Friday, January 18, 2019

Shutdown leaves towns near toxic Superfund sites on edge

West Lake Landfill. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
West Lake Landfill. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


DINO GRANDONI reports for the Washington Post
with Paulina Firozi

About a week after the start of the partial government shutdown last month, Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel emailed Environmental Protection Agency officials about what the lapse in funding meant for them and other residents of Bridgeton, Mo. who live near a nuclear waste dump.

The pair of activists said they were told they would no longer be able to reach officials they normally spoke with at the EPA’s regional office near Kansas City. They worried about what would happen if there were an accident at the nearby landfill contaminated with radioactive waste dating back to the World War II-era Manhattan Project. Just as recently as November, a surface fire broke out near the nuclear dump.

Steven Cook, a top-level Trump official at the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Response, assured them that the agency’s emergency spill line would still be manned throughout the shutdown. But, he added in an email Chapman provided to The Post, “Please be mindful that we may be limited in our ability to provide a substantive response depending on the issue involved.”

Communities living near toxic Superfund sites like West Lake in Missouri feel on edge and in the dark during the shutdown that has paralyzed normal functions at agencies like the EPA.

The shutdown is cramping efforts by Trump officials to revitalize the nearly 40-year-old Superfund program -- designed to clean up more than 1,300 hazardous sites around the country -- and put many residents waiting years for a federal response at ease.

"It's so crazy that a site can be listed like ours, and then overnight we lose contact with the federal agency responsible for overseeing it," Chapman said in an interview. "It's like they have officially just gone away."

The shutdown threatens to fray already strained relations between affected communities and the federal government, which residents often see as too sluggish in its cleanup efforts.

“In the world of Superfund, the community relationships with the agency are always a big issue," said Peter deFur, an environmental consultant working on Superfund issues.

Nestle phasing out plastic straws, sets recycling goals

reports for Waste Dive:

Nestlé has announced new plans to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 — a goal first set in 2018. "While we are committed to pursuing recycling options where feasible, we know that 100% recyclability is not enough to successfully tackle the plastics waste crisis," said CEO Mark Schneider in a press release.

Starting next month, Nestlé will begin phasing out plastic straws from its products and replacing them with alternative materials, such as paper. The company will also move to paper packaging for a variety of products, including Nesquik, starting in the first quarter of this year.

Nestlé Waters will increase its use of recycled PET content in water bottles to 35% globally and 50% domestically by 2025. Through its own engineering team, along with outside partners such as PureCycle Technologies, Nestlé will also begin exploring new paper-based solutions, biodegradable/compostable plastic polymers that are also recyclable, marine-biodegradable and recyclable plastic bottles, and food-grade recycled polypropylene.

Shutdown delaying climate data, undercutting scientists

Locked doors this month at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.CreditCreditMatt Roth for The New York Times
Kendra Pierre-Louis
Kendra Pierre-Louis reports for the New York Times

If you want official numbers on how 2018 ranks in the annals of recent record-breaking temperatures, you’ll have to wait.

One result of the government shutdown, now in its fourth week, is that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are unable to issue their annual temperature analysis. And, because that data is so widely used, neither can some other governments.

For example, Britain’s national weather and climate monitoring service, the Met Office, publishes its own global temperature estimates that incorporate NOAA data but use a slightly different analytical method. That’s important because when many different analyses show the same trend — in this case, rising global temperatures — it helps give researchers confidence that their work is sound. But, the NOAA data that the Met Office needs is currently offline.

“Usually, we would have received it by now,” said John Kennedy, a scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre, which specializes in climate research. “But this month, we haven’t.”

The global temperature numbers aren’t the only climate and environmental data we would have reported by now if not for the government shutdown.
Like this? Click to receive free updates

This time last year, for example, Americans knew that 2017 ranked as the most costly year on record for natural disasters, many of them — like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the drought that struck the Great Plains — linked to climate change.

NOAA has issued the disaster-cost estimate since 1980, but that information is not yet available for last year, which saw Hurricanes Michael and Florence, and a wildfire season that some call the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history.

Researchers say those data delays are mostly just a nuisance. It’s unlikely, for example, that when the temperature data is issued it will differ significantly from preliminary estimates that placed 2018 as the fourth-warmest year on record (The Japan Meteorological agency has issued its preliminary estimates saying as much).

