Sandals Resorts To Eliminate All Styrofoam At Caribbean Resorts – Sea Voice News

seavoicenews.com
by Alex Larson →

Sandals Resorts is set to eliminate all styrofoam from its 19 Sandals and Beaches-branded resorts across the Caribbean, the company announced this week.

The company said the elimination of styrofoam was particularly important in the Caribbean, with its abundant marine life.

Ocean pollution continues to grow daily and the fact that cooperations are starting to recognize this is extremely important. A recent study found that 100% of all sea turtles tested on seven species of sea turtles across three different oceans all had micro plastics inside of them which also includes styrofoam.

In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.

“As we enter the New Year, it’s incredibly important to our Sandals family that environmental sustainability remains a key priority,” said Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of SandalsResorts International. “After eliminating plastic straws, stirrers, laundry bags and gift shop bags last year, we’re choosing to eliminate Styrofoam from our resorts. We’re proud that many of the islands in which we operate are also making this shift to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean.”

The company also said it would explore ways to eliminate other plastic across its resorts this year.

While this is move is a positive step, a much bigger change than having almost 20 resorts ban an item is needed. Most top notch resorts such as Sandals have programs in place that already due handle waste very well but trash and plastic can be found littering the pristine beaches of the Caribbean.

To take the next step, we need to push the countries such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and others to ban single-use plastics and styrofoam altogether.

http://seavoicenews.com/2019/01/08/sandals-resorts-to-eliminate-all-styrofoam-at-caribbean-resorts/

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Fish bones could help us trace the toxic path of coal ash

grist.org
By Greta Moran on Dec 29, 2018

When Hurricane Florence flooded the Carolinas in September, the rivers turned from blue to a sickly gray. The water ran so thick with soil, dead leaves, and pollution that you could see murky ink blots forming from outer space. Duke Energy admitted that the intense floodwaters had caused a breach in one of its dams, setting loose a gross sludge known as coal ash — a toxic byproduct of burning coal.

Laden with arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxins, coal ash tends to be stored near low-income communities and communities of color. For this reason, Mother Jones reporter Julia Lurie noted that the sludge has “quietly become one of America’s worst environmental justice problems.”

Scientists have found a new, unlikely tool to help track the spread of coal ash contaminants: fish bones. Researchers at Duke University discovered that the pearlescent, calcified structure in a fish’s inner ear — known as the otolith — can provide a picture of coal ash contamination in rivers and lakes.

Looking at the otolith under a microscope, you can see a new layer laid down for almost every day of the fish’s life, says Jessica Brandt, the lead author of the new Duke study. “They grow like tree rings,” Brandt says. The layers contain a lot of information, from the fish’s age to its migration patterns — as well as if and when it came across coal ash contamination.

This knowledge could help researchers track changes over time with more accuracy and ease. “If you go and collect a water sample at any given point, you’re only getting information for the time of collection,” explains Brandt, who is also a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The scientists from Duke examined fish from two North Carolina lakes with a history of coal contamination, Mayo Lake and Sutton Lake (the lake that was contaminated by coal ash from a Duke Energy plant during Florence). In the wake of the hurricane, Duke Energy claimed that the leaked coal ash posed no environmental or health risks. But experts aren’t convinced.

“The fact that we are finding fish, which is the top of the predator system, with a ‘fingerprint’ suggests that the system is already affected by coal ash,” said Avner Vengosh, one of the authors on the study and a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University. Exposure to coal ash can lead to cancer and a number of other long-term health problems.

Vengosh’s previous research on coal ash was used in a lawsuit in 2017, when a judge ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to clean up coal ash that had been leaking into nearby rivers in eastern Tennessee for decades. The ruling was recently overturned by a higher court. Still, the more we know about coal ash contamination, the better. Perhaps the pearly, inner ear of fish could also prove to be a useful tool for protecting people from the dangers of coal ash.

https://grist.org/science/fish-bones-could-help-us-trace-the-toxic-path-of-coal-ash/

The problem with paper receipts

treehugger.com
The problem with paper receipts
Katherine Martinko feistyredhair November 7, 2018
4-5 minutes

They seem so innocuous, but they’re becoming an environmental nightmare.

In recent months, the one statement I always make at checkout counters – “I don’t need a bag” – has been joined by another – “No receipt, please.” I began doing this after learning about the harmful effects of thermal paper, the shiny smooth paper that most retailers now use to print receipts.

Thermal paper uses heat rather than ink to form letters and numbers, and it relies on bisphenol A to do so. (If you scratch a receipt and see a dark line, then you know it contains BPA or its common substitute BPS.) BPA is a hormone disruptor and is absorbed through the skin, which means that even reaching for a receipt poses a risk of contamination.

Turning down receipts at the time of purchase also saves me having to deal with all those annoying slips of paper that fill up my wallet. I used to be amazed at how many I’d unearth every few months, but when you think about it on a global scale, the amount of receipt waste is staggering. In the UK an estimated 11.2 billion receipts are handed out annually, costing around £32 million to make and generating 1.5 billion pounds of waste.

To make matters worse, thermal paper cannot be recycled. Its only ‘safe’ destination is the landfill, because the recycling process would only release more BPA into the environment and cause further damage. Stop and chew on that for a minute. All that contaminated trash, just so you can remember six months down the road that you paid $3.50 for a crappy muffin and weak coffee at a truck stop somewhere.

Now, I understand that not all purchases are an unmemorable as that muffin-coffee combo. Many others, particularly more expensive ones, do require proof of purchase, so what are the alternatives?

  • Digital receipts, emailed from retailer to customer, are becoming more common. But this can also mean handing over your email address, which enables a company to inundate you with promotional material. Whenever I feel I have to do this, I make sure to say I don’t want to receive any other communication.
  • Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay can be used on your smartphone to make small purchases. As Sanjana Varghese writes for Wired, some retailers are moving to plug-ins such as Flux, which “creates an itemized record of a user’s transactions.” Similar apps include Transaction Tree and Yreceipts.

  • Be selective about the receipts you accept. Only take receipts for items that you know may have a higher chance of needing to be returned, or that you can claim as a business expense, or that come from cash transactions that can’t be tracked online. For example, I’d take a receipt for a pair of shoes, but not for a meal eaten out or even groceries.

  • Track your expenses elsewhere. Don’t use receipts to keep track of your expenses. Make a habit of writing down that information in a special place that you can reference any time. For me, that’s in my phone, but a small notebook could do the job too. As soon as I leave a store, I add the amount to my monthly expense tally with a brief description.

  • Ask stores to reconsider their system. If you’re a regular shopper at a store that uses thermal paper, bring it up in conversation. It doesn’t hurt to ask and educate. After all, if every store finds that customers are rejecting their receipts, they will be more inclined to come up with an alternative.

Veronique Barbossa, the co-founder of Flux, is absolutely right when she tells Varghese, “Paper receipts are non-recyclable, consume oil, trees, and water, and they don’t fit into the digital lifestyle that we currently have.” They seem nearly as outdated as paper cheques, which I haven’t owned in several years because e-transfers make life so much easier.

It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight, but it is something I suspect we’re all going to start hearing more about.

They seem so innocuous, but they’re becoming an environmental nightmare.

https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/problem-paper-receipts.html

E-Cigarettes and a New Threat: How to Dispose of Them

ecowatch.com

By Yogi H. Hendlin

The two largest global brands of capsule coffee, Nespresso and Keurig, are regarded by many as environmental nightmares. Billions of the throwaway nonrecyclable plastic products currently clutter waste dumps, waterways and city streets. Both inventor of the “K-cups” John Sylvan and former Nespresso CEO Jean-Paul Gaillard have publicly bemoaned the environmental consequences of the products they once championed. Sylvan has stated that the disposable (but not biodegradable) coffee capsule is “like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”

The comparison between cigarette butts and capsule coffee is surprisingly fitting. Both butts and capsules are intentionally designed to be convenient, single-use products. Both are also nonbiodegradable and unrecyclable. As pervasive and polluting as cigarette butts are, however, the e-waste from e-cigarettes presents an even more apt comparison.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco with a background in environmental philosophy and public health, I became curious how the waste stream of e-cigarettes has passed completely outside the regulatory radar.
A Smoking Gun?

San Francisco’s Pax Labs, maker of the market-leading electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) Juul, thinks of its product as a “Nespresso machine, if Nespresso still made great coffee.” It also describes its e-cigarette as a “gun.”

The product has soared in popularity, particularly among teenagers. In September Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called Juul smoking among teens an epidemic.

While the health outcomes for e-cigarette vapor versus an inveterate capsule coffee drinker vary greatly, both “disruptive” products present lingering harms to the environment greater than the products they replace.

The legacy of cigarette butts imparts a dark story. An estimated two-thirds of cigarette butts are littered, clogging sewer drains, blighting city parks and contributing to estimated cleanup costs of US$11 billion yearly for U.S. litter alone. Cigarettes are environmentally irresponsible by design, and yet e-cigarettes pose an environmental threat of considerable proportions. Instead of merely being thrown away, these complex devices present simultaneously a biohazard risk with potential high quantities of leftover or residual nicotine and an environmental health threat as littered electronic waste.

Their endocrine-disrupting plastics, lithium ion batteries and electronic circuit boards require disassembly, sorting and proper further recycling and disposal. Their instructions do not say anything about disposal. Electronic waste (e-waste) already presents a daunting environmental quandary and is notoriously difficult to recycle. When littered, broken devices can leach metals, battery acid and nicotine into the local environment and urban landscape.
A Preventable Environmental Health Disaster

A main question public health regulators must face is: How are these new devices being disposed of? Are e-cigarettes being thrown away carelessly, like cigarette butts? Or disposed of in special electronic waste facilities, like smartphones? Preliminary results from litter pickups give mixed results. Juul pods are found routinely littered, especially where young people congregate. But because of the double-bind of e-cigarette waste being both electronic waste due to the components and hazardous waste due to the nicotine liquid residue, currently there is no legal way to recycle them in the U.S. The Office on Smoking and Health and the EPA need to coordinate their regulations to allow for the safe recycling and waste minimization of these products.

More than 58 million e-cigarette products were sold in the U.S. (not including those sold in vape shops or online) in 2015, 19.2 million of which were disposable e-cigarettes. A 2014 study found that none of the surveyed e-cigarette packages contained disposal instructions.

The major transnational tobacco companies so far primarily sell throwaway, one-use “closed” system products. Vuse and MarkTen, owned by Reynolds American and Altria, respectively, are two leading U.S. e-cigarettes, and both are closed systems. While these products may prevent nicotine poisoning in small children, their environmental health harms may be significantly larger due to their expendable design.

Most independent vaporizer manufacturers sell open, or reusable, systems, which are more popular with longer-term users and possibly more effective to quit than traditional cigarettes. In other markets, however, like the U.K. and Japan, transnational tobacco companies British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International have begun to heavily market open systems.

BAT’s website on the disposal of their Vype e-cigarette warns “electrical waste and electronic equipment can contain hazardous substances which, if not treated properly, could lead to damage to the environment and human health.” So neither open nor closed systems are environmentally sustainable.

