Category Archives: Random thoughts

EPA chief backtracks on delaying rules reducing emissions

News 12 Brooklyn, August 3rd, 2017


WASHINGTON (AP) – One day after getting sued by 15 states, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt reversed his earlier decision to delay implementation of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants.

Pruitt presented the change as his agency being more responsive than past administrations to the needs of state environmental regulators. He made no mention of the legal challenge filed against his prior position in a federal appeals court.

At issue is an Oct. 1 deadline for states to begin meeting 2015 standards for ground-level ozone. Pruitt announced in June he would delay compliance by one year to give his agency more time to study the plan and avoid "interfering with local decisions or impeding economic growth."

Pruitt, who was Oklahoma’s state attorney general prior to his appointment by President Donald Trump, has long served as a reliable opponent of stricter environmental regulations. Since arriving in Washington, Pruitt has repeatedly moved to block or delay regulations opposed by the chemical and fossil-fuel industries.

Wednesday’s sudden reversal is the latest legal setback for Pruitt’s regulatory rollback agenda. Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled the EPA administrator overstepped his authority in trying to delay implementation of an Obama administration rule requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane leaks.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Pruitt suggested his about-face on ozone standards simply reinforced the EPA’s commitment to working with states through the complex process of meeting the new standards on time.

"Under previous administrations, EPA would often fail to meet designation deadlines, and then wait to be sued by activist groups and others, agreeing in a settlement to set schedules for designation," said Pruitt, who sued EPA more than a dozen times in his prior job. "We do not believe in regulation through litigation, and we take deadlines seriously. We also take the statute and the authority it gives us seriously."

Still, the EPA’s statement said Pruitt may at some point once again use his "delay authority and all other authority legally available" to ensure regulations "are founded on sound policy and the best available information."

Republicans in Congress are pushing for a broader rewrite of the ozone rules. A House bill approved last month seeks to delay implementation of the 2015 rules at least eight years. The measure has not yet been brought to a vote in the Senate.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led the coalition of states that sued the EPA this week, said the group intends to keep up the legal pressure.

"The EPA’s reversal – following our lawsuits – is an important win for the health and safety of those 6.7 million New Yorkers, and the over 115 million Americans directly impacted by smog pouring into their communities," Schneiderman said.

New York was joined in the case by California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Ground-level ozone is created when common pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The resulting smog can cause serious breathing problems among sensitive groups of people, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year.

Public health advocates and environmentalists cheered Pruitt’s surprising change of course.

"It’s disturbing how much pressure it took to get this commonsense step from the guy in charge of protecting the air we breathe," said Lori Ann Burd of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We’ve got to keep fighting the Trump administration’s ideological crusade to pander to polluters and special interests."

New Climate Smart Communities Recognized

Governor Cuomo recently recognized Tompkins County and the town of Ithaca as Certified Climate Smart Communities. At an event held at the Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste Center in Ithaca, Michael Lane, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, and Bill Goodman, town of Ithaca Supervisor, were presented street signs highlighting their achievement of certification. The center is the future location of a new food scraps recycling project funded by the state’s Climate Smart Communities Grant Program.

Tompkins County
Between 2008 and 2014, Tompkins County reduced its local government greenhouse gas emissions by an impressive 53 percent and community emissions by 21 percent. In April, Tompkins County became the first community in the Southern Tier to be designated a Clean Energy Community by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, highlighting its leadership in reducing energy use, cutting costs, and driving clean energy in its communities.

Town of Ithaca
The town of Ithaca earned its certification by implementing each of the Climate Smart Community Pledge Elements. The town performed building energy audits and lighting upgrades, started transitioning fleet vehicles to hybrids, and is providing composting in municipal buildings. In 2014 and 2015, the town purchased enough Green-e certified renewable energy credits to offset 100 percent of its electricity use in municipal facilities and infrastructure. As a result, about 68 percent of the total energy used in all town facilities came from renewable sources. With commitments like these, the town of Ithaca is well on its way to achieving its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from government operations by 30 percent by 2020.

Warming to worsen dead zones

Warming to worsen dead zones, algae blooms choking US waters

Seth Borenstein, Ap Science Writer

Updated 3:07 am, Friday, July 28, 2017

Photo: AP
In this image provided by NASA, taken Aug. 3, 2015, phytoplankton is seen off the coast of New York, top and New Jersey, left. A new study projects that global warming’s increased rains will mean more nitrogen flowing into U.S. waterways, which can then trigger more massive blooms of algae, floating green mats, and dead zones with almost no oxygen. This handout NASA satellite photo shows a large bloom of phytoplankton off the New York and New Jersey coast in August 2015. (NASA via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Projected increases in rain from global warming could further choke U.S. waterways with fertilizer runoff that trigger dead zones and massive algae blooms, a new study said.

If greenhouse gas emissions keep rising, more and heavier rain will increase nitrogen flowing into lakes, rivers and bays by about 19 percent by the end of the century, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Science .

While that may not sound like much, many coastal areas are already heavily loaded with nitrogen. Researchers calculated that an extra 860,000 tons of nitrogen yearly will wash into American waterways by century’s end.

The nutrients create low-oxygen dead zones and harmful blooms of algae in the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, Pacific Northwest and Atlantic coast.

"Many of these coastal areas are already suffering year-in, year-out from these dead zones and algal blooms," said one of the researchers, Anna Michalak, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. "And climate change will make it all worse."

When waterways are overloaded with nutrients, algae growth can run amok, creating dead zones. Algae can also choke waterways with "green mats of goop on top of the water" that are giant floating blooms, Michalak said.

The blooms often have toxins that can pollute drinking water. In 2014, a bloom on Lake Erie fouled tap water for half a million people in Toledo, Ohio, for more than two days.

The study, which is based on computer simulations, found the Northeast and Midwest will be hit hardest by the increase in nitrogen runoff. Most of the excess nitrogen from fertilizer use and the burning of coal, oil and gas would flow into the Mississippi River system and into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest dead zones on Earth, researchers said.

"The results are incredibly interesting and compelling," said Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine sciences professor who wasn’t part of the team.

Sewage Rehab via GREEN chemistry

After decades of work, green chemistry may be the answer to polluted sewage.

by Erica Cirino

Published July 13, 2017

Compounds that mimic or disrupt human hormones are showing up in freshwater ecosystems worldwide. This widespread pollution is causing the feminization of fish and amphibians, as well as the disruption of natural freshwater microbial communities. It’s even making fish anxious. For people, living near to such polluted waterways is associated with an elevated risk of some cancers. The presence of hormones and hormone disruptors is not a new problem, but it’s one that waste treatment experts have been struggling to solve. These compounds sneak through many conventional wastewater treatment systems. But they don’t have to.

Terrence J. Collins has been working for decades on a technology to solve this pollution problem. Collins, a chemist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has engineered enzymes that emulate those in the human liver. If used alongside traditional water treatment, these enzymes break down the harmful chemicals—including drugs—that are otherwise missed. But here’s the thing: Collins developed and patented this technology, tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand (TAML) activators, nearly 30 years ago, long before worries about hormones in the water entered the public consciousness. He’s honed the technology ever since, making it more effective than ever. No municipalities have bought into the technology yet, but it has been a runner-up for pilot programs in Europe and there is hope that a US-based program will be in the works soon.

In 1992, Collins successfully created his first water treatment enzymes. But support from the mainstream chemistry community studying wastewater treatment has been almost nonexistent, he says. The chemist suspects the lack of enthusiasm is for ideological—rather than technological—reasons. Collins is a green chemist.

Green chemistry, as a concept, was developed in part by John Peterson Myers, an academic and coauthor of the 1996 book Our Stolen Future, which is about endocrine disruptors and toxicant pollution in the urban environment. Green chemists focus on developing new chemicals and chemical processes that are Earth-friendly.

“The traditional chemical lobby opposes this kind of work, and universities are afraid to embrace this new way of thinking about chemistry because they fear their funding will be cut off from the chemical lobby,” Collins says, adding that it’s been very difficult for him to find academic funding for his research.

Industry insiders say one reason green chemistry has progressed in only fits and starts is that people are skeptical of a new technology that sounds too good to be true. Sean Palmer, a biomedical engineer and decontamination specialist in the United Kingdom, says he has long had trouble convincing others that Collins’s novel technology is highly effective.

“I talk to wastewater treatment plant managers about TAML, and even show them live demos of the technology, and it seems like they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that it really works, and that it works better, faster, more safely, and more cheaply than what’s out there right now,” Palmer says. TAML activators are green chemicals, producing no hazardous byproducts.

When combined with hydrogen peroxide, TAML activators act like liver enzymes, sparking chemical reactions that break down artificial hormones, pharmaceuticals, and illicit drugs into benign compounds, such as water and carbon dioxide.

TAML activators can’t do everything, but neither can existing wastewater treatment technologies, Collins says. None can break down fluorinated compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make Teflon; the common pesticide metaldehyde; or heavy metals.

Other wastewater treatment technologies do exist, some of which can help reduce the quantity of hormones and drugs that slip through processing. Two technologies—ozone and activated carbon—are in common use, and there are other experimental techniques in development. But TAML activators require less energy to run and are cheaper than these other treatments.

“It looks like TAML has a lot of promise,” says Anne McElroy, an aquatic toxicologist at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. She supports use of green chemicals as a replacement for many hazardous chemicals to benefit human and environmental health, but says TAML may not be the silver bullet Collins suggests.

“Collins needs to tread carefully,” says McElroy. “He needs to ensure these catalysts are monitored for their toxicity, so they actually do not cause more harm to the environment.”

But after a 30-year struggle to solve what’s been an intractable sewage problem for communities around the globe, Collins is more than ready for the technology to prove itself.

A Mammoth Step in the Pursuit of Illicit Ivory Sales

New York Times, April 4th, 2017


The windows of the gallery and the floors of its aisles are lined with animals, in herds and singly. Lions. Giraffes. Monkeys. And elephants, bulls, cows and calves. Most were cast from poured metal.

About two years ago, though, a couple browsing the shop, Landmark Gallery on West 58th Street, spotted netsuke, tiny carved statues of a cartoonish bunny and dog, and of a woman embracing a gigantic nose.

These, the store said, were hewed from the ivory tusks of mammoths, extinct mammals frozen by the tens of millions in Siberian permafrost.

In a world of nonstop disasters, this shopping expedition would represent one success in protecting living creatures with personalities and social qualities as big as their bodies.

The couple doing the shopping were investigators from the Department of Environmental Conservation, who suspected — correctly — that Landmark was actually selling elephant ivory under the guise of mammoth.

Outside of Asia, New York City has been one of the leading markets in the world for ivory, although by that day in the spring of 2015, the sale of ivory had been banned under a state law that took effect the year before. (Antique musical instruments containing a small quantity of ivory can still be sold.)

Ivory comes from the elephant tusk, an incisor tooth that can grow to more than 10 feet. The quickest way to get it is to kill the elephant, hack the tusk from its head and put the ivory into the hands of middlemen who deliver it as a raw material for carvers. Thus, the largest land creatures on earth, which are thought by some to mourn the deaths of other elephants, were being killed by the tens of thousands every year for whatever human vanities could be satisfied by trinkets and baubles. All that remained of a 13,000-pound mammal would be a few delicate ounces of ivory, displayed under glass in the windows of Midtown Manhattan.

The purpose of the ban was to take the economic incentives out of the frenzy of slaughter that has driven African elephants toward extinction.

The law gave dealers two years to sell their mammoth ivory. Some conservationists believed that satiating the market’s appetite for ivory with extinct creatures would protect living ones.

To the untrained eye, there is little to distinguish elephant ivory from mammoth, but scientists at the American Museum of Natural History were able to determine that Landmark’s so-called mammoth ivory was from elephants.

The company that owns Landmark Gallery pleaded guilty this month to felony charges made stiffer under the 2014 law. It was the first time the new law was applied. The company’s owners, two brothers named Behrooz Torkian and Hersel Torkian, were not charged but the case remains under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

A visitor to the gallery last week was told by a salesman that neither Torkian was available.