They call the interruption of key scientific research, though, a much bigger problem that will have longer lasting repercussions.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Economic star lineup supports federal carbon tax

Greenspan to Yellen, economic brain trust backs carbon tax

Jennifer A. Dlouhy reports for Bloomberg:

An all-star lineup of economists, from Alan Greenspan to Paul Volcker, is endorsing a plan to combat climate change by slapping a tax on greenhouse gas emissions and then distributing the revenue to American households.
All living former Federal Reserve chairs, several Nobel Prize winners and previous leaders of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers have signed on to a statement asserting that a robust, gradually rising carbon tax is “the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.”
“A carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” the 45 economists say in the opinion piece, published by the Wall Street Journal late Wednesday.
The missive is a rare case of the economic establishment speaking with a single voice on a pressing social issue, albeit one that faces political challenges from conservatives, Republicans and the current White House. The signers include economists who have served every president going back to Jimmy Carter.
“This is one of the few ideas of economic policy that commands broad, bipartisan support,” former Harvard University President and U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said in an interview. “Nowadays on economic policy, we don’t see much of that.”
Other signers include former Fed Chairmen Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke as well as former White House economic advisers Austan Goolsbee and Christina Romer.
The economists’ endorsement could deliver momentum to a carbon tax-and-dividend plan devised by two former secretaries of state -- James Baker and George P. Shultz -- that has already drawn financial support from Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Exelon Corp.
Pressure is already mounting in Congress to take aim at climate change, following dire warnings about the growing consequences from a United Nations panel and the U.S. government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has promised the chamber will take up climate legislation. And some Democrats, led by freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, are advancing a so-called Green New Deal that calls for phasing out fossil fuels by 2030.

An obscure company reaps profits choking our free press

This obscure company is doing more to destroy a free press in America than Trump | Will Bunch

    Will Bunch is a columnist for the Inquirer and Daily News

    The problem really hit home for Dave Krieger — the now-former editorial page editor of the Daily Camera in fast-growing Boulder, Colorado — when a lawyer friend sent in a letter to the editor questioning what was happening at his hometown newspaper. The attorney said he didn’t understand why the price of his subscription was just jacked up 20 percent when the actual paper kept showing up with fewer and fewer pages.

    Krieger knew exactly why, but at that moment it dawned on him that most citizens in Boulder didn’t know what he knew: That the newspaper’s shrinkage was the direct result of a distant Wall Street hedge fund that — through its investment vehicle with the Orwellian-like dishonest name of Digital First Media — had since 2013 been sucking money in full vampire-squid mode out of the Daily Camera’s newsroom revenue stream. Much of the cash that formerly paid reporters, editors and photojournalists instead went into the pocket of billionaire Randall Smith as Smith added to his collection of multi-million-dollar mansions around Palm Beach and the Hamptons (said at one point to be 18 — that’s not a typo — and counting).

    Stop the war on a free press | Editorial
    We are heartbroken, for Annapolis and the state of American journalism | Editorial
    Three reasons to cheer for press freedom this Thanksgiving | Trudy Rubin

    “The daily paper is the community’s storyteller,” Krieger, a 60-something veteran of a half-dozen newsrooms, thought to himself, “and we’ve never told this story.” So Krieger sat down to write an editorial pleading for help, and what happened next was truly astounding. Randall Smith read it, saw the error of his ways, sold
    his mansions, and moved into a modest ranch house as he used the real-estate proceeds to hire a small army of investigative reporters that has begun exposing corporate greed and venal politicians from Key West to Kalamazoo.

    Ha ha, just kidding ... everything in that last sentence was made up.

    What happened in real life is the Daily Camera refused to published the editorial about its corporate owners, and Krieger was fired a couple of days later when he published it on a blog.

    And for America’s news consumers, the reality is probably about to get even worse. Digital First Media, a sister firm called MNG and their hedge-fund parent — the Smith-led Alden Global Capital — have launched a hostile takeover bid to gain control of America’s other biggest owner of daily newspapers, Gannett. The takeover bid, which financial experts believe has a good chance of success, would implant DFM/Alden’s money-siphoning brand of vulture capitalism at 300 newspapers from coast-to-coast.