The World Health Organization, in its report Tobacco and Its Environmental Impact: An Overview, recently noted the “quieter but shockingly widespread impacts of tobacco from an environmental perspective.” Article 18 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states that all signatory parties “agree to have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories.” It is time to close the loop and pay increased attention to tobacco product disposal as well.

As regulatory agencies continue deciding how to regulate e-cigarettes, not only should the immediate health effects and secondhand effects of the products be taken into account, but I believe the environmental effects of these products should be too.

The mounting environmental impact of the single-use nonrecyclable coffee fad has left coffee capsule Keurig inventor John Sylvan regretting his invention. Will apocryphal e-cigarette inventor Hon Lik ever have a similar reckoning regarding the mountains of e-cigarette e-waste? Let’s hope it never gets to that point.

Dr. Hendlin is an environmental philosopher and public health policy researcher with over 12 years experience in tobacco control.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

https://www.ecowatch.com/e-cigarettes-pollution-2615410167.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=2a31e01a97-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-2a31e01a97-86074753

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Shutting Door on Americans, Auctioning Away New Mexico Public Lands

ClimateWest

30377612417_ce5c53ebdb_k_dChaco Canyon petroglyphs. Photo by Steve Snyder, Flickr.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is barreling ahead to auction New Mexico public lands for fracking and steamrolling, sidelining, and shunning the American public in the process.

The agency yesterday announced its intent to sell more than 84,000 acres of the Land of Enchantment to the oil and gas industry this December. This includes more than 43,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico and 41,000 acres in southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad Caverns region (the sale also includes more than 5,000 acres in Oklahoma and Texas).

See for yourself where these lands are located, click here to access an interactive map >>

Simultaneously, the Bureau of Land Management rejected a request from WildEarth Guardians and many others for public hearings around the proposed sale. A broad coalition of environmental, Tribal, health, and clean energy…

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House Destroyed, Homes Evacuated After PA Pipeline Explosion |

globaljusticeecology.org
House Destroyed, Homes Evacuated After PA Pipeline Explosion |
Posted on September 11, 2018 by GJEP staff Leave a Comment
2 minutes

A gas pipeline explosion “sent flames shooting into the sky” in Center Township, Pa. on Monday morning, according to WPXI News.

“A massive gas explosion shook parts of Beaver County early Monday, destroying a house, garages and multiple vehicles and bringing down six high-tension electric towers” reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Energy Transfer Partners pipeline, according to industry news source Natural Gas Intelligence, had only been placed into service last week and exploded due to “torrential rain and saturated ground.”
One resident stated that their “house started shaking. The sky was pure red from the flames shooting.”
Someone else told reporters that “It sounded like a jet was taking off.”
Appalachians Against Pipelines Facebook

According the the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Energy Transfer’s reputation in Pennsylvania over the past few years has been dominated by its Mariner East 2 project, which involves laying a pair of pipelines across the southern part of the state to ferry natural gas liquids from Ohio to refineries and export terminals near Philadelphia. The effort has yielded dozens of environmental violations, drilling mud spills into creeks and streams, and a series of construction stops ordered by regulators that have delayed the pipelines’ in-service dates.”

https://globaljusticeecology.org/house-destroyed-homes-evacuated-after-pa-pipeline-explosion/#comments

Contact Lenses Add to Earth’s Microplastic Crisis

ecowatch.com
Contact Lenses Add to Earth’s Microplastic Crisis
Lorraine Chow
4-5 minutes

Contact lenses may appear harmlessly soft and small, but a big chunk of American users are improperly disposing their used lenses and adding to the planet’s microplastic problem, Arizona State University researchers found.

In a survey of 409 wearers, about 1 in 5 responded that they flushed their used lenses down the toilet or sink instead of throwing them in the trash, according to a new study presented at the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting and Exposition.

“We found that 15 to 20 percent of contact wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet,” said Charlie Rolsky, an Arizona State University Ph.D. student who is presenting the work, in a press release.

The flushed lenses, which are mostly plastic, turn up at wastewater treatment plants and become part of sewage sludge that gets spread on farmland.

Contact lenses recovered from treated sewage sludge Charles Rolsky

With 45 million contact users in the U.S., the research team estimated 6-10 metric tons of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the U.S. alone each year.

Rolf Halden, the director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and one of the authors of the new study, noted at a press conference on Monday that these contacts do not decompose.

“They don’t degrade. They don’t attenuate but they become smaller. So they create what we know as microplastic pollution, which is contaminating the oceans,” he said.

Halden said that fragments have been found in sewage sludge, which can contaminate the soil environment and become ingested by earthworms when it’s spread on land.

“We know that earthworms take up soil and can ingest plastics, and then if birds eat the worms it creates a pathway for plastics to enter the food chain,” he said. Further, after heavy rains, the plastic bits can trickle out into streams and other waterways and make their way into the ocean.

And it’s not just the contact lenses themselves that are an environmental problem. Dailies, weeklies and monthlies are packaged by the billions in polypropylene plastic containers and aluminum lids, and “the unfortunate news is that they do not get recycled very effectively,” Halden said. Only one manufacturer, Bausch + Lomb, has a take-back recycling program.

Soft contacts are usually made of a combination of poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones and fluoropolymers, which makes them feel watery and gel-like. Halden suggested that people flick their contacts down the sink or toilet because they do not feel like solid plastic waste.

The researchers hope their study will teach users to stop flushing their contacts. They are also calling on lens manufacturers, at the very least, to label their products with proper disposal instructions.

“Ultimately, we hope that manufacturers will conduct more research on how the lenses impact aquatic life and how fast the lenses degrade in a marine environment,” Halden said in the press release.

Angela Lashbrook, who reported about the new study for The Atlantic, admitted to flushing lenses down the toilet herself. She also polled a few of her contact-wearing friends and was surprised to find they all flushed their lenses, too.

Thanks to the study, she and her friends vowed to make the simple switch of throwing used contacts in the trash.

“It’s quite possibly the easiest change to my behavior I’ve ever had to make that could avoid hurting the environment. My contacts-wearing friends, without my scolding, all pledged to do the same,” Lashbrook wrote.

Watch here to learn more about the study:

https://www.ecowatch.com/contact-lenses-microplastic-waste-2597484024.html?utm_source=EcoWatch%2BList&utm_campaign=4d13d4e552-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-4d13d4e552-86074753

Why recycling won’t save the planet

treehugger.com
Why recycling won’t save the planet
Katherine Martinko feistyredhair

We blame ourselves for not recycling more plastics, and yet our efforts are like “hammering a nail to halt a falling skyscraper.” It’s time we got to the root of the problem.

“People need to get better at recycling” is a comment I often hear as soon as the topic of plastic waste comes up. It’s a misleading assumption, however, to think that tossing more items in the recycling bin and fewer in the trash can make that much of a difference in dealing with the catastrophic level of plastic contamination that our planet currently faces. In fact, it’s pretty much pointless.

Before you think I’ve given up and gone all anti-TreeHugger, please realize that this is an issue we discuss every single year on America Recycles Day, an annual event sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the plastics industry that has taught us to pick up our garbage. Matt Wilkins explains in Scientific American that we need to rethink the way we deal with trash, saying that individual consumers cannot sole this problem because individual consumers are not the problem. We have taken it on as our problem because of some very astute, corporate-driven psychological misdirection in the form of campaigns like Keep America Beautiful.

Huh? you might be thinking. Isn’t Keep America Beautiful a good thing? Well, Wilkins has a different view. Keep America Beautiful was founded by major beverage companies and tobacco giant Philip Morris in the 1950s as a way to encourage environmental stewardship in the public. Later it joined forces with the Ad Council, at which point, “one of their first and most lasting impacts was bringing ‘litterbug’ into the American lexicon.” This was followed by the ‘Crying Indian’ public service announcement and the more recent ‘I Want To Be Recycled’ campaign.

While these PSAs appear admirable, they are little more than corporate greenwashing. For decades Keep America Beautiful has actively campaigned against beverage laws that would mandate refillable containers and bottle deposits. Why? Because these would hurt the profits of the companies that founded and support Keep America Beautiful. Meanwhile, the organization has been tremendously successful at transferring the blame for plastic pollution onto consumers, rather than forcing the industry to shoulder responsibility.

Wilkins writes:

“The greatest success of Keep America Beautiful has been to shift the onus of environmental responsibility onto the public while simultaneously becoming a trusted name in the environmental movement. This psychological misdirect has built public support for a legal framework that punishes individual litterers with hefty fines or jail time, while imposing almost no responsibility on plastic manufacturers for the numerous environmental, economic and health hazards imposed by their products.”

If we are serious about tackling plastic pollution, then corporations’ actions are where we should start. They are the real litterbugs in this situation. The focus should be on the source of the plastic, not its near-impossible disposal.

Reading Wilkins’ article felt disorienting for me, in light of all the zero-waste, pro-recycling, plastic-free articles I write for this website. One line in particular made a big impression:

“Effectively, we have accepted individual responsibility for a problem we have little control over.”

I see where he’s coming from, but cannot agree entirely. First, I think that people have to feel like they can do something in the face of great difficulty. So, even if it’s not the most effective method, putting bottles in the blue bin is at least some kind of beneficial action. Second, I believe in the collective power of people: that’s how movements start. Governments won’t force corporations to change their ways unless the public is crying for it — and that begins ever so humbly, with individual households putting their blue bins out each week.

So, how does one even start shifting the blame for plastic pollution to where it’s supposed to be? Wilkins calls on people first to reject the lie:

“Litterbugs are not responsible for the global ecological disaster of plastic… Our huge problem with plastic is the result of a permissive legal framework that has allowed the uncontrolled rise of plastic pollution, despite clear evidence of the harm it causes to local communities and the world’s oceans.”

Then start fighting. Talk about the plastic problem with everyone you know. Contact local and federal representatives. Think beyond zero waste and recycling initiatives to cradle-to-cradle models, “where waste is minimized by planning in advance how materials can be reused and recycled at a product’s end of life rather than trying to figure that out after the fact.” Support bans on single-use plastics or, at the very least, opt-in policies where customers have to request straws or disposable coffee cups, instead of getting them automatically. Support bag taxes and bottle deposits. Fight the preemptive laws in some states that prevent municipal plastic regulation.

As Wilkins concludes, “There are now too many humans and too much plastic on this pale blue dot to continue planning our industrial expansions on a quarterly basis.” We need a better approach, and it has to get at the real root of the problem.

https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/why-recycling-wont-save-planet.html

Nitrogen pollution is a problem as big as climate change. Science might have a fix.

grist.org
By Nathanael Johnson on Aug 16, 2018 at 1:36 pm

Some think nitrogen pollution may be the greatest danger we face. The Stockholm Resilience Center, an organization that examines the largest threats to natural life-support systems, considers our overuse of nitrogen a more extreme risk to life on Earth than climate change.

But a new paper, published in the journal Nature this week, uncovered a way that we could keep millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer from evaporating into the atmosphere and running into the oceans.

