Monthly Archives: September 2010

Appalachia Rising in DC

Grace Burke protests Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in front of the White House Sept. 27.

People from Appalachia and around the country marched to the White House today to send a message to President Obama about mountaintop removal coal mining: Stop it immediately.

Mountaintop removal — or “mountaintop mining” — as coal companies such as Massey Energy prefer to call it — is a form of strip mining. The companies use explosives to blast off the tops of the mountains and heavy machinery to scoop up the valuable coal seams underneath. Tons of so called “waste rock” (the parts of the mountain of no use to coal companies) are trucked down into valleys, where they are dumped, a process called “valley fill.” Since mountaintop mining began a few decades ago, hundreds of mountains in Appalachia have been blown apart in this way and a couple of thousand of miles of streams and lakes have been buried under waste rubble, according to the EPA.

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Cows will be Cows

Cows will be cows. Chesapeake Bay Foundation photo

Earlier this week, this blog discussed the dilemma facing people everywhere who want both spot-free dishes and clean watersheds. Well, yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted another part of the Chesapeake Bay‘s chemical runoff problem: It announced a crack down at the chicken and dairy farm run by the Petersheim brothers of Lancaster County, Pa.

EPA inspectors slapped the Petersheims with a $6,000 fine for allowing runoff from animal manure and milkhouse washwater packed with nitrogen and phosphorus to end up in a tributary of Chickies Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and eventually meets the bay.

According to the EPA press release, the brothers’ farm in Manheim, Pa., has about 80 dairy cows and produces eggs from about 36,000 hens. Is that a lot? After reading about the country’s massive factory farming operations that produce most of the eggs — and don’t forget the salmonella! — in the country, the Petersheim operation doesn’t sound terribly large and impactful. And, that just illustrates how diffuse and complicated a pollution problem the Chesapeake is facing. The EPA has outlined its plan to step up the long-running cleanup efforts, here. But the task is daunting and environmentalists have expressed lot of skepticism over the plans rolled out by the states bordering the bay. Meanwhile, the farmers are pushing back: A group of Virginia farmers are coming to Washington tomorrow to complaint about the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach to the cleanup and lobby against stricter new legislation in Congress, according to this AP report.

Spotless Dishes v. Clean Water

White phosphrous molecule from Wikipedia Commons

A couple of news stories recently highlighted the dilemma posed by phosphorous,  a chemical used to make explosives, fireworks, pesticides, toothpaste, detergents, among other things.

Like a verdant lawn? Thank phosphorous.

Want your glasses to sparkle when they emerge from the dishwasher? It’s the phosphates in the soap that makes sure no spots mare that perfect shine.

Once these compounds run off your lawn or down the drain, however, it’s not such a pretty picture: They end up local watersheds and quite literally suck all the air out of the river, lake or bay. OK, a more scientifically sanctioned way of saying it: the chemicals consume so much oxygen that it makes it hard for aquatic life to survive.

But, heck, at least the dishes look great, right?  This New York Times story notes people are rebelling against detergent reformulated to ditch the phosphorous in favor of more environmentally friendly — but less spot-busting — ingredients.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Pilot reports on last Saturday’s face off between environmentalists and the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell over efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which has a hardcore phosphorous problem. The governor’s office is pushing a “nutrient trading” scheme that bears a strong resemblance to abandoned efforts in the U.S. Congress to set up a pollution cap-and-trade system. But Ann Jennings of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation isn’t buying the plan as a viable solution to the Bay’s long-running problems.

New Study Shows the Potomac is Cleaner Now than Decades Ago

This wild celery (Vallisneria) by Nancy Rybicki, U.S. Geological Survey

The Washington Post has a front page story today trumpeting the news that the Potomac River is the cleanest it’s been in half a century. Whoopie! Such good news. Unfortunately, before you even get to the jump, the report warns that we’ve still got a boatload of environmental problems in the river that supplies our drinking water here in the District and much of the region.

Still, this partial success story inspires hope that we can also tackle the Potomac’s other woes — such as invasive species, pesticides and other  runoff from farms and lawns, and the mysterious chemical that causes male fish to grow eggs.

Read the WaPo story here. Or go directly to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey.