily's post: "Instead of carting my screaming child out into the field where we'll both be uncomfortable, I've decided to take over more of the business end of things," she wrote. "And God knows, there are tons of things to be done on that end of the farm operation - applying for grants, responding to emails, keeping up the website and blog, writing our newsletters, organizing our CSA, hiring interns and staff. Although it's been really hard to be out of the field, I have come to the conclusion that all the other stuff is essential to running our farm and I'm grateful to have enough flexibility to be able to tailor a role with my son in mind."
While some might see this as falling into traditional gender roles - with mom in the house and dad on the tiller - 30-year-old Debbie Weingarten, one of four co-owners of the 15-acre Sleeping Frog Farms in Cascabel, Arizona, notes that for her, the decision to focus on business tasks was driven by pragmatism. "My son is 30 months old, and I have had a very difficult time trying to integrate him into my farm responsibilities. He has been a difficult sleeper, which has left me pretty sleep-deprived and not operating on all cylinders. I also have a 7-year-old stepson who we are homeschooling, which further splits my time. As my journey into motherhood has progressed, I've found it easier to take care of the backbone of the business."
Like Emily, Weingarten answers emails, organizes the farm's CSA and develops fliers and promotional materials. But she also makes deliveries, milks the goats, and runs their farmers market. "In between I raise my children," she wrote in an email. "I definitely see this as becoming more of a central conversation between women as more young families become involved in agriculture." That said, Weingarten admits that the stress - worry over uncontrollable things like the weather as well as fear of a pest infestation or CSA closure - can impact the household in negative ways.