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Water and Cadillac Deserts

Water and Cadillac Deserts

California Aqueduct near Kettleman City. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

My lengthy experience at the US Environmental Protection Agency brought me face to face with the terrors of our “modern” times. One of those awful realizations was that the leaders of America – and the leaders of other countries — are not telling the truth about the impact of people and industries  have been having out there, on the natural world. For example, water.

The degradation, poisoning, and the disappearance of water is, first of all, the result of too many people inhabiting the planet. Despite perpetual wars and plagues, world population is steadily rising.

However, an even bigger force has been undermining water and life on Earth: industrialization: the machine power man acquired and employed to reshape the world to his interests.

This engineering power spread to plantation owners and modern oligarchs who rushed and grabbed land from indigenous people or small family farmers. Water has been absolutely necessary for “landscaping” the natural world and the production of cash crops in large farms and plantations. In addition, developers, miners, river-dam builders, and large cities want lots of water.

Before I tell the story of what “moderns” are doing to water, let’s turn to an earlier age when the Greeks treasured water.

Sacred water and Greek cosmology

Water was sacred to the Greeks because nature and the cosmos were sacred. The gods, and the universe those gods represented, demanded that the Greeks understand their power, which meant an understanding of nature and the cause and effect of phenomena in the natural world and the universe. Mythology informed them that:

(1) the god of southern wind, Notos, was the father of rain, Zeus having given him the prerogative of sending rain-giving clouds from the sky to earth.

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Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Release Public Documents on Expanded Use of Antibiotics As Pesticides

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Release Public Documents on Expanded Use of Antibiotics As Pesticides

More Information Sought on CDC’s Concerns of Increased ‘Superbug’ Threat

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for refusing to release public documents related to its approval of expanded use of antibiotics as agricultural pesticides.

Overuse of antibiotics essential for treating human diseases poses a public health threat because it can lead to “superbugs” — bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance.

Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised serious concerns about expanding the use of antibiotics as pesticides. The records, though, are incomplete, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Drug Administration have refused to release the rest.

“The Trump administration is recklessly endangering public health by allowing these human medicines to be sprayed on crops,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA is trying to conceal conversations revealing the risks these careless actions pose to public health and wildlife.”

The Environmental Protection Agency last year approved an estimated 388,000 pounds of oxytetracycline for use on citrus crops annually in California, Florida and other states. The agency has also proposed to allow an estimated 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be used on the same crops each year.

These antibiotics are used in agriculture not as a cure but as a repeated treatment to combat outbreaks of citrus canker and citrus greening disease.

A CDC study found that the medically important antibiotics the EPA has approved for expanded pesticide use on crops can facilitate antibiotic resistance in bacteria that pose “urgent” and “serious” threats to human health. These harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria include MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), nightmare bacteria (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus).

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Playing Role of Pesticide ‘Cheerleader,’ EPA Rebukes Calif. With Ban on Warning Labels for Roundup

Playing Role of Pesticide ‘Cheerleader,’ EPA Rebukes Calif. With Ban on Warning Labels for Roundup

“It’s the Environmental Protection Agency, not the pesticide protection agency.”

Roundup

 “It’s a little bit sad,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, “the EPA is the biggest cheerleader and defender of glyphosate.” (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was accused of being a pesticide “cheerleader” last week after the agency said it would not approval labels that say that glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup and other weedkillers—is known to cause cancer.

In a statement released Thursday announcing the move, the EPA dug in on its assertion that glyphosate does not cause cancer, though critics have said that is “an industry-friendly conclusion that’s simply not based on the best available science.”

The new guidance takes aim at California’s 2017 move, in adherence with its Proposition 65, to add glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer and require warning labels. The state cited the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer 2015 assessment that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The EPA, however, said those labels provided consumers with false information.

“We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in the statement.

The EPA also sent a letter to manufactures on Aug. 7 saying that “pesticide products bearing the Proposition 65 warning statement due to the presence of glyphosate are misbranded” under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The letter, signed by Michael Goodis, head of EPA’s registration division in its Office of Pesticide Programs, said EPA would not approve labeling with that warning, and that “EPA requests the submission of draft amended labeling that removes such language within ninety days of the date of this letter.”

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EPA Plans to Allow Unlimited Dumping of Fracking Wastewater in the Gulf of Mexico


Originally published on www.truthout.org (republished with permission)

Environmentalists are warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft plan to continue allowing oil and gas companies to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and wastewater directly into the Gulf of Mexico is in violation of federal law.

In a letter sent to EPA officials, attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity warned that the agency’s draft permit for water pollution discharges in the Gulf fails to properly consider how dumping wastewater containing chemicals from fracking and acidizing operations would impact water quality and marine wildlife.

The attorneys claim that regulators do not fully understand how the chemicals used in offshore fracking and other well treatments — some of which are toxic and dangerous to human and marine life — can impact marine environments, and crucial parts of the draft permit are based on severely outdated data. Finalizing the draft permit as it stands would be a violation of the Clean Water Act, they argue.

The EPA is endangering an entire ecosystem by allowing the oil industry to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and drilling waste fluid into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Center attorney Kristen Monsell. “This appalling plan from the agency that’s supposed to protect our water violates federal law, and shows a disturbing disregard for offshore fracking’s toxic threats to sea turtles and other Gulf wildlife.”

The Center has a history of using legal action to stop polluters and challenge the government to enforce environmental regulations, so the letter could be seen as a warning shot over the EPA’s bow.

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The Perils of Plastic Pollution

The Perils of Plastic Pollution

Plastics are found in the products we use every day: the toys we give our children, the clothing we wear, the disposable cups we drink from, the automobiles we make, the straws we use, the list goes on.  Cheap and easy to make, plastic goods and plastic production have exploded in recent years.  Yet the junked cars, the used straws and cups, they all end up somewhere, perhaps in a landfill, or perhaps drifting in the wind.  91% of plastic goods are not recycled.  Most have found their way to rivers, lakes, and oceans, and over time break down into tiny microscopic particles of plastic.  Microplastics are everywhere, even in the deepest sea floor sediments and in the Arctic.  They can originate in small form from toothpaste or makeup, or can be derived from larger pieces of plastic, which over time break down into small particles.

Not very long ago (Sept. 8, 2018), a giant 2,000 foot long tube was launched from San Francisco to be towed to a suitable site.  The brainchild of a young 24-year-old Dutchman named Boyan Slat, it is intended to trap some of the ever-increasing tons of plastic polluting our oceans.  To be sure California lends a more sympathetic ear to pollution problems than does Washington or the federal government these days.

Researchers have sought to determine the extent of plastic pollution and tested water samples from cities and towns on five continents.  The results: microscopic plastic particles were present in 83%.  Ironically samples that tested positive included the US Capitol building and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, as well as the Trump Grill in New York.  Researchers say these plastic particles are also likely in foods prepared with water, such as pasta and bread.

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The Fracking Industry’s Water Nightmare

The Fracking Industry’s Water Nightmare

Sign reading "hot water"

The U.S. is setting new oil production records as horizontal drilling and fracking open up shale deposits in places like North Dakota and Texas.

Fracking is based on the “hydraulic” process of using pressurized liquid to shatter shale rock to let the oil and gas inside escape. And while that liquid is a mixture of many hazardous chemicals, it is mostly water. And acquiring that water and then properly disposing of the toxic wastewater produced by fracking is becoming a big and expensive problem for the industry.

Gabriel Collins is a fellow in energy and the environment at Rice University, and in August he gave a presentation at the Produced Water Society Permian Basin 2018 event in Midland, Texas. There, Collins presented a business case for starting a large water processing company to service the fracking industry.

One sign that the fracking industry is becoming concerned about water is that there are now societies and conferences dedicated to the topic of “produced water.” Produced water is the term for the toxic water that is “produced” over the life of a fracked oil or gas well.

In a story by Bloomberg News, Collins said he didn’t believe investors were aware of the risks that water poses to the fracking industry in the Permian Basin.

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Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas 60% Higher Than EPA Estimates, New Study Finds

Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas 60% Higher Than EPA Estimates, New Study Finds

Each year, oil and gas industry operations in the U.S. are leaking roughly 60 percent more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere than previous estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which relied heavily on self-reporting by the industry.

That’s the conclusion of a study published today in the peer-reviewed journal Science and conducted with funding from the Department of Energy, NASA, and private foundations. The two dozen researchers involved found that the U.S. oil and gas supply chain releases between 11 and 15 million metric tons of methane per year.

“This study confirms the growing body of peer-reviewed science indicating oil and gas extraction’s methane pollution makes it as harmful to climate as coal burning’s carbon dioxide pollution,” said Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell University professor emeritus of engineering and vice president of Earthwork’s board of directors.

“This confirms there is no ‘bridge fuel’,” Ingraffea said. “To stave off catastrophic climate change we need to immediately drop all fossil fuels in favor of conservation and renewables.”

A Leaky System

Methane is a powerful and fast-acting greenhouse gas. Each ton of methane causes over 80 times the amount of climate warming as an equal amount of carbon dioxide in the first two decades after it enters the atmosphere. It’s also the primary ingredient in the natural gas that’s used to heat homes and to generate electricity — and when it leaks from oil and gas wells, pipelines, and other equipment, it can cause the world’s climate to grow hotter faster.

Even when methane is burned, it still has a globe-warming effect because it releases carbon dioxide emissions of its own. A “new, efficient” natural gas power plant generates about 40 to 50 percent as much carbon dioxide as a “typical new coal plant” when that gas is burned, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists — but the methane leaks in the supply chain come on top of that carbon pollution.

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The toxic price of convenience

The toxic price of convenience

As many as 110 million Americans may be drinking water contaminated by a toxic class of chemicals that according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are used in “stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).”

The chemicals, referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, were detected by EPA-mandated testing of U.S. water supplies between 2013 and 2015. The full results of that testing have not been made public. An analysis done by the Environmental Working Group using available data uncovered the widespread contamination. The group’s analysis was released last week.

Firefighting foams are a major source of the contamination, primarily from their release during routine training drills at both civilian and military airports. But the desire of consumers for nonstick pans and stain- and water-repellent clothing and carpets brings direct contact with the toxic chemicals.

The desire to make our lives maintenance-free often creates unintended environmental and health consequences. Every decision to transfer a maintenance task to a chemical substance only complicates the goal of creating a healthy environment. One solution is simply to have fewer things that require maintenance, thus reducing the time we spend on maintenance. Another is to accept that we have a duty to maintain the objects which serve us in a way that does not poison others or ourselves.The response to problem substances is typically to find another chemical to do the same job. We did that after phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), liquids previously used in refrigerators and air conditioners to transfer heat away from refrigerator and building interiors. CFCs were leaking into the atmosphere and destroying the ozone layer which protects living organisms from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.

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The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity

The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity

Photo by Becker1999 | CC BY 2.0

Evincing an almost unbelievable ignorance of environmental science, last week Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters “we know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. So I think there are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

This is the same Scott Pruitt who shocked the public, the scientific community and employees of the EPA when he announced shortly after stepping into his new job that humans were not yet determined to be the major contributing cause of global warming.

But of course humans are not the only inhabitants of the planet. And therein lies the great danger of framing environmental and ecosystem health strictly in terms of human existence. Chief Seattle is widely credited to have said in an 1854 speech: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Here in Montana, it’s often said we still have all the native species that were here when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through more than two centuries ago. Indeed, the grizzly bear still roams the wild Rockies, the lynx haunts thick forests in its search for snowshoe hare and the fluvial arctic grayling still can be found in a few cold headwater streams.

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EPA head Scott Pruitt says global warming may help ‘humans flourish’

EPA administrator says ‘There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing’

‘It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what [the ideal surface temperature] should be in 2100,’ Pruitt has said.
Scott Pruitt: ‘It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what [the ideal surface temperature] should be in 2100.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has suggested that global warming may be beneficial to humans, in his latest departure from mainstream climate science.

Pruitt, who has previously erred by denying that carbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change, has again caused consternation among scientists by suggesting that warming temperatures could benefit civilization.

The EPA administrator said that humans are contributing to climate “to a certain degree”, but added: “We know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing.

“Do we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100 or year 2018?” he told a TV station in Nevada. “It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

Pruitt said he wanted an “honest, transparent debate about what we do know and what we don’t know, so the American people can be informed and make decisions on their own”.

Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA is mulling whether to stage a televised “red team blue team” debate between climate scientists and those who deny the established science that human activity is warming the planet.

Donald Trump has also repeatedly questioned the science of climate change, tweeting during a cold snap in December that the US “could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against”.

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Monsanto Claims A Breach Of Its Constitutional Rights

Monsanto Claims a Breach of its Constitutional Rights 01

MONSANTO CLAIMS A BREACH OF ITS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

The Monsanto Company is again under fire as a recent report states that Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the company’s money-making Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used herbicide chemical in the world. Studies have suggested that this chemical is a possible human carcinogen. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency includes Glyphosate in it’s list of carcinogenic risk chemicals.

The report, which was written by Charles M. Benbrook of the Environmental Sciences Europe journal, states that more than 3.5 billion pounds of Glyphosate have been used in the US alone since Roundup’s release in 1974. This number climbed drastically after the introduction of Roundup Ready crops in 1996. The report cites recent studies that have found links between Glyphosate exposure and serious health effects such as liver and kidney disease, and some types of cancer.

Benbrook states “The dramatic and rapid growth in overall use of glyphosate will likely contribute to a host of adverse environmental and public health consequences,” http://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0 He goes on to say “My hope is that this paper will stimulate more research on glyphosate use and human and environmental exposure patterns to increase the chance that scientists will quickly detect any problems that might be triggered, or made worse, by glyphosate exposure.”

Glyphosate was declared a “probable carcinogenic to humans” in March of 2015 after a unanimous vote by 17 of the world’s leading cancer researchers within the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This was done in behalf of the World Health Organization.

In September of 2015, the state of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) responded to these actions by beginning the legal process of listing Glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under the Proposition 65 Law, which was first introduced in 1986 as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/CRNR_notices/admin_listing/intent_to_list/090415LCset27.html

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The Flint Water Disaster: a Perfect Storm of Downplaying, Denial and Deceit

The Flint Water Disaster: a Perfect Storm of Downplaying, Denial and Deceit

shutterstock_366517343

Flint, Michigan, the city portrayed as the embodiment of a rust belt city abandoned by deindustrialization in Michael Moore’s allegorical documentary, Roger & Me, has recently become a morality play of a different sort as it captures national headlines highlighting a controversial series of decisions creating a major public health crisis that threatens the health of Flint’s children.

After numerous complaints of the rising costs of the City of Detroit’s water and sewerage system, which the city had been dependent on for decades, the City of Flint’s controversial, non-elected, state appointed emergency manager decided in 2013 to switch from Detroit’s water system, and obtain water for the city from the Flint River until an alternative source could be developed.  The decision insured, if nothing else, that banks and bondholders to which the city is indebted, would be paid.

The decision ended up being a tragic mistake of major proportions. After the switch was made in April 2014 problems soon developed because the Flint River’s water proved to be highly corrosive, releasing lead from the old plumbing fixtures in Flint’s homes, factories, and schools. The water was so corrosive that the local GM engine plantswitched their plant’s water system to another supplier because the automaker was concerned that the Flint River water would corrode their auto parts.

Tragically, the situation could have been avoided if the state had followed the EPA mandate to install corrosive preventative measures when lead levels in drinking water exceed recommended levels.  State officials further undermined the state’s integrity and the public’s confidence by claiming they were not required to install mandatory corrosive controls.

As lead levels rapidly rose to levels far exceeding the U.S. EPA’s recommended lead levels in public drinking water, Flint residents complained of malodorous, darkly colored water flowing from their home faucets, hair loss, headaches, and itchy eyes.

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Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles

Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles

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The Republican Senate just voted to reject plans by President Obama and the EPA to dramatically reduce emissions from coal power plants. This is reactionary politics. It is also political theater that plays right into the hands of the President. This allows President Obama to create the illusion that he is the embattled climate warrior—going to Paris slaying the Republicans with one sword and the Koch brothers with the other. But both parties and the Democratic-dominated Beltway environmental groups are complicit in a charade. The Republicans are simply carrying out election-year posturing while the president will veto the Republican bill and they don’t have the votes to override him.

The U.S. media, especially those close to the Democratic Party, is now saying that the Republican vote will “weaken” the President’s hand in Paris. In fact, President Obama is the commander in chief of the U.S. army, the CEO of the U.S. Empire, and the manager of 800 military bases all over the world. He runs a drone program that targets and assassinates his political opponents. The president is nobody’s prisoner and nobody is tying his hands.

At the United Nations Framework Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), the President has told the world’s delegates that he needs to come out of Paris with a victory that can pass Republican objections. Even his allies are laughing because everyone knows there is no possible positive outcome that the Republicans would support. Instead, they blame the president for weakening if not destroying an urgently needed climate agreement in Paris—a plan he is carrying out for Democratic not Republican objectives.

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Taking a Bite Out of Plastic Waste: New Research Offers Unexpected Promise as Permaculture Hack

Taking a Bite Out of Plastic Waste: New Research Offers Unexpected Promise as Permaculture Hack

Reducing plastic pollution has seemed a daunting prospect, until now. Can the tiny Mealworm bite off more than we can chew?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans alone throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups each year. Styrofoam is a common polystyrene product, which is a type of plastic. These materials pose a significant challenge to environmental health because they are created with robust molecular chains that tend to give them an unusually durable life span of between 500-1000 years. That means the Styrofoam coffee cup you just threw out this morning will be sitting in a landfill or floating on an ocean 500 years from now, potentially endangering ground water and animal life well into the future.

More plastic has been produced in the last ten years than during the entire last century, resulting in enough such waste thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, annual global consumption of these materials has soared from an average 5.5 million tons in the 1950s to roughly 300 million tons in 2013, with an average four percent per annum increase in recent years.

Paradoxically, the key to solving one of the largest challenges to good environmental health – and promoting sustainable waste management practices in general – could be held by the tiny mealworm, the larvae form of the darkling beetle. A pair of research papers just published in Environmental Science and Technology reveals groundbreaking findings that offer both progressive recycling solutions and regenerative potential to even the most micro-permaculturalists.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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