Category: Environmental

Trump administration suggests hunting elephants will save them from extinction 

The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

In the Friday notice, FWS said it had determined that Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts for elephants are sufficient to protect the population and that hunting fees benefit conservation, both necessary factors in allowing trophy imports.

“The Service is able to make a determination that the killing of trophy animals in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, will enhance the survival of the African elephant,” the agency wrote.

“With the information currently available, applications to import trophies hunted during this time period will be considered to have met this requirement unless we issue a new finding based on available information.”
The Trump administration also lifted the Obama administration’s ban on African elephant trophies from Zambia. But officials are not obligated to publish a Federal Register notice on that.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Thursday that the policies had been made final.

“There hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” she told reporters. “Until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final.”

But Interior Department spokesman Russell Newell, whose agency includes FWS, confirmed Friday that both the Zimbabwe and Zambia elephant decisions are now final.

African elephants are considered both by FWS and by international conservation officials to be threatened species.

“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s advocacy arm, said in a statement.

Keystone pipeline leak spills 200,000 gallons of oil 

TransCanada, the company that owns and operates the Keystone Pipeline, says that an estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil have spilled near the small town of Amherst, S.D.
The cause of the leak is under investigation, according to the company’s website. TransCanada crews detected a drop in pressure at about 6 a.m. CT Thursday morning and shut down the pipeline, which runs from Hardesty, Alberta, to Cushing, Okla., and Wood River/Patoka, Ill.

Amherst is about 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, S.D., and about 25 miles from the state’s border with North Dakota.

The conduit is not the controversial and long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline that TransCanada is still shepherding through the approval process.

“TransCanada cannot be trusted,” said Jane Kleeb, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a longtime activist opposed to Keystone XL, as quoted by the Washington Post.

“I have full confidence that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is going to side with Nebraskans, not a foreign oil company,” she added.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the company was aware of the spill at about 5:30 a.m. CT. But his agency wasn’t alerted until about 10:30 a.m. CT.

“There is a time lag there and I expect that that will be some of the questions we need to answer over the coming months,” he told Jeff.

In its statement, TransCanada said, “The section of pipe along a right-of-way approximately 35 miles (56 kilometres) south of the Ludden pump station in Marshall County, South Dakota was completely isolated with 15 minutes and emergency procedures were activated.”

The spill occurred about 3 miles southeast of Amherst on private land, which Walsh described as a “flat, grassy area for grazing.” The company tweeted a picture of the site late Thursday.

The company says that it is providing state and federal regulators “with accurate and confirmed information on an ongoing basis.”

Radioactive boars found in Sweden after Cherynobl nuclear fall out 

Fears are growing in Sweden over packs of radioactive wild boar moving north across the country.  One animal shot by hunters was found to have more than 10 times the safe level of radiation. 
The high radiation levels — which come 31 years after the Chernobyl disaster sent a cloud of radioactive dust over Sweden — have left hunters afraid to kill and eat the animals. 

Ulf Frykman, who works for the environmental consultancy Calluna, this week issued an alert to local hunters in the country of Gävle, about 100 miles north of Stockholm, warning them of “extremely high” radiation levels among local boar. 

“This is the highest level we’ve ever measured,” he told the Telegraph, after testing an animal in Tärnsjö, a village between the cities of Uppsala and Gävle, with a radiation level of 16,000 becquerel per kilogram (Bq/kg).
Of the 30 samples of boar his team have tested this year, only six have been below the safe limit of 1,500 Bq/kg. 

As the soil in some areas north of Tärnsjö are more than twice as contaminated, radiation levels among boar are only expected to rise. 

Wild boars’ feeding habits mean they have a greater exposure to the iodine and caesium-137 left by the 1986 disaster than other game animals. 

“Wild boar root around in the earth searching for food, and all the caesium stays in the ground,” Mr Frykman explained. “If you look at deer and elk, they eat up in the bushes and you do not have not so much caesium there.” 

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine released roughly four hundred times more radioactive material than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 

Areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were the worst hit, but a cloud of radioactive particles also drifted over central and northern Sweden and it was workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power plant, near Gävle, who were the first to raise the alarm internationally. Wild boar populations in other parts of Europe, such as Germany, have also been contaminated with radioactivity in the aftermath of Chernobyl.