Nitrogen is a basic building block of our food, so farmers spread tons of the stuff — in the form of manure, compost, and synthetic fertilizer — on their fields. But only half of this nitrogen makes it into plants. The rest gets chewed up by hungry soil bacteria and turned into a greenhouse gas 300 times worse than carbon dioxide, or gets washed into waterways where it fuels an explosion of algae growth that turns into lakes and oceans into gloopy, oxygen-starved dead zones.

It’s a massive problem that doesn’t get enough attention. If the Earth were a spaceship [eds note: isn’t it?], the control panel’s nitrogen light would be flashing red.

The Stockholm Resilience Center’s estimation of planetary boundaries F. Pharand-Deschênes/Globaïa

Humans accelerated the nitrogen disaster during the “green revolution” of the 1960s with the worldwide adoption of fertilizer-hungry crops. These replaced strains of wheat, rice, and other grains that grew more slowly and conservatively. Grain harvests more than doubled in two decades, but clouds of pollution spread into the air and water. It seemed like a vicious tradeoff.

But this new research suggests that crops can be nitrogen-hoarding and high-yielding at the same time. Before this study came out, it seemed like we had to choose between frugal crops that grow slowly and hoard nitrogen, and spendthrift crops that grow quickly require extravagant nitrogen.

What had looked like a trade-off may simply have been a mistake. The scientists identified a gene that inhibits nitrogen absorption in rice, which had become hyperactive in high-yielding strains, and figured out how to counteract it. This gene (metaphorically) shouts, “Don’t suck up nitrogen!” Through breeding, scientists were able to turn down the volume of this shout to a whisper. The result is high-yielding rice that needs less fertilizer.

A rice-breeding program to bring this breakthrough to farmers is underway in China, where nitrogen pollution is especially bad. It will take about five years before we really know if this works for farmers outside of greenhouses and test plots. If it does, it might change that nitrogen warning on spaceship earth’s dashboard from red to yellow.

https://grist.org/science/nitrogen-pollution-is-a-problem-as-big-as-climate-change-science-might-have-a-fix/

Plastics aren’t just polluting our oceans — they’re releasing greenhouse gases

by Emily Hunter

I’m a French-Canadian postdoctoral scholar at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and part of the School of Ocean and Earth Science & Technology (SOEST). As part of our team’s research, we found that, as plastic decomposes, it is producing a new source of greenhouse gas pollution not included in previous climate models. These emissions are only expected to increase — especially as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment and degrades over time.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii, Manoa have discovered startling new evidence that the plastics on land and in the ocean release greenhouse gases as they break down. In this article, scientist Sarah-Jeanne Royer tells us about what she found in the field and why it’s now even more important to break free from plastic. © Sarah-Jeanne Royer

Greenhouse gases have a direct impact on climate change — affecting sea level rise, global temperatures, ecosystem health on land and in the ocean, and storms, increasing flooding, drought, and erosion. Most plastic is created from natural gases, so the release of greenhouse gases from plastic waste might not seem surprising. Even so, the University of Hawaii is actually the first group publishing data about the link between greenhouse gases and plastic in the environment.

Of particular concern is a type of plastic called low-density polyethylene, which is the highest emitter of climate-wrecking greenhouse gases. It’s commonly found in the most produced, used, and discarded single-use plastics making their way into our oceans and waterways today. Our research shows that as this plastic breaks down in the ocean, the greenhouse emissions increase dramatically — up to 488 times morethan in pellet form, the term used to describe ‘raw’ plastic before it’s been made into an end product like a bag or water bottle.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. Plastics exposed directly to sunlight in the air — like on land at beaches, coastlines, fields, and playgrounds — make an even greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. So while we urgently need to keep plastics out of the ocean to stop the negative impacts of pollution on marine life and coastal communities, that’s not enough. On land, discarded plastics still release greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change even while no one is watching.

 

This research has big implications for waste management as well as potential climate change impacts. Plastic pollution is already reaching crisis levels, and this new information only makes the problem more urgent to address — and fast. Considering the amounts of plastic washing ashore on our coastlines, along with the amount of plastic exposed to environmental conditions, to protect our planet against climate change, we need to stop plastic production at the source.

Greenpeace UK Oceans campaigner Tisha Brown holds up plastic straws collected during a beach cleanup activity on Freedom Island, Philippines.

Sarah-Jeanne Royer is a French-Canadian postdoctoral scholar at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and part of the School of Ocean and Earth Science & Technology (SOEST). To learn more about her research on plastics and greenhouse gas emissions, read the full published report here

https://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/story/plastics-arent-just-polluting-our-oceans-theyre-releasing-greenhouse-gases/

NEPA Under Attack! Tell Trump ‘Hands Off Nat’l Env Law’ Before Aug. 20 |

globaljusticeecology.org
Posted on July 13, 2018 by GJEP staff Leave a Comment
Note: Thanks to a major effort by eco and other groups in the US (including GJEP), the period for commenting on the government’s attempt to gut one of the country’s strongest remaining environmental laws (the National Environmental Policy Act) has been extended to 20 August. NEPA requires production of extensive Environmental Impact Statements, including input from the public, before actions can be taken that would impact or harm the environment. This law also applies to the proposed release of genetically engineered trees in the US.

For more info or to submit comments, go to: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=CEQ-2018-0001-0001

– Anne Petermann, GJEP Carl Segerstrom/High Country News

A linchpin environmental law is now being scrutinized by the Trump administration and could be targeted for reforms. The National Environmental Policy Act, commonly referred to as NEPA, dictates the environmental planning process for federal agencies. Any changes to the NEPA process could have far-reaching impacts on the vast public lands and infrastructure of the West.

The NEPA reform push broadly traces political dividing lines, as pro-business and anti-regulation Republicans, who want to see NEPA reworked, square off with environmental groups and conservation-minded Democrats hoping to preserve the law and implementation process. Caught between the vocal factions of each party are state governments and federal land managers arguing for a middle ground of limited reform.

An August 2017 executive order, aimed at cutting environmental regulations and speeding up infrastructure projects, key goals of the Trump administration, prompted the ongoing review. The review looks at changing the implementing procedures for environmental reviews and offers some examples of what could be altered, including: limiting the time frame for environmental reviews, changing how agencies consider state and tribal input, and reducing the need to explore project alternatives.

When federal agencies consider timber sales, build bridges, renew licenses on dams, pave highways, permit nuclear facilities or make any decision that will impact the local environment, they trigger the NEPA process. Contractors working on federal projects often commission and pay for NEPA reviews. The NEPA review process has three tiers that determine how rigorous an environmental review must be. The Categorical Exclusion designation exempts actions from environmental review if they are deemed to have no “significant effect on the human environment.” The next tier is Environmental Assessment, which compels agencies to prepare a formal review of potential impacts and decide whether the action has no significant impact or requires an Environmental Impact Statement. The Environmental Impact Statement is the most thorough review process and requires multiple drafts, a public comment period and that agencies explore alternatives to proposed projects.

Heading the push for NEPA reform is Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has had the law in his sights for the last decade. During a committee meeting on NEPA, Bishop, the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, complained the law has been warped by lawsuits and court interpretations and become “a weapon for litigants to force delays and denials on all sorts of activities.” Bishop, who has been a vocal proponent of loosening federal regulations on oil and gas companies and the transfer of federal lands to state control, said, “Environmental reviews should inform government of the actions they need to take, not paralyze it.”

Conservation groups are digging in order to preserve NEPA and asking for an extended public commenting period on the current review. The “Protect NEPA Campaign,” which is a coalition of environmental, labor and civil rights group, such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council has called the Trump administration’s review an unprecedented attack on the law. More than 350 environmental organizations signed a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, asking for an extension of the public comment period from 30 to 90 days. Raul Garcia, the senior legislative counsel for the environmental law group Earthjustice, said the month-long commenting process “is the latest in a long line of this administration’s efforts to silence public opinion and hinder democracy.”

The Western Governors’ Association recently called for changes to the NEPA process that would give more influence to state governments. In a policy resolution, the association, which represents Western state executives, asked that federal agencies adopt more consistent NEPA planning processes and better engage with state and local governments. The group of Western lawmakers also asked that state environmental impact studies carry more weight in federal decision-making.

Land management professionals say parts of the NEPA process could be reformed, but caution against sweeping changes to the law. Mike Ferguson, a retired Bureau Land Management land planner, first worked on NEPA implementation with the BLM in the 1970’s and has seen the implementation of the law become more convoluted over time. He says tightening the time frame for NEPA actions, clarifying the role of public comments, and investing in training and agency personnel could improve the process.

Getting back to the basic language and intent of the law should be the goal of any NEPA reforms, says Ferguson. “A tug-of-war obliterates what NEPA was designed for in the first place, and I don’t care whether that’s from the left or the right,” he says. “Opening it up on either side will lead to a downward spiral that will dilute its effectiveness in the long-run.”

The commenting period for NEPA reform is slated to be open through Aug. 20, and a comment form can be accessed via the Council on Environmental Quality’s website. To date, the majority of the comments so far have either urged the council to keep NEPA intact or asked for an extended commenting period.

https://globaljusticeecology.org/nepa-under-attack-tell-trump-hands-off-natl-env-law-before-aug-20/#comments

Category: Climate Justice, Featured, Social Media News Tags: High Country News, National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA

Microplastics and Harmful Chemicals Discovered in Antarctic Ice … and Even Freshly Fallen Snow

onegreenplanet.org
Microplastics and Harmful Chemicals Discovered in Antarctic Ice … and Even Freshly Fallen Snow
Aleksandra Pajda
3-4 minutes

New research conducted by Greenpeace during its expedition to the Antarctic found plastics and dangerous chemicals in the most remote and seemingly pristine areas of the continent. Scientific analysis of water and snow samples revealed that the Antarctic is contaminated with microplastics, microscopic materials that no place on Earth seems to be free from anymore.

The majority of samples tested as part of the study contained plastic or persistent and potentially dangerous chemicals. Researchers found that seven of the eight tested seawater samples contained microplastics, with at least one microplastic fiber per liter. Additionally, microplastics were detected in two of the nine samples that had been taken using a manta trawl.

When it comes to chemicals, researchers reported that detectable concentrations of polyfluorinated alkylated substances, PFASs, were found in freshly fallen snow for almost all of the sites where samples were taken. PFASs are chemicals widely used in industrial processes and consumer products. The substances have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife, and they degrade very slowly in the environment. The fact that these were found in freshly fallen snow suggests that some hazardous chemicals are atmospheric, not from a local source.

“We may think of the Antarctic as a remote and pristine wilderness, but from pollution and climate change to industrial krill fishing, humanity’s footprint is clear,” said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign. “These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals.”

In 2017, scientists found ice floes in the middle of the Arctic Ocean to be contaminated with plastic – unwelcomed proof that virtually no place is now safe from human-generated plastic pollution. The findings in the Antarctic are unfortunately more proof of this reality. Due to limited existing data on the presence of microplastics in the continent’s waters, the new findings are a significant addition to the knowledge on plastic pollution in the environment.

Microplastics accumulate in the environment and make their way up the food chain with ease. Mistaken for food or ingested accidentally, tiny pieces of plastic add up in animals’ stomachs and can cause health problems and even death. As humans, we are not safe from microplastics either – they have already been found not only to get into people’s diets through seafood but to also contaminate most of the world’s tap water and bottled water.