    View image on Twitter

    Hedge fund Alden attempts takeover of Gannett newspaper chain …  6:02 PM - Jan 14, 2019

    Industry experts predict a number of these local news organizations — the primary source of civic information in most of these communities — will be drained dry and die within five years, maybe less. “Consolidation (and the cost-cutting that comes with it) remains the dominant strategy in the daily newspaper industry,” wrote long-time industry watcher Ken Doctor. “If revenue continues to drop at or even near double-digit levels, the consensus thinking is that radically reducing expenses through consolidation is about as good a card as anyone has to play.”

    That’s already been a losing hand for places like Boulder — and it could be for Camden County, N.J., or Wilmington, Del., two nearby communities whose Gannett-owned newsrooms are at risk from Randall Smith’s bloody knife of “consolidation” if the hostile takeover succeeds.

    Read the full story

    Like this? Click to receive free updates

Big Plastic’s trash plan is just a drop in the polluted ocean

Jack Kaskey reports for Bloomberg:
With all those plastic-trash haters filling the Internet with images of garbage-choked oceans and demanding bans on everything from drinking straws to grocery bags, chemical companies are beginning to get alarmed.
Their solution: A public pledge by the new Alliance to End Plastic Waste to spend $1 billion over five years to clean up marine debris, improve recycling and develop new technologies to reduce pollution. That may sound like a lot of green, but the Alliance is made up of 28 companies that make plastics, packaging and consumer products, which averages out to each company spending just over $7 million on the effort each year.
That’s pocket change for alliance members like LyondellBasell Industries NV, which sells about $20 billion a year in plastics and related chemicals, and for Procter & Gamble Co., the only consumer products company in the alliance, whose $67 billion in sales depend on disposable plastic packaging. Meanwhile, Dow Chemical, now a unit of DowDuPont Inc., is ramping up plastics production with a recently completed $6 billion U.S. investment.
The alliance represents groundbreaking collaboration to solve the pollution problem, said Lyondell Chief Executive Officer Bob Patel, one of the leaders of the project. They’re just getting started, he says, with recruiting underway for more members that would boost funding to as much as $1.5 billion, as well as plans for growing their investments.

‘Powerful’ Collaboration

"This approach is unique because it brings together and focuses the efforts and knowledge of plastics producers, consumer goods companies and retailers, as well as waste management companies," Patel said. "Having the resources and knowledge of the entire global value chain under one umbrella with the same goal is really very powerful."
So is even $1.5 billion over five years likely to fulfill Patel’s goal to “end plastic waste”? Not even close, according to an Ocean Conservancy report that estimated it would cost $5 billion a year for a package of initiatives to reduce the global leakage of plastics into the ocean by 45 percent in the next six years. Even that plan wouldn’t see the trash flow ending until 2035.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Next round for historic Philly boxing arena: a micro-hotel

The historic Blue Horizon boxing venue to become hotel under Marriott’s Moxy brand WULFF ARCHITECTS

Jacob Adelman reports for

The historic façade of the Blue Horizon building on North Broad Street is to become the face of a new “micro-hotel” under Marriott’s millennial-focused Moxy brand, opening a new chapter for the storied North Philadelphia boxing venue site.

Plans call for a five-story building that would rise behind the facade of the 154-year-old building at 1314-16 N. Broad St., between Thompson and Master Streets, which is listed on Philadelphia’s Register of Historic Places, according to documents posted Tuesday to the website of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

As a micro-hotel with small rooms aimed at cost-conscious travelers who plan to spend most of their visits out and about, the Moxy would join the Pod Hotel under construction near the southeast corner of 19th and Ludlow Streets in Center City.

It would also join the hotel under Hilton’s Canopy brand that is planned in the Market East area’s Stephen Girard Building as another major hotel operator’s “lifestyle” brand set to open in a historic Philadelphia building.

Read the full story here

Like this? Click to receive free updates

Stay on top of environment and energy news in 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

“Round 4” in the battle over Clean Water Act jurisdiction

The following 'alert' is authored by K&L Gates environmental attorneys
Ankur K. Tohan, John P. Krill, Jr., Cliff L. Rothenstein, Barry M. Hartman, Tad J. Macfarlan, and Endre M. Szalay 

Last month the Trump Administration announced a proposed rule that would dramatically reduce the scope of federal authority under the Clean Water Act (“Act”).   If finalized in its current form, the rule would eliminate federal jurisdiction over a significant number of streams, wetlands, and other waters. 