Thousands flee Mt. Agung, as volcanic earthquakes are being reported

Residents, tourists and climbers are being told to stay far away from Mount Agung, a large volcano in Bali where hundreds of shallow volcanic earthquakes have been recorded in recent days. The volcano’s last eruption, in 1963, killed more than 1,000 people.
The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation raised the alarm on Friday.

“The disaster mitigation agency said 48,540 people had fled and the number was expected to rise because more than 60,000 people lived in the danger zone,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Agung is the highest point in Bali. An eruption would likely bring deadly threats from a rain of heavy ash, as well as from pyroclastic flares (volcanic stones) and pyroclastic flows (lava).

As the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program reminds us, “A VEI 5 eruption during 1963-64 produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that caused extensive damage and resulted in more than 1,100 deaths.”
The government has imposed a 12 kilometer (7.5 miles) exclusion, or “danger zone” around the volcano, according to the Associated Press. People who live in the area are being warned to prepare masks and other gear that could protect their nose, mouth and eyes.

Gas stations on Florida’s west coast are running out of fuel

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – Gas is becoming harder to find in Tampa Bay, the city on Florida’s west coast that is bracing for impact from Hurricane Irma’s winds and rains.

About 58% of gas stations in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area were without fuel Sunday morning, according to estimates from the crowdsourcing platform GasBuddy.

That’s a 14 percentage point jump from a day earlier.

The latest fuel outages were reported just as Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm.

The storm was initially expected to hit Miami directly. But Irma has shifted, and forecasts now show it moving up the west coast Sunday and Monday, hitting Naples and Fort Meyers before reaching Tampa.

About 49% of gas stations in the Naples-Fort Meyers area were without gas Sunday morning, according to GasBuddy. That’s an improvement over the 61% of outlets that did not have gas Saturday afternoon.

Almost the entire state will feel the storm’s impact. Most of Florida is covered by a hurricane warning that affect about 36 million people.

And gas shortages are happening statewide. Nearly 64% of stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area are out of fuel, according to GasBuddy. In the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce region, that number is about 56%.

Even in Tallahassee, which is about 200 miles northwest of Tampa, more than half of stations don’t have gas.

Some areas of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are also at risk. GasBuddy says 30% of the stations in Jacksonville, Georgia are dry, as are 26% of stations in Savannah.

The gas shortage problem has been made worse because of “panic buying” earlier in the week. Many Florida residents who were unsure of where the storm was headed raced to fill up their tanks.

Another factor: Hurricane Harvey. That storm disrupted fuel deliveries to Florida and other markets when it knocked out swaths of the Gulf Coast’s oil refineries at the end of August.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has tried to mitigate the shortage problem, according to a report by S&P Global Platts. Scott has encouraged gas stations to remain open as long as possible, and has offered up police escorts for fuel delivery trucks shipping gas to stations along evacuation routes.

Even if Floridians find gas, it will probably cost more than they’re used to paying.

The average gallon of gas in Florida sold for $2.73 as of Sunday morning, according to AAA. That’s up from $2.28 a month ago.

— CNNMoney’s Jackie Wattles and Matt Egan contributed to this report.

Pacific Garbage patch updates for the week of 5/14/17.

Pacific Garbage patch

50 floating screens will clean the Pacific garbage patch next year

In a statement released yesterday, the organization has revealed that it plans to start cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in early 2018 using its newly redesigned cleaning system. That garbage patch is the biggest collection of debris in the
Atlanta Journal Constitution

50 plastic-eating machines to clean trash from Pacific Ocean

A Dutch organization is set to install technology systems to remove chunks and chunks of plastic from an infamous part of the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. » RELATED: Can this plastic-eating bug save our planet? The area, also …
Sputnik International

Millions in Donations Allow Ocean Cleanup to Tackle Great Pacific Garbage Patch

… like an artificial coastline, enabling ocean currents to catch and concentrate trash. The company claims the technology, already tested last year in the North Sea, will reduce the theoretical cleanup time of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from

Great barrier dying due to climate change

Two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier reef has been devastated by back-to-back years of “severe” coral bleaching, aerial surveys have found, raising fears that the natural wonder may not fully recover.