You can find the full “Microplastics and Persistent Fluorinated Chemicals in the Antarctic” report here.

Every year, we produce around 300 million tons of plastic, so it is up to all of us to put an end to this environmental scourge. To find out how you can help fight plastic pollution by ditching disposable plastics, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/microplastics-harmful-chemicals-discovered-antarctic-ice/?utm_source=Green+Monster+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=642fbf4340-NEWSLETTER_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bbf62ddf34-642fbf4340-106049477

Image source: Free-Photos/Pixabay

A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019

grist.org
A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019
By Eric Holthaus on May 22, 201811:39 am
4 minutes

In case you couldn’t get enough extreme weather, the next 12 months or so could bring even more scorching temps, punishing droughts, and unstoppable wildfires.

It’s still early, but odds are quickly rising that another El Niño — the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean — could be forming. The latest official outlook from NOAA and Columbia University gives better-than-even odds of El Niño materializing by the end of this year, which could lead to a cascade of dangerous weather around the globe in 2019.

That’s a troubling development, especially when people worldwide are still suffering from the last El Niño, which ended two years ago.
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These early warnings come with a caveat: Predictions of El Niño at this time of year are notoriously fickle. If one comes, it’s impossible to know how strong it would be.

When it’s active, El Niño is often a catch-all that’s blamed for all sorts of wild weather, so it’s worth a quick science-based refresher of what we’re talking about here:

El Niño has amazingly far-reaching effects, spurring droughts in Africa and typhoons swirling toward China and Japan. It’s a normal, natural ocean phenomenon, but there’s emerging evidence that climate change is spurring more extreme El Niño-related events.

On average though, El Niño boosts global temperatures and redistributes weather patterns worldwide in a pretty predictable way. In fact, the Red Cross is starting to use its predictability to prevent humanitarian weather catastrophes before they happen.

All told, the the U.N. estimates the 2016 El Niño directly affected nearly 100 million people worldwide, not to mention causing permanent damage to the world’s coral reefs, a surge in carbon dioxide emissions from a global outbreak of forest fires, and the warmest year in recorded history.

In Ethiopia, it spawned one of the worst droughts in decades. More than 8.5 million Ethiopians continue to rely on emergency assistance, according to the UN. That includes some 1.3 million people — a majority of whom are children — who have been forced to migrate from their homes.

Initial estimates show that, if the building El Niño actually arrives, 2019 would stand a good chance at knocking off 2016 as the warmest year on record. With a strong El Niño, next year might even tiptoe across the 1.5 degree-Celsius mark — the first major milestone that locks in at least some of global warming’s worst impacts.

Recently, the United Kingdom’s Met Office — the U.K’s version of the National Weather Service — placed a 10-percent chance of the world passing the 1.5 degree Celsius target before 2022. That target was a key goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement because a sharp upward spike in temperature that severe, if sustained, would be potentially catastrophic — causing, among other impacts, “fundamental changes in ocean chemistry” that could linger for millennia, according to a draft UN report due out later this year.

Another El Niño is bad news, but it has been inevitable that another one will happen eventually. Knowing exactly when the next one is coming will give those in harm’s way more time to prepare.

https://grist.org/science/a-building-el-nino-in-2018-signals-more-extreme-weather-on-tap-for-2019/

Provisions in ‘Farm Bill’ Seek to Fast Track Logging in National Forest

globaljusticeecology.org
Provisions in ‘Farm Bill’ Seek to Fast Track Logging in National Forest
Posted on May 15, 2018 by GJEP staff Leave a Comment
3 minutes

New York – Often seen politically as a must pass for legislators, the current “Farm Bill”, more accurately known as the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, has taken on a menacing form this legislative session as it has just been passed by party line vote from committee on May 3rd.

The bill in its current form is replete with provisions that seek to undermine environmental laws and safeguards. The bill has been opposed by a long and growing list of environmental groups that includes the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of the Wild, Earthjustice, League of Conservation voters among others.

Global Justice Ecology Project is announcing its opposition to H.R. 2 as a blatant attempt to undermine environmental protections and severely limit the ability of the public to challenge destructive forest policies. This includes the logging of up to ten square miles of trees at a time within the national forest system – under the guise of forest health.

H.R. 2 would double a similar carve out for the logging industry that was included in the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill (budget). In doing so, it would further allow exemptions from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of up to 6,000 acres per single cut to be exempt from review- and thus meaningful citizen input.

“The Farm Bill in its current form is a gift to the logging industry as it would allow for tremendously destructive increases in extraction of timber from our national forests without review or disclosure of potential harm,” said Anne Peterman, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP). “Pro-logging provisions in the bill use fear-mongering, including the specter of wildfire, to give extractive industries carte blanche access to devastate our public lands with no opportunity for input from the public.”

https://globaljusticeecology.org/provisions-in-farm-bill-seek-to-fast-track-logging-in-national-forest/

Global Justice NOW

Category: Climate Justice, Featured, Press Releases, Pressroom, Social Media News Tags: Farm Bill

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

grist.org
Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air
By Eric Holthaus on May 3, 2018

The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, millions of years ago, the planet was very different. For one, humans didn’t exist.

On Wednesday, scientists at the University of California in San Diego confirmed that April’s monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration breached 410 parts per million for the first time in our history.

We know a lot about how to track these changes. The Earth’s carbon dioxide levels peak around this time every year for a pretty straightforward reason. There’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere, and plants grow in a seasonal cycle. During the summer, they suck down CO2, during the winter, they let it back out. The measurements were made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii — a site chosen for its pristine location far away from the polluting influence of a major city.

Increasingly though, pollution from the world’s cities is making its way to Mauna Loa — and everywhere else on Earth.

In little more than a century of frenzied fossil-fuel burning, we humans have altered our planet’s atmosphere at a rate dozens of times faster than natural climate change. Carbon dioxide is now more than 100 ppm higher than any direct measurements from Antarctic ice cores over the past 800,000 years, and probably significantly higher than anything the planet has experienced for at least 15 million years. That includes eras when Earth was largely ice-free.

Not only are carbon dioxide levels rising each year, they are accelerating. Carbon dioxide is climbing at twice the pace it was 50 years ago. Even the increases are increasing.

That’s happening for several reasons, most important of which is that we’re still burning a larger amount of fossil fuels each year. Last year, humanity emitted the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions in history — even after factoring in the expansion of renewable energy. At the same time, the world’s most important carbon sinks — our forests — are dying, and therefore losing their ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it safely in the soil. The combination of these effects means we are losing ground, and fast.

Without a bold shift in our actions, in 30 years atmospheric carbon dioxide will return back to levels last reached just after the extinction of the dinosaurs, more than 50 million years ago. At that point, it might be too late to prevent permanent, dangerous feedback loops from kicking in.

This is the biggest problem humanity has ever faced, and we’ve barely even begun to address it effectively. On our current pace, factoring in current climate policies of every nation on Earth, the best independent analyses show that we are on course for warming of about 3.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, enough to extinguish entire ecosystems and destabilize human civilization.

Climate change demands the urgent attention and cooperation of every government around the world. But even though most countries have acknowledged the danger, the ability to limit our emissions eludes us. After 23 years of United Nations summits on climate change, the time has come for radical thinking and radical action — a social movement with the power to demand a better future.

Of the two dozen or so official UN scenarios that show humanity curbing global warming to the goals agreed to in the 2015 Paris Accord, not one show success without the equivalent of a technological miracle. It’s easier to imagine outlandish technologies, like carbon capture, geoengineering, or fusion power than self-control.

Our failed approach to climate change is mostly a failure of imagination. We are not fated to this path. We can do better. Yes, there are some truly colossal headwinds, but we still control our future. Forgetting that fact is sure to doom us all.

https://grist.org/science/humans-didnt-exist-the-last-time-there-was-this-much-co2-in-the-air/

World’s First Collapsible, Reusable Straw Fits Right On Your Keychain

 

 

ecowatch.com
World’s First Collapsible, Reusable Straw Fits Right On Your Keychain
Lorraine Chow
3 minutes

Straws suck—literally and figuratively. Americans throw away 500 million of these single-use plastics everyday day, clogging landfills, polluting oceans and causing harm to aquatic creatures.

And while reusable straws made of bamboo or metal already exist on the market, the Santa Fe-based team at FinalStraw have invented the world’s first collapsible, reusable straw you can conveniently attach to your keychain so you won’t forget to bring your own when you’re on the go.

The FinalStraw consists of a foldable stainless steel straw, a tiny squeegee to keep the straw clean and a recycled plastic case that’s no bigger than a smartphone.

To help reduce plastic straw use, every FinalStraw also includes five information cards for you to leave with your bill at restaurants that still serve plastic straws. According to the campaign, “we hope to make the public more aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution and use that awareness to pressure restaurants to stop serving straws.”

A lot of buzz has already generated around the project. A feature on BuzzFeed Video has generated 9.4 million views and counting. A successful Kickstarter, now with more than 11,000 backers, easily blew past the team’s initial $12,500 goal. More than $500,000 has been raised so far with more than 20 days to go.

“The success of our Kickstarter just goes to show that people want reusables, they just need to be convenient and make sense,” FinalStraw co-founder Emma Cohen told EcoWatch in an email.

The start-up recently partnered with the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s The Last Plastic Straw Movement for a limited edition Earth Day straw, where part of the proceeds were donated to the organization.

Now that they’ve hit their fundraising goal, Cohen said the team is looking forward to teaming up with more organizations to give back to the community and to continue making more sleek, convenient reusable to-go ware.

“Our mission is to make sure we provide people with the highest quality, socially responsible and coolest reusables possible,” she said.

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FinalStraw costs $20 on Kickstarter and comes with a lifetime warranty. The estimated delivery is November 2018.

https://www.ecowatch.com/finalstraw-collapsible-straw-2562955647.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=e12c646d61-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-e12c646d61-86074753

5 Environmental Victories to Inspire You This Earth Day

Olivia Rosane

Planet Earth is at a crisis point. Researchers say we have to begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 if we want to meet the temperature goals outlined in the Paris agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change.

The work to be done can seem overwhelming. A survey published this week found that only 6 percent of Americans think we will succeed in reducing global warming.

But Earth Day weekend is no time to give up! History has shown that when human beings come together to face environmental challenges, we are capable of making the planet a healthier, happier place for humans and non-humans alike.

Here are five environmental victories to inspire you this Earth Day.

  1. The First Earth Day Creates a Movement

Before the first Earth Day in 1970, polluted rivers in the U.S. sometimes caught fire, and industry polluted the air without worrying about consequences. Then Sen. Gaylord Nelson decided to launch a “national teach-in on the environment,” drawing on the tactics of the anti-war movement to unite different struggles against pollution, oil spills and wilderness depletion under a single green umbrella. Twenty million Americans participated in the first Earth Day and it led to major legislative victories, such as the formation of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which set out to make all U.S. rivers swimmable and fishable again, and insured they would no longer be flammable.

As hard as it might be to believe in today’s political climate, that first Earth Day was a bi-partisan affair. Nelson reached out to Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to act as the day’s co-chair, in a model of the kind of bipartisan collaboration we need to tackle today’s environmental challenges.

  1. The U.S. Saves Its Symbol

One of the factors that raised environmental consciousness in the U.S. in the decade leading up to the first Earth Day was the 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In the book, Carson explained how the widely-used pesticide DDT entered the food chain, killing many more insects than targeted and harming the birds who feasted on the insects, including bald eagles.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a year after Carson’s book was published, there were only 487 nesting pairs left in the country. But the U.S. acted to save its national bird. In 1972, the nascent EPA banned DDT, and, in 1978, the species was listed as endangered, five years after the passage of the Endangered Species Act. In 2007, the FWS announced that the bald eagle had entirely recovered.

  1. International Collaboration Closes the Ozone Hole

As insurmountable as global climate change seems at times, there is precedent for nations coming together to solve an environmental problem. When a hole in the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer and harm plants, was discovered in the 1980s, nations came together and finalized the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

The protocol banned ozone-depleting products such as chlorofluorocarbons that were used in refrigerants and aerosol sprays. And it worked. A 2018 NASA study found that the reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals had resulted in 20 percent less ozone depletion since 2005.

  1. The Green Belt Movement Plants More Than 50 Million Trees

Prof. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her role in founding the Green Belt Movement. Fredrick Onyango

In the 1970s, Prof. Wangari Maathai listened to the complaints of women in rural Kenya who told her that they had to walk further for fuel, their local streams were drying, and their food supply was more precarious. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1972 to encourage them to plant trees in order to improve the soil, store rainwater, and provide fuel and food. Tree planting led to grassroots activism as the women realized the deterioration of their land was also the result of government policies. Overall, the movement has planted more than 51 million trees since its founding.

  1. Maori Win 140-Year-Old Environmental Court Case

 

 

In 2017, New Zealand’s parliament granted the Whanganui River, called Te Awa Tupua by the Maori, the legal rights of a person, something the local Maori had petitioned for since 1873. The move honored the persistence of indigenous activists, who are often on the forefront of struggles to protect the environment, and signals that settler governments might finally be willing to learn from a worldview that places fewer separations between human beings and the planet. The legislation included money for compensation and for improving the river’s health, and paved the way for Mount Taranaki to be offered similar legal status later that year.

https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-victories-2561818321.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=1db4b0c0eb-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-1db4b0c0eb-86074753

End Plastic Pollution | Earth Day Network

From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.

In response, Earth Day 2018 will focus on fundamentally changing human attitude and behavior about plastics and catalyzing a significant reduction in plastic pollution.

Our strategy to End Plastic Pollution will:

Lead and support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution
Educate and mobilize citizens across the globe to demand action from governments and corporations to control and diminish plastic pollution
Inform and activate citizens to take personal responsibility for the plastic pollution that each one of us generates by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics
Work with universities, school teachers and students to End Plastic Pollution
Work with other organizations and networks and make Earth Day 2018 a platform to End Plastic Pollution by developing resources that others can use and build partnerships.
Promote the work that cities and local governments are doing to tackle plastic pollution
Empower journalists across the globe to report on the problem and its emerging solutions.

Earth Day Network will leverage the platform of Earth Day, April 22, 2018 and the growing excitement around the 50thAnniversary of Earth Day in 2020. We will work with key constituencies and influencers to build a world of educated consumers of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastics.

We will engage and activate our global network of NGO’s and grassroots organizations, campus youth, mayors and other local elected leaders, faith leaders, artists and athletes, and primary and secondary students and teachers.

We will organize events in all continents of the world, build a global following and activate citizens to join our End Plastic Pollution advocacy campaigns.

In sum, we will use the power of Earth Day to elevate the issue of plastic pollution in the global agenda and inspire and demand effective action to reduce and control it.

Sign the End Plastic Pollution Petition

Make a pledge to reduce your use of plastic

Send your ideas or propose a partnership to plastic@earthday.org

https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/plastics-campaign/

Climate-friendly burgers: fact or fiction?

By Nathanael Johnson on Apr 16, 2018

Here’s a crazy idea: What if your love of steak wasn’t a massive environmental problem but part of a solution instead? What if we could suck carbon out of the air and save the world simply by eating beef?

A new study suggests that all this is possible, but it comes with a whopper of a caveat.

Ranching advocates have long thought carbon-negative beef was possible. The hypothesis was that grasslands and grazing animals have an ancient relationship; they’ve evolved together and depend on each other for optimal health. But modern ranching methods severed that connection, so the thinking went. Allow cattle to graze in the manner of wild herds — very heavily in one area for short periods, and then giving that area time to regrow — and the ancient relationship could be restored. Grasses would grow lush and suck up lots of carbon dioxide, more than compensating for the greenhouse gases that the cattle produce.

The problem was, there wasn’t good science to support this hypothesis. There have been studies looking at carbon sequestration in grazed land, but those only worked when you trucked in tons of compost, which can be prohibitively expensive. Then, a couple of weeks ago we finally got our first study showing grass-fed beef can be carbon negative. Here it is. Let the beef bacchanal begin.

Actually, before you dump gravy over your head and skip off to join the celebrants, let’s look at that big caveat: The beef in this study took up twice as much land as conventional beef production.

About half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cutting down forests, and livestock are a primary culprit because they dominate 77 percent of agricultural land. And farms keep expanding to feed more meat-hungry people. There’s a danger that findings like this could give grass-fed beef a green halo, and allow people to feel virtuous for buying more double cheeseburgers. That would be a disaster. If everyone in the world started eating this kind of carbon-negative beef, we’d have to clear forests and wildlands to expand pasture, and that would wipe out any carbon savings.

Getting it right requires a balancing act. If we manage to slash our collective burger habit in half, while only buying beef raised the way described in this study, then voila, carbon-negative beef! That really could happen if good replacements — say, the Impossible Burger and good old mushrooms — help us drive down beef consumption. And that’s also assuming these practices work in a lot of different places. Remember, this is just one study (other terms and conditions apply, not valid in Veganistan).

There’s another way this might work: Conventional beef cattle spend two-thirds of their lives eating grass before they move to a feedlot and start eating grain. If ranchers around the world start applying the lessons of this study to that first two-thirds of a steer’s life, it could go a long way toward offsetting cattle emissions without taking up any more space. That’s a way we could tweak the system, and it wouldn’t require optimistic assumptions about how we’d keep people from clearing more farmland or convince everyone to eat less meat.

https://grist.org/science/climate-friendly-burgers-fact-or-fiction/

Fixing Farming our climate challenge. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

seeimg_2049-147344290.jpg

https://jpratt27.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/fixing-farming-our-climate-challenge-auspol-qldpol-stopadani-climatechange/#like-12198

jpratt27.wordpress.com
Fixing Farming our climate challenge. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange
by John
9-11 minutes

Fixing farming our climate challenge

Rod Oram writes in this week’s column about farming’s massive climate change challenge and New Zealand’s special role in finding ways to reduce emissions.

“As a scientist I’ve never had so much reason to be nervous; and as a scientist I’ve never had so much reason to be hopeful.”

This was the essential message Johan Rockström, one of the world’s leading earth scientists, delivered this past week about climate change and our responses to it during his visit to New Zealand.

He entrusted a particular task to us: agriculture and food production globally present the greatest climate change challenge of all.

Their big adverse effects on the ecosystem are compounded by associated impacts through deforestation, agricultural monocultures, biodiversity loss and the declining health of soils and water.

It’s harder for farmers

All up agriculture broadly defined is the largest single source of greenhouse gases globally, says Rockström, who founded and leads the Stockholm Resilience Centre. But their technological and economic pathways to sustainability are far less clear than those for energy, transport and the built environment.

There are agricultural examples but we need much more innovation and ways to scale them up.

He believes New Zealand has a leading role to play globally in this agricultural transformation. On one hand, agriculture emissions are 49 percent of our total emissions, by far the highest proportion for a developed economy. On the other, our farmers and the scientists and businesses that support them, are among the most innovative in the world.

As an aside on that latter point, agricultural innovation is remarkably slow compared with all other industrial sectors. The average time from innovation to peak deployment of a new piece of agri-tech is 19.2 years here versus 52 years in the US. This insight was delivered recently to a symposium of Our Land and Water, one of our government’s 11 long-term National Science Challenges. Clearly, we have to innovate far faster.

Get moving now

But, Rockström stresses, the window of opportunity to address the totality of climate change is very small. Humankind is still generating a rising volume of emissions. If we are to stand any chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures to under 2 degrees C we have to start bending the curve down by 2020 then accelerate our emission reductions to a rate of about 6-7 percent a year.

While that might seem like a manageable rate, it will actually require transformational shifts in technology across all sectors of the economy. Pathways that are technologically practical and economically viable are increasingly clear in electricity and other sources of power, in transport and industrial processes.

For example, renewable electricity and other forms of energy, after growing by 5.5 per cent a year for the past 15 years, are starting to demonstrate exponential growth. A world free from fossil fuels is possible by 2045, Rockström says.

Earth scientist Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The ‘Moore’s law’ of climate change

If, though, humankind can reduce its emissions by 6 to 7 per cent a year, we would halve emissions every decade and achieve near-zero emissions by 2050.

This is the Global Carbon Law Rockström and colleagues are proposing, equivalent to Moore’s Law in computing. It is the latest development of the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

But maintaining that rate of reduction in carbon emissions over the next 30 years will take far more than just a complete switch to clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

We will also need to engineer carbon sinks, such as burning wood and other biofuels then capturing and storing the carbon emissions from them; and we will have to improve and monitor carefully the ecosystem health of land sinks such as forests and soil, and the ocean which currently absorbs a large proportion of the carbon emissions, and subsequent heat, generated by human activity.

If we do all that, “we have a 66 percent chance of staying under 2 degrees C,” Rockström says. But even that will cause ecosystem changes, moving us away from the Holocene, the geological epoch over the past 11,000 years which never saw temperature variations greater than plus or minus 1 degree C. This climate sweet spot was a “Garden of Eden”, Rockström says, in which humans have flourished.

Risks of feedback loops and tipping points

“We are already at 1.1 degree C. Even 1.5 degree C will be a challenge to adjust to.” Moreover, there are substantial risks that climate tipping points will trigger greater rises in temperature. Such feedback loops include forest dieback that would create savannahs that absorb far less carbon, and the loss of ice sheets, which not only raise sea levels but also reduce the white reflective surface of the planet, thereby increasing warming.

Responding to climate change will also take much more than science, technology change, targets and policies, he adds. All societies will need to progress a great deal so they have the capability to rise to the challenge of planetary stewardship.

For the first time we have a guide to that in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are applicable to all countries, developing and developed.

Usually, the 17 goals are presented in a matrix that doesn’t differentiate their priorities. Rockström’s Stockholm Resilience Centre, however, has arranged them with the four goals on the biosphere as the essential and critical base, with eight societal goals sitting above to help build healthy societies capable of rapid change, with four economic goals above, topped with the goal on partnerships for achieving the goals.