The proposed rule will impact a wide range of individuals and businesses—as well as agencies and municipalities—that engage (or have a financial stake) in land and project development activities on these areas, while reducing the time and costs associated with obtaining Army Corps of Engineers ‘dredge and fill permits.’ 

While the proposal would not restrict the ability of states to regulate activities in these areas, the extent to which states will step in and do so is unclear.  The 60 day period for commenting on the rule will start as soon as it is published in the Federal Register.

The Clean Water Act grants to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) the authority to require federal approval before any entity discharges pollutants, including dredged or fill material, into the “navigable waters.” [2] That means that any project impacting the use of these areas requires federal approval which can be a long, arduous, and expensive process, if it is granted at all.
The Act defines the term “navigable waters” as “the Waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” [3] The ambiguity of what Congress meant by defining the scope of “navigable waters” to include all so-called “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) has led to a long history of shifting interpretations and legal challenges.
Round 1: In the 1970’s and 1980’s, EPA and the Corps (consistent with a 1985 Supreme Court decision) [4] issued regulations and guidance—including the Corps’ infamous1987 “Wetlands Delineation Manual”—establishing relatively broad and convoluted applications of WOTUS. Under these early rules and guidance, the agencies would assert jurisdiction over a wide swath of waters far removed from those which are navigable-in-fact, often requiring landowners to retain geological, hydrologic, and other experts to help them determine if their property contained ‘jurisdictional’ wetlands—wetlands that were subject to permitting requirements.
However, Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook Cnty. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“SWANCC”)) [5] and in 2006 (in Rapanos v. United States (“Rapanos”)), [6] swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, with the Court placing renewed emphasis on the statutory and constitutional limits to federal authority over what constitutes “navigable waters.” In its most recent case, Rapanos, the court failed to reach agreement on the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. As a result, in Rapanos, a plurality of four Justices signed onto an opinion, authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which limits federal authority to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water” connected to traditional navigable waters, and to “wetlands with a continuous surface connection to” such relatively permanent waters. [7] In contrast, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast the deciding fifth vote in the case—but wrote a separate concurring opinion—concluded that Clean Water Act jurisdiction can extend to all waters that possess a “significant nexus” to navigable waters (regardless of the existence of a surface connection). [8]

Christie McMullen takes top post at E-Town Gas

Christie McMullen
Christie McMullen

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:
Elizabethtown Gas, the state’s smallest gas utility, has appointed Christie McMullen as president and chief operations officer. An industry veteran with 30 years of experience in utility operations, McMullen also will fill both roles at Elkton Gas.
McMullen will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of New Jersey-based Elizabethtown Gas and Maryland-based Elkton Gas, both of which were acquired by South Jersey Industries last year in a $1.7 billion deal.
Before joining Elizabethtown last month, McMullen previously served as vice president of gas distribution at Baltimore Gas and Electric where she oversaw a gas-main replacement program and was chief safety officer.
Elizabethtown also is undertaking a huge main replacement program. It filed a petition with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities this past November, seeking to spend more than $500 million over five years to replace 300 miles of pipeline.

Safety, the ‘top priority’

“Christie brings a wealth of experience in the gas industry and we are confident she can deliver on the legacy of safety, community and service that Elizabethtown Gas and Elkton Gas have built,’’ said Dave Robbins, president of SJI Utilities, the holding company for the two utilities and South Jersey Gas.
“I’m excited to join the team, leading incredible service-focused professionals who maintain safety as their top priority,’’ McMullen said. “I intend to leverage the talents of our employees and my experience to continue to deliver award-winning, safe, reliable affordable natural gas service to our 299,000 customers.
Elizabethtown has roots stretching back to 1855 and once was owned by the Kean family. It was purchased by AGL Resources in 2004 after its parent NUI ran into deep financial trouble, as well as problems with state regulators after the utility’s earnings were mixed with unregulated subsidiaries.
Elizabethtown became part of the Southern Company when AGL Resources was acquired by the former in 2016.

Subscribe here to view all our YouTube videos

Repost this article