While mass bleaching has been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef before, researchers say two events have never occurred in such close proximity.

Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions — such as heightened sea temperatures — push corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae causing them to turn white.

The damage was recorded by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which carried out separate studies over the past two years.

Its 2016 survey found the top third of the reef had experienced the most intense bleaching. But research completed last week recorded more damage along the 1,400 mile long reef’s middle third.

“The combined impact of this back-to-back bleaching stretches for [900 miles], leaving only the southern third unscathed,” ARC director Terry Hughes said Monday.

He said bleaching can be caused by weather patterns such as El Nino as well as higher temperatures driven by global warming.

While the 2016 bleaching was part of a “global event associated with the 2015-2016 El Nino,” this year has more to do with a “very mild winter and [summer] heatwaves” on the east coast of Australia, Hughes said.

Situated on Australia’s north east coast, the Great Barrier Reef was given World Heritage status in 1981.

It is described by the Australian government as one of the world’s natural wonders.

Severe bleaching events have been recorded previously on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and 2002.

Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and algae can recolonize. But experts warn this process can take up to 10 years.

James Kerry, who was part of the aerial survey team, said: “It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”

The researchers also said a section of the reef untouched by the bleaching was damaged by Tropical Cyclone Debbie last month.

But while Hughes said the reef was likely struggling with multiple problems, the most pressing was global warming.

“As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events. One degree Celsius of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years,” Hughes said. “Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing.”

Keystone XL pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs

President Trump hailed the State Department’s approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as a big win for American workers.
“It’s a great day for American jobs,” Trump said from the Oval Office on Friday after the State Department issued a permit allowing the pipeline proposed by TransCanada to go forward.
“Today, we take one more step towards putting the jobs, wages and economic security of American citizens first,” the president said.

TransCanada (TRP) CEO Russell Girling, standing next to Trump, said Keystone XL will “create thousands of jobs.”
The construction of the pipeline would indeed create thousands of jobs. But they will be temporary.
Keystone pipeline would create about 3,900 construction jobs if it was built in one year, according to a State Department report. That number would drop to 1,950 jobs if the Alberta-to-Nebraska pipeline takes two years to build.
The State Department also estimates that about 16,100 additional jobs will be created during the construction via firms awarded contracts for materials and services.
However, once Keystone is completed, only 35 permanent employees would be needed to operate the pipeline along with 15 temporary contractors.
So, the Keystone XL isn’t expected to be a boom for the job market by any stretch.
In addition, those temporary and limited permanent jobs could come at a significant environmental cost. The Canadian oil that would flow through the pipeline is considered among the dirtiest types of crude.
A 2015 study funded by the Department of Energy found that the oil sands from Canada emit 18% more greenhouse gases when processed into gasoline than that processed from traditional U.S. crude. And diesel fuel derived from oil sands emits 21% more of these harmful gases.
That’s why environmentalists remain fiercely opposed to Keystone.
“The dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline is one of the worst deals imaginable for the American people, so of course Donald Trump supports it,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

Keystone still needs approval from state authorities in Nebraska, where some landowners oppose the project and have sued TransCanada.
Asked by Trump when Keystone will start, TransCanada’s Girling said, “We’ve got some work to do in Nebraska.”
Trump responded: “Nebraska? I’ll call Nebraska. Nebraska has a great governor.”

Someone is pouring toxic sludge on toys in Georgia

The Cobb County, Ga., family’s surveillance system captured the person pouring a liquid on 2-year-old Samuel Petka’s toddler slide.
Samuel’s dad, Jeff Petka, first noticed something was wrong Friday as he was in the front yard of his Marietta, Ga., home chatting with a neighbor. Marietta is about 20 miles northwest of Atlanta.
“I saw dark burn marks in our grass in the shape of footprints,” said Petka. “So I decided to go check my camera and I could see that someone walked across my yard at 4:32 a.m. and poured some type of toxic chemical on my child’s slide and luckily he poured it on his shoes and it burned it into the grass and then walked away.”

The black footprints continued until the person reached the street. The person appeared to be wearing a backpack.
“Just so upsetting to think someone would specifically target a child’s toy. It’s unbelievable,” said Kathleen Petka, the boy’s mother.

“It wasn’t just an act of vandalism. He purposely decided to, you know, pick a child’s toy and put toxins on it and walk away,” Jeff Petka said.
The two said Cobb County police took a report and made a copy of the video. Kathleen Petka is eight months pregnant and she’s glad she wasn’t exposed to whatever the substance was.

The Petkas’ neighbors are sharing the video on social media and keeping a close eye on their children and pets.

The GOP Congress killed Obama’s Stream Protection Rule. Now what?

In one of its first acts, the Republican-controlled Congress overturned the Department of the Interior’s recent Stream Protection Rule. Coal companies are thrilled about the change, but some mining communities aren’t quite so sure about it.

The rule was originally designed to address problems with mountaintop removal, a type of mining common in Central Appalachia that has buried over 1,200 miles of rivers and streams. In one of its final environmental moves, the Obama administration expanded the rule to protect streams and other small waterways from the toxic waste created by coal mining.

The rule would have tightened requirements for mining companies through more rigorous permitting, water monitoring and stream restoration requirements. But the mining industry hated it and the GOP Congress wasted little time doing away with it.

Rachel Gleason of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance says the rule was overly broad and could have been used to regulate underground mining, like the kind commonly done in her state. “They expanded it to areas that it should not be expanded to,” Gleason says. “[They] said, ‘It’s a one-size-fits-all for the entire nation.’ That does not work.”

Gleason says her group was worried that the Stream Protection Rule would have restricted the ability of coal companies to mine beneath streams, making it virtually impossible for them to make money mining coal in Pennsylvania.

Erin Savage of the environmental group Appalachian Voices disagrees. “It was a moderate rule,” she says. “It wasn’t some sort of drastic, tree-hugger rule. It was updating an existing rule based on current science. … In laymen’s terms, basically, [mining companies] would need to assure the regulatory agency that they’re not going to ruin water quality downstream.”

Gary Bentley, a former miner in Kentucky who now works as a writer and a mechanic, says he has seen up close how mining affects the environment of surrounding communities.

“Living in the region for 30 years, water contamination has always been a problem,” Bentley says. “We grew up with water contamination issues. Not to discredit the trouble in Flint, Michigan, but when that news came out, I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve lived with these conditions all of my life’ — and it was normal. We didn’t think about it as the life-threatening issue that it was. It’s very common in my hometown to have ‘boil-water advisories’ multiple times in a month, sometimes multiple times in a week.”

Still, Bentley says he is “a little bit torn on the rule, as a person from Appalachia and as a coal miner.”

“I may not have the most popular perspective amongst people in these communities, but it’s not that they’re not concerned with the protection of their environment,” Bentley says. “You’re talking to a group of people in a region that have never been offered an alternative to this industry. They’ve relied on a single economy for over 150 years.”

Bentley says he tries to explain to people in these communities that the rule would not actually have affected the industry.

“The rule really only affected new permits,” he says. “Current mining operations weren’t going to be held to those same standards [and] with the decline of the industry, I really don’t see any new surface permits being issued or being requested at this time.” Plus, he adds, “We were already losing these jobs back in 2008. So, when you start to talk about the market change in the industry, their ideas begin to change.”

This is one reason why Bentley isn’t crazy about the idea that there is some sort of “war on coal.”

“To say there’s a war on coal, especially from a governmental standpoint, is ridiculous,” he says. “It’s just a change in markets. Natural gas is cheaper for energy. Actually, solar is now a cheaper form of energy.”

What Bentley would really like to see is legislation that helps the communities and the states affected by the dramatic drop in coal production. He wants Congress to pass the Reclaim Act, a bipartisan bill to accelerate $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

“Under the plan, $200 million would be distributed to participating states over a period of five years,” Bentley says. “We already have support from numerous senators in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia. As a Kentuckian, I’m working alongside other Kentuckians to encourage support from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. The bill has been presented since February of 2016, and he has set it aside numerous times for well over a year now.”

This article is based on interviews that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.