The Centre is renowned for its work identifying the nine biological-chemical-physical boundaries of the planet and measuring the extent human activity is overshooting them. So far, only climate change has a clearly defined target, which is based on zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 1.5-2 degrees C temperature goal. That was extremely hard for scientists to establish and for the United Nations to get some commitments to steps towards it by nations in the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

The next big phase of the Centre’s research is to work with other scientists to devise numerical measures of a “safe place” for humankind within some of the other planetary boundaries. Like the crystal clear signals temperature sends on climate change, these will focus people, politicians, policy makers, and all other participants in society on the urgent need to bring human activity back within the boundaries.

The biodiversity challenge

Their top priority is biodiversity. Their extremely difficult scientific task is to develop a measure that not just expresses the rapid loss of species but also the impairment these losses have on ecosystem health and resilience, and thus the ability of those systems to provide for human needs. Some major multinationals, highly conscious of their impact on natural resources, are among the leaders of the push for a biodiversity measure, Rockström says.

While Rockström didn’t mention a particular role for New Zealand in that work, we have a lot to offer. Among developed countries, we are the most dependent on the natural environment for earning our living, most of our National Science Challenges are focused on ecosystems in whole or part and the relevant sciences are the ones we are best at commercialising.

Above all we are ambitious and innovative about ecosystems, witness our goal of being predator free by 2050 and the wave of science, research, development and creativity this is unleashing. The Cacophony Project is an impressive example but just one of a rapidly growing number.

Likewise, we have a burgeoning ecosystem of organisations in business and civil society focused on these enormous opportunities. Two examples are the Next Foundation (http://www.nextfoundation.org.nz/), which invests heavily in environmental programmes, and the Hillary Institute of International Leadership (http://www.hillaryinstitute.com/), based in Christchurch, which chooses each year a global leader in environmental issues.

Rockström is its 8th laureate and this award has brought him here to share his knowledge widely, including with the government, and to learn more about New Zealand. His biggest engagement was with the twice-a-year New Frontiers gathering of local and international experts on these intensely integrated issues of deep sustainability, which is run by the Edmund Hillary Fellowship.

“We are rolling in the right direction. We will decarbonise the world eventually – but are we moving fast enough?” He made it very clear to the New Frontiers audience that we are not.

But above all, he makes it abundantly clear that climate change is just one manifestation of humankind’s need for deep sustainability. We are the greatest driver of planetary change, greater than any natural force. Thus, this geological epoch is truly the Anthropocene.

Disclosure: I’m an Edmund Hillary Fellow, participated in New Frontiers, and was MC at the Our Land and Water symposium.

Press link for more: Newsroom.co.nz

 

Patagonia vs. Donald Trump | GQ

gq.com
Patagonia vs. Donald Trump | GQ
Rosecrans Baldwin

This is not your parents’ fleece-maker. We’re past the old jokes about Patagucci or Fratagonia. Sure, you still see a Synchilla vest on every venture capitalist in Palo Alto; not for nothing does the Jared Dunn character on Silicon Valley possess a Patagonia collection supreme. But the vest also crisscrosses popular culture: DeRay Mckesson, one of the faces of Black Lives Matter, wears Patagonia so often his vest has its own Twitter feed. A$AP Rocky shows up in Snap-T sweaters. Louis Vuitton cribbed its Classic Retro-X jacket for a mountaineering look. Universities from Oregon to Ole Miss are Patagonia-saturated, and meanwhile, vintage finds—the rarest featuring the original “big label” logo—fetch a premium on eBay.

The company’s HQ looks like a cross between a college campus and a recycling center. Solar panels everywhere. Wet suits drying on the roofs of cars—the five-acre spread is a short walk from the beach. The company has an on-site school where employees can enroll their kids through second grade, one of the reasons that Patagonia has near gender parity among employees. Many of its CEOs have been female, including the current one, Rose Marcario. Chouinard writes in his memoir–cum–business bible, Let My People Go Surfing, “I was brought up surrounded by women. I have ever since preferred that accommodation.”

Chouinard was born in Maine but formed in California. The son of a hardworking French-Canadian carpenter, he moved with his family to Burbank, just north of Los Angeles, in 1946, when Chouinard was 8; it was his mother’s idea, to improve his dad’s asthma. In California, Chouinard stood out, not in a good way. He was short, spoke French, and had a name like a girl. He hated school. High school history class was for practicing holding his breath, so he could free-dive deeper to catch wild lobster off Malibu. “I learned a long time ago that if you want to be a winner,” he told me, “you invent your own games.” So he ran away, to Griffith Park to hunt rabbits, the Los Angeles River to catch crawdads. It was a funny wilderness in the Valley—his favorite swimming hole was fed by a movie studio’s film-development lab. “Yeah, I used to swim in the outfall,” he said, cracking up.

Then he discovered climbing. In the 1950s, age 16, Chouinard drove to Wyoming and climbed Gannett Peak, the state’s highest mountain. Soon he met other young climbers, like Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, and migrated to Yosemite, where he lived off scraps—at one point, tins of cat food—and made first ascents up the granite walls. “In the ’60s, it was kind of the height of the fossil-fuel age,” he said. “You could get a part-time job anytime you felt like it. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. You could buy a used car for 20 bucks. Camping was free. It was pretty easygoing.”

Chouinard and his friends would transform rock climbing, helping to bring about the modern “clean” version, where you no longer hammer iron spikes into the cracks to aid your progress. This led to athletes like Caldwell, a Patagonia “climbing ambassador,” pulling off accomplishments no one thought possible—like the first free climb of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. Chouinard also met his wife of 47 years, Malinda, in Yosemite. At the time, she was a climber who worked as a weekend cabin maid. According to Chouinard, the moment that clinched it was a day they were hanging out and Malinda saw some women pull up and throw a beer can out the window. She told them to pick it up. They gave her the finger. Malinda went over, tore the license plate off their car with her bare hands, and turned it in to the rangers’ office. Chouinard was in love.

Patagonia got its start as Chouinard Equipment, selling the climbing gear that Yvon was making for his friends. The first apparel was equally functional, designed to resist rock: sturdy corduroy trousers, stiff rugby shirts like the ones Yvon brought back from a climbing trip in Scotland. When the clothing started to take off, they decided to separate the garments from the gear; they just needed a good name. As Chouinard explained: “To most people, especially then, Patagonia was a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-la—far-off, interesting, not quite on the map.”

These days, that “far-off” land is thriving. With Marcario at the company, revenue and profits have quadrupled. In addition to clothing, the company produces films, runs a food business, even has a venture-capital fund to invest in eco-friendly start-ups; one, Bureo, makes skateboards and sunglasses from former fishing nets. Along the way, Patagonia began donating 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups—$89 million as of April 2017—and led the garment industry in cleaning up its supply chains, demanding better practices from factories overseas. (Chouinard, his wife, and their two adult children remain the sole owners of Patagonia.)

https://www.gq.com/story/patagonia-versus-donald-trump?mbid=synd_digg

Analysis: 60 Million Acres of Monarch Habitat to Be Doused With Toxic Weed Killer | Global Justice Ecology Project

https://globaljusticeecology.org/analysis-60-million-acres-of-monarch-habitat-to-be-doused-with-toxic-weed-killer/#comments

Posted on March 2, 2018 by GJEP staff

PORTLAND, Ore.— Within the next two years, more than 60 million acres of monarch habitat will be sprayed with a pesticide that’s extremely harmful to milkweed, the only food for monarch caterpillars, according to a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Monarch populations have already fallen by 80 percent in the past two decades due to escalating pesticide use and other human activities. Now the Center’s report A Menace to Monarchs shows that the butterfly faces a dangerous new threat from accelerating use of the notoriously drift-prone and highly toxic weed killer dicamba across an area larger than the state of Minnesota.

“America’s monarchs are already in serious trouble, and this will push them into absolute crisis,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center. “It’s appalling that the EPA approved this spraying without bothering to consider the permanent damage it will do to these butterflies and their migration routes.”

Today’s report found that by 2019, use of dicamba will increase by nearly 100-fold on cotton and soybean fields within the monarch’s migratory habitat across the heart of the United States.

Other key findings include:

Accelerating harm: In addition to 61 million acres of monarch habitat being directly sprayed with dicamba, an additional 9 million acres could be harmed by drift of the pesticide.
Deadly timing: The timing and geographical distribution of dicamba use coincides precisely with the presence of monarch eggs and larva on milkweed.
Double trouble: Dicamba degrades monarch habitat both by harming flowering of plants that provide nectar for adults as they travel south for the winter and by harming milkweed that provides an essential resource for reproduction.
Greater menace to milkweed: Research has shown that just 1 percent of the minimum dicamba application rate is sufficient to reduce the size of milkweed by 50 percent, indicating it may have a greater impact on milkweed growth than the already widely used pesticide glyphosate.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 approved new dicamba products for use on genetically engineered cotton and soybeans. In 2017 there were reports of at least 3.6 million acres of off-target, dicamba-induced damage to agricultural crops and an unknown amount of damage to native plants and habitats, including forests. The EPA has refused to take necessary action to address the harms caused by the chemical.

“There’s no question that use of dicamba across tens of millions of acres will deepen risks to our dangerously imperiled monarch populations,” said Donley. “When dicamba’s use on GE cotton and soybeans comes up for reapproval later this year, the only responsible thing for the EPA to do is allow that approval to expire.”

Background
For this analysis the Center examined monarch habitat and projected usage rates for dicamba, with a particular emphasis on examining the effects of increased use of dicamba in the coming years, which is expected to reach about 57 million pounds annually.

The decline in monarchs in recent decades has coincided with the surge in use of glyphosate, which is sprayed on crops genetically altered to survive being sprayed by the pesticide. Around 300 million pounds of glyphosate are sprayed in fields each year in the United States. The massive overuse of glyphosate triggered the large-scale decline of milkweed and the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds across millions of acres. In response to the proliferation of resistant weeds, farmers have turned to dicamba — compounding the danger to monarchs and their habitat.

Via Center for Biological Diversity
Category: Climate Justice, Featured, Social Media News Tags: Butterfly, Center for Biological Diversity, monarch, Monarch Butterfly, neonic
Copyright © 2018 · All Rights Reserved · Global Justice Ecology Project

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As climate change worsens, king penguins will need to move — or they’ll die (Southern Ocean, Antarctica)

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Originally posted on The ocean update:
Photo by Céline Le Bohec / CNRS / IPEV / CSM February 26th, 2018 (Alessandra Potenza). If we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, then by the end of the century, 70 percent…

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We Could Solve World Hunger If We All Made One Simple Change – Here’s How (VIDEO) – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/solve-world-hunger-one-simple-change/?utm_source=Green+Monster+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=324931bd6d-NEWSLETTER_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bbf62ddf34-324931bd6d-106049477

Background Radiation Has Increased By 600 To 60,000 Percent Globally, State By State In USA – 0 Before Nuclear Age, 1 mSv In 1950 To Over 6 mSv Today; Physicist Dr. Paolo Scampa, Dr Busby Weigh In On Evidence, Data, Root Causes | A Green Road Journal

AGR Daily 60 Second News Bites

Every single nuclear plant, nuclear accident site, nuclear disposal site, medical radiation facility, uranium mines, nuclear fuel processing facilities, nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities and anything nuclear or fossil fuel related releases large quantities of radioactive heavy metal poisons into the air.

Fukushima is just one example of many sites that are releasing huge amounts of radioactive poisons, despite being ‘shut down’ or not producing anything of value.

Because radioactive heavy metal poisons are invisible and not detectable to the senses, the public does not know or sense anything is going wrong. The public does not even know that it does not know anything.

The nuclear industry loves to keep everyone in the dark, because if the truth were known, the nuclear industry would be shut down today.

via Background Radiation Has Increased By 600 To 60,000 Percent Globally, State By State In USA – 0 Before Nuclear Age, 1 mSv…

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Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration

The Extinction Chronicles

Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana last August, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history. By one calculation, roughly a million gallons fell for every person in Texas. The water rained down on a flat former bayou that had become a concrete and asphalt empire of more than 2.3 million people. Highways turned into rivers and shopping malls into lakes. As the water rose, people scrambled for safe refuge – into attics, onto rooftops and overpasses. A Texas game warden captured a nine-foot-long alligator in the dining room of a home near Lake Houston. Snakes swam into kitchens. A hawk flew into a taxicab and wouldn’t leave.

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The Water Will Come, rising seas, sinking cities. #auspol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

jpratt27

FEBRUARY 21, 2018

IN HIS URGENT NEW BOOK, Jeff Goodell takes readers on a tour of places likely to be swallowed up by the sea — among them Florida; New York City; Venice; Norfolk, Virginia; Rotterdam; Lagos; and the Marshall Islands.

The book tells the engrossing story of their likely demise, and how our inability to deal with climate change renders this tragedy increasingly inevitable.

Many other places, too, will be swallowed up if humans don’t stop spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And, alas, even if they do stop, there’s no telling when the sea will stop rising.

While keenly observing and poignantly describing rapidly changing coastal ecologies, Goodell also reports with empathy and acumen on his conversations with a mix of scientists, engineers, community workers, real estate agents, activists, and politicians.

At an event hosted by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2016, the theme of the…

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North Pole Region Predicted to Experience Another Instance of Above Freezing Temperatures as the Bering Sea Ice is Blasted Away

Take the time to stroll down through the comments additional information.

robertscribbler

Those previously rare instances of above freezing temperatures in the Arctic north during winter time are happening more and more often.

(February 20 NASA satellite imagery shows Bering Sea with mostly open water as highly atypical above freezing temperatures drive far north. Note that patches of open water extend well into the Chukchi Sea. Image source: NASA.)

Just Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cape Jessup, Greenland — a mere 400 miles away from the North Pole — experienced above freezing temperatures for two days in a row. This following a February 5 warm air invasion that drove above 32 F temperatures to within 150 miles of this furthest northerly point in our Hemisphere even as, by February 20th, a warm air invasion relentlessly melted the Bering Sea’s typically frozen surface (see image above).

Far Above Average Temperatures Over Our Pole

It’s not just a case of warming…

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Paying at the Pump | Grist

 

Texas’ environmental agency targets small business owners for minor record-keeping violations, while letting corporate polluters off easy.

By Naveena Sadasivam on Feb 21, 2018

This story was originally published by The Texas Observer and is reproduced here as part of a collaboration.

One day in April 2015, Nasser Farahnakian watched helplessly as the streets around his gas station in Corpus Christi flooded. That spring had seen a succession of severe thunderstorms in South Texas, smashing rainfall records and causing widespread flooding across this city of 300,000. As the waters rose around Farahnakian’s business, hundreds of gallons poured through a manhole into three underground storage tanks that hold gasoline and diesel. Underground, the grimy floodwaters mixed with the valuable fuel, rendering it unsellable. In late April, Farahnakian called a contractor to pump the water out of the tanks — the first of five times he would have to do so over the next month. Eventually the rains subsided and he figured the $8,000 expense was just part of being a gas station owner.

Four months later, an inspector with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) showed up for a scheduled inspection and asked to see an inventory of fuel, a routine request. The inspector pointed out that the records didn’t account for 800 gallons of fuel. Did it leak into the ground? Farahnakian tried explaining that the figures in the inventory records didn’t add up because the tanks had flooded and he’d hired a company to clean them out. He says he even showed the inspector the receipts from the contractor.

 

 

Watch the Grist mini-documentary on Texas regulators targeting gas-station owners.

It didn’t work. Farahnakian was shocked when he received a letter from TCEQ informing him that he was facing $59,000 in fines for recordkeeping violations — about two years’ worth of profits from gas sales at his store. Farahnakian was outraged. He’d done everything right. He hadn’t sold fuel mixed with water and had immediately cleaned the tanks. Automatic sensors in the tanks didn’t indicate a leak.

“We did everything to fix it,” Farahnakian said. “But the paper, the inventory, did not match.”

At age 26, Farahnakian had left Isfahan, the third-largest city in Iran, to get a Western education. It was 1976 and the country was on the verge of a political revolution. When he landed in Houston, he didn’t speak a lick of English and didn’t know anyone in the country. Farahnakian enrolled in language classes, secured a spot at a community college in Beeville and picked up odd jobs. He waited tables and washed dishes at a Mexican restaurant, making minimum wage, $2.30 an hour. At night, he drove a taxi, making $1 or $2 a trip.

When he was close to finishing his engineering degree, Farahnakian quit school. He found work at a bottling company, a job he hated, but one that allowed him to save money to fulfill his dream of owning his own business.

In 1988, after more than a decade in the country, Farahnakian was able to open a convenience store in Corpus Christi. As his business took off, he opened another store, then bought rental property and began leasing it out.

Eventually, in 2005, Farahnakian purchased land off Highway 44 and built his current gas station. The place has the comforting fluorescent glow of a familiar American institution. A sign outside reads “SUNRISE FOODS BEER ICE HOT DELI.” Inside, the store is conspicuously clean. The deli counter advertises breakfast tacos and “Chicken By The Pieces.”

 

As modest as it is, the store has helped make Farahnakian prosperous. “I never gonna go back working for somebody in my whole life,” he said. “If they give me million dollars, I don’t want to have a boss no more.”
Nasser Farahnakian, a gas station owner who was fined $59,000 by TCEQ for recordkeeping violations, at his convenience store in Corpus Christi. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

Sunrise Foods is located just down the road from the airport, and the nearest competitor is about 6 miles away. Along with rental income from other properties, Farahnakian and his wife are more than comfortable and now live in a posh part of Corpus Christi, in a 4,900-square-foot home made cozy with Persian rugs. “I’ve been working hard all my life and now I enjoy,” he said.

Still, the $59,000 fine stung. He could afford to pay it, but what about a less well-off gas station operator? “We’ve got volume, it’s OK,” he said. “But for a smaller gas station it’s kind of very rough. More [of] their profit goes toward TCEQ, which is very unfair.”

Unlike many other gas station owners, Farahnakian fought back. He hired a local attorney to contest the fines, and the case landed before a judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), an agency that holds trial-like proceedings for legal disputes. After eight months of wrangling, during which Farahnakian provided documentation that he’d cleaned up the tanks, TCEQ agreed to settle for $27,000. Farahnakian took the deal. He says he had already spent $15,000 in lawyer fees and a year of his time dealing with TCEQ. Still, he’s upset at what he sees as the mismatch between the infraction and the size of the fine.

“Why we have to pay $27,000 for one violation?” he asked. “Which world is like that? Which country is like that? And there is no leak.”

 

In April 2015, just as Farahnakian’s woes were about to begin, a Citgo refinery a few miles away was malfunctioning. Citgo personnel had discovered that a stack at the plant was emitting more hydrogen cyanide than its air permit allowed. For two months, as Citgo later reported to TCEQ, the plant released more than 50,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air. Exposure to the chemical at high levels can be toxic to human health. Two and a half years later, TCEQ is still deciding whether to punish the company at all, and is even considering a request from Citgo to simply amend its air permit to retroactively bless the pollution.

Citgo owns and operates two large refineries in Corpus Christi. Sitting at the edge of Nueces Bay, the 890-acre expanses of steel, towering stacks and massive storage tanks are feats of engineering. Every hour, they together churn through more than 6,500 barrels of crude oil, spitting out, among other products, gasoline that Farahnakian has purchased for his gas station. According to state data, they’re also some of the biggest polluters in Texas. Combined, the two refineries emit more than 3,800 tons of hazardous pollutants a year, spewing carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds — exposure to many of which has been correlated with lung and breast cancer — as well as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, which worsen respiratory illnesses in the young and elderly and contribute to haze in the region.

From 2012 to 2017, the plants released more pollution than allowed by their permits 66 times, including the April incident, according to public data. TCEQ fined the company in only four cases and initially issued just $82,400 in fines. In three of those cases, however, Citgo unleashed its legal department on TCEQ. In all four cases, TCEQ reduced fines because of “good faith” efforts and timely payments. Eventually, Citgo paid just $42,500 — a little more than a dollar per pound of pollution — for all four cases.

Farahnakian makes a few thousand dollars a month from selling sodas, beer and gas at his store; Citgo has annual revenues reportedly north of $40 billion. Farahnakian is a first-generation immigrant who isn’t fluent in English and is unfamiliar with the state’s regulatory system; Citgo has significant political and financial capital that it can use to fight TCEQ. Farahnakian was punished for recordkeeping violations and there is no evidence of gas leaking out of his tanks; Citgo admitted to pumping 50,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air. Yet Farahnakian’s penalty for a recordkeeping error was about the same as Citgo’s fine for releasing toxic air pollutants over five years.

txobserver_gasstations067-e1518815319513-447068623.jpg

A Texas-themed welcome sign is painted on the side of a tank at one of Citgo’s Corpus Christi refineries. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

Farahnakian isn’t an exception. He’s one of hundreds of Texas gas station owners, often first-generation immigrants, who have been fined for missing or incorrect paperwork, even as big corporations receive lesser punishment for releasing dangerous pollutants. The Observer analyzed more than 300,000 rows of data related to TCEQ’s enforcement activity from 2009 to 2017 in an effort to assess the priorities of the nation’s fourth-largest environmental agency. The analysis found that TCEQ collected $24 million from tank operators, the vast majority of whom are gas station owners. That’s only slightly lower than the $30 million it collected from the thousands of industrial facilities — refineries, petrochemical plants, cement batch plants — across the state that violated their air permits.

The Observer’s analysis also found that the agency devotes considerable resources to policing gas stations. Cases against underground storage tank owners make up about 40 percent of TCEQ’s total enforcement workload, and 85 percent of the 4,200 cases against gas stations simply involved poor recordkeeping. In contrast, industrial polluters self-reported 500 million pounds of pollutants from 2011 to 2017. Yet TCEQ failed to levy fines against such violators 97 percent of the time during the same period, according to a 2017 report from two environmental groups critical of TCEQ. And when it did, the state came down much harder on small business owners: The Observer found that the average penalty for petroleum tank owners, $1,250, was double that of industrial air polluters, $580.

The disparity between TCEQ’s treatment of mom-and-pop operations versus large corporations is no accident. The regulatory apparatus seems built to favor those with money and power. The agency rarely punishes big polluters, often because they invoke a legal loophole that allows pollution associated with plant startup, shutdown or malfunctions. Even in the event of a fine, companies typically lawyer up, negotiating big reductions in penalties. As a result, environmental advocates and small business owners say there’s a fundamental unfairness at work with the way TCEQ treats its “customers,” as it refers to businesses it regulates.

“Fines should be tailored to their impact on the business,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas, which has criticized TCEQ for failing to hold air polluters accountable. “The fines should also reflect the seriousness of the violation. Whenever the public is being exposed to potentially harmful pollutants, penalties should be at their absolute highest. On both counts, TCEQ fails miserably.”

Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for TCEQ, provided the agency’s own analysis, which is mostly similar to the Observer’s findings. For example, TCEQ found that petroleum tank users made up 33 percent of the agency’s caseload, while the Observer calculated 40 percent. Morrow also took issue with the characterization of certain violations and defended the practice of using records to identify potential environmental hazards. She also said that leaking petroleum tanks pose health and environmental risks as well as “the potential for fire and explosion.”

“[R]ecordkeeping violations may not be simple ‘paperwork’ violations,” she said. “In many cases, the records required may be the only way a potential release can be identified and addressed before significant environmental harm is done.” She disputed the Observer’s finding that 85 percent of violations were related to recordkeeping and argued that those violations were misinterpreted. She also claimed that paperwork-related cases account for less than 1 percent of all violations cited in commission orders.

Morrow said the agency has been holding workshops to educate gas station owners about the regulatory requirements, adding that enforcement is “merely one tool” it uses to protect the environment. Still, she said “the sheer size” of the gas station industry “combined with high employee and ownership turnover … makes it difficult to reach everyone.”

Farahnakian, who has agreed to pay the $27,000 fine in 36 monthly payments of $750, is upset that TCEQ is making it more difficult to operate in an industry that is already challenging for small businesses.

“[TCEQ] try to get you out of this business,” he said. “Anybody can miss something, or water can get in the tanks. … But they get hard on us, not for them. For the foreigner, for the individual owner.”

The retail gasoline and convenience store business is one of slim margins, high turnover and uncertainty. Day-to-day fluctuations in gas prices, ever-changing regulations and high overhead costs all make it difficult to stay afloat in the industry. There’s even the apparently common problem of inattentive people driving off with the gas nozzle still stuck in the vehicle — a screwup that can cost the owner thousands of dollars. According to the Small Business Administration, about 48 percent of Texas’ small businesses are minority-owned. Though the agency doesn’t have demographic data by industry, experts told the Observer that a significant percentage of the 20,000 or so gas stations in Texas are owned and operated by immigrants, predominantly from Asia and the Middle East.

Scott Fisher, the senior vice president of policy and public affairs with the Texas Food and Fuel Association, an industry group that represents gas stations and convenience stores, said that in the 1970s and 1980s, the gas station business was likely attractive to immigrants because of the low barrier to entry. Loans were easy to secure and the down payments were typically smaller than what’s required today. Regulations were simple and easy to navigate; inspections were few.

“It looked like a pretty good way to get established and take care of your family,” Fisher said.

In the 1980s, however, it became increasingly clear that leaking petroleum tanks posed a major threat to groundwater, and pressure mounted on Congress to crack down. At the time, the EPA estimated that one-quarter of the approximately 2 million tanks in the country were leaking. Of particular concern was MTBE, a powerful octane booster and carcinogen that renders groundwater undrinkable even when present in tiny quantities.

Congress gave the EPA jurisdiction over underground tanks in 1984 and ordered the agency to step up its policing. But in the late 1990s, the EPA still had a major problem on its hands.

In 1998, researchers at the Department of Energy found traces of gasoline chemicals in groundwater at more than 13,000 California sites, and in 2001 and 2005, the Government Accountability Office published scathing reports on the lack of funding for cleanups. “Most states and EPA do not physically inspect all underground storage tanks frequently enough or have access to the most effective enforcement tools to ensure compliance with federal requirements,” the 2001 report noted.

In 2005, under mounting pressure from activists and lawmakers, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, an omnibus energy bill that increased funding to states for tank cleanups. Among the key provisions: States receiving federal assistance would have to conduct inspections of gas stations every three years.

Taking the federal money now meant putting gas station owners under much closer scrutiny. Unlike most states, Texas officials rebuffed the federal government, according to an EPA spokesperson. (Morrow said that TCEQ wasn’t aware of additional funding being declined.)
Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

But in 2009, as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus package, TCEQ was offered a windfall — $10.8 million over two years if it would conduct routine inspections. The agency farmed most of the work out to the University of Texas at Arlington through a $2.5 million contract. The effect was immediate and drastic. In 2009, the year before the contract went into effect, TCEQ conducted about 5,700 inspections and issued $3.5 million in fines. Four years later, in 2013, the number of inspections more than doubled to about 13,200, and fines increased to almost $5 million.

The increase in inspections “was the single biggest change from that law,” said Cliff Rothenstein, who headed EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks during the George W. Bush administration. Prior to the Energy Policy Act, most of the money was provided to clean up leaking tanks, he said, but after the law passed states received millions for inspections.

There’s little doubt that the program has succeeded in reducing pollution. In Texas, the number of documented spills and leaks from petroleum storage tanks has decreased from 354 per year in 2006 to 285 in 2016. “It’s a big achievement,” Rothenstein said.

Many gas station owners told the Observer they don’t object to fines in the event of a leak. They also conceded that the regulatory crackdown has prompted them to be more attentive to the records, and some have hired compliance firms to keep their books in order. But they also noted that TCEQ has discretion when it comes to how harshly it punishes polluters. They questioned why TCEQ doesn’t show the same zeal for deterrence when it comes to some of the biggest polluters in the state, often the very petrochemical companies — Citgo, Valero, Shell, Exxon —from which they must purchase gas.

Only 7 percent of the tanks inspected from 2009 to 2017 had a documented spill or leak at some point in their history. In fact, in TCEQ’s data, the Observer was able to identify only six cases where an inspector found evidence of contamination. In the vast majority of cases, TCEQ became aware of a leaking tank when an owner reported it to the agency.

The most common citation is for failing to maintain accurate inventories. Gas stations and other businesses with fueling stations, such as hospitals and car washes, are expected to maintain more than 40 sets of records at any given time. Some, like the gas inventories, need to be updated every day. Others have to be renewed monthly or yearly. In Farahnakian’s case, there was a discrepancy of 800 gallons of fuel, the result of the five times he had to have the tanks pumped dry. Official TCEQ forms provide a space for indicating when gasoline is delivered or sold, but not for when fuel is removed from the tank during a cleaning. Two inspectors told the Observer that they view “missing” gas as an indication that it might have leaked out of the tanks.

Under Texas regulations, Farahnakian was supposed to report the issue to TCEQ and hire a company to investigate the source of the errors. He says he didn’t do either because he didn’t know they were requirements. As a result, his initial fine grew under what is known in regulatory circles as “cascading violations.”

TCEQ dinged him $9,016 for not maintaining records for an automatic leak sensor in one of the tanks, $4,508 for failing to report the inventory discrepancy and $45,082 for not hiring an investigator to look into the discrepancy. It added up to $58,606. If TCEQ had penalized him for just the first violation, Farahnakian would have had to pay only the $9,016.

Farahnakian points out that he had installed probes in the tank to alert him if there were a leak.

“We find out, we have monitoring there,” Farahnakian said. “We press it and it says no leaks. … They don’t care about this. All they need is fine. Big fine.”

Morrow did not respond to questions about the violations at Farahnakian’s gas station. Instead, she said that the agency’s executive director “considers all available evidence when determining the violations, penalty and corrective actions to include in an enforcement action.”

For mom-and-pop gas station owners, the fines can take a financial and emotional toll.

In 2015, a TCEQ inspector found that Jamal Jafari, a Palestinian American who owns a gas station in Fort Worth, hadn’t conducted a corrosion test and had left required leak detectors unplugged. Though the inspector didn’t find any signs of a leak or a spill, Jafari was still smacked with a $6,500 fine. It took such a toll on his finances that he says he would shut down the pumps if it wouldn’t affect sales in the convenience store.

Jafari’s family fled Palestine in 1976 when he was 6 years old; the family lived in a Jordanian refugee camp during his school years. His five sisters, brother and parents all slept in a 10-by-10-foot shack, he recalled. After high school, Jafari secured a visa to come to the United States. He took English classes in Chicago and enrolled at Harold Washington College. Later he moved to Texas to take classes to become a pilot. But he couldn’t afford the schooling and quit to take a job at a gas station.

Over the next five years, Jafari saved enough money to open his own gas station in Fort Worth. Jafari, who is Muslim, thinks immigrants like him are unfairly penalized, in part because they’re less likely to put up a fight.

“We [have] this feeling, they target us,” Jafari said. “‘We fine them, they cannot go to lawyer, some of them they don’t speak English and they scared.’ … I came to this country and I don’t know all the rules, just like [when an] American goes to my country, he don’t know all the rules.”

Jafari says he sells only about 30,000 gallons of gas a month at a profit of 5 cents a gallon — about $1,500 a month. After debit card fees, he typically makes less than a dollar per fill-up. Like most gas station owners, Jafari counts on customers coming into the store for other goods.

“I hope he buy soda pop, a cigarette, a bag of chips [and] I’ll make the difference,” Jafari said. “But the gas, nobody makes money on gas. They keep it just to keep the customer happy.”

TCEQ allowed Jafari to go on a payment plan — $540 a month for 12 months — but he struggled to scrounge together the funds. Sometimes he would skip a month or two and pay a lump sum once he’d saved up enough. He says he and his family — his wife and 10 children — had to cut back on groceries and skimp wherever they could.

“It put me in a hole,” he said. “It’s hardship on me, my family and everything.”

On a warm fall morning in South Texas, Gary is rushing from one gas station to the next in a white pickup truck with TCEQ’s blue-and-green logo on the side. One of more than 450 investigators employed by the agency, Gary expects to inspect three gas stations within an hour and a half this morning. He’s just wrapped up the third store — an HEB, where he spent 20 minutes — and is pulling into a Stripes he’d inspected earlier in the morning.

(I’ve changed Gary’s name because he fears he could lose his job by speaking to the media.)

Gary says he had an easy time with the inspections that morning because they were all corporate-owned gas stations. Employees from Stripes and HEB were present to answer any questions, and they had already emailed Gary the records he needed to review.

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“The corporate ones are the easy ones to write up, because they give us the documents and we can type it up as quickly as possible,” he said. “The mom-and-pops … it takes us a little bit longer to get everything.”

On any given day, Gary may be investigating a tire fire in the morning and responding to complaints from neighbors living next to a scrap metal plant in the afternoon. Because there are so many gas stations to inspect, TCEQ wants inspectors to fly through them, Gary says. He says he’s expected to take just five hours from start to finish, though he sometimes needs at least seven to do the job right. (Morrow disputed this timeframe, saying that investigators take 15 hours on average.)

TCEQ requires its inspectors to have reports approved within 60 days of the inspection, a deadline that Gary says inspectors often rush to meet. While he takes the time to help small business owners find records that satisfy the rules, other inspectors may not have