Asked if any ivory was for sale, the employee replied, “We don’t sell ivory.”

That was not always true.

“In the past, yes,” he said.

The international horror over the killing of elephants led to ivory bans in the United States and China. The wholesale price in China is now less than half what it was three years ago, the wildlife organization Save the Elephants reported this week.

A snap survey done last year found ivory to be much scarcer in New York and in other major American cities than it had been a decade ago, according to a report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Traffic, which monitors wildlife trade. Still, “New York remains, unfortunately, a robust market for ivory,” Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said.

That’s what Wendy Hapgood, an elephant conservationist, found when she took a journalism class last year at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. She wrote a detailed report on ivory in the tourist shops of Midtown Manhattan. Along the way, she met the state environmental investigators.

So among the penalties paid by Landmark — $150,000 in sales tax, the forfeiture of ivory valued at $250,000 — was one that seemed to be worth more than just money.

For its crimes, Landmark also had to pay $50,000 to Ms. Hapgood’s group, the Wild Tomorrow Fund. The state says it will help pay for gear and training for rangers fighting elephant and rhinoceros poachers in southern Africa. “Fifty thousand dollars!” Ms. Hapgood said. “That goes a long way on the ground there.”

N.Y. state officials warn not to attract bears with food

Seems like this would be a no-brainer, but ….

Natural Resources:

New York Daily News, March 28th, 2017


ALBANY — Black bears are active again with warmer weather, and New York State officials are warning people not to attract them with food left outside.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said most nuisance bear encounters happen when hungry bears are attracted to human food sources.

If you live in an area near bears, take down bird feeders after April 1 and store garbage in a secure building, the agency said.

Hoemowners should also clean barbecue grills before nighttime — and never intentionally feed bears.

New York State is home to more than 6,000 bears.

Greens Ask N.Y. to Crack Down on Dairy Farms



March 30, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Cows, whose methane-emitting flatulence has been cited as a culprit in global warming, now are being blamed, along with New York’s State Department of Environmental Conservation, for contaminating the state’s water supply with manure.

Riverkeeper and four other groups, including fly fishers and the Sierra Club, sued the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany Supreme Court, demanding it strengthen a general water permit for large farm operations to bring it into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

As many as 267 industrial dairies covered by state permitting have more than 200 cows and “a history or likelihood of discharging to surface waters,” according to the March 27 complaint. (11)

An average dairy cow produces more than 120 pounds of manure per day, so the average large industrial dairy in New York, with 950 cows, produces more than 110,000 pounds of animal waste per day: “more waste than every city in New York other than New York City,” according to the complaint.

By contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an average household of four people produces about one pound of sewage waste per day.

However, human waste is treated year round — cow manure is not.

“Dairy cow sewage, by contrast, is usually held in lagoons until it is spread on fields,” the complaint states.

Those “massive lagoons” are generally not lined and the waste gets no significant treatment it is spread onto fields.

Industrial dairies have been responsible for numerous water contamination fiascos in New York State, according to the complaint.

“A discharge from one industrial facility caused a 25-by-75 foot plume of liquid manure to enter Lake Owasco, a source of drinking water for 44,000 residents in central New York,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say they have many more documented examples.

They ask the court to order New York to strengthen its general permitting for industrial farms. They say the U.S. EPA warned the state when it was drafting the permit that it did not comply with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA wrote the state as recently as March 10 to advise it of “continued permit deficiencies with respect to ‘transparency, state oversight, and opportunities for public participation’ and recommending that DEC revise the permit.”

The Clean Water Act requires that medium and large industrial farms with a history of discharging into nearby waters be “subject to a permit that contains important enforceable safety restrictions, is reviewed and approved by impartial state experts, and is available to the public, including nearby residents.”

The plaintiffs say New York’s permit does not meet those standards.

The other plaintiffs are the Cortland-Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Associations, Theodore Flyfishers, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Their lead attorney is Eve Gartner, with Earthjustice in New York City.

The average dairy cow can emit 200 to 450 liters of methane per day, through farts and burps, according to cow flatulence publications.

Yes, there are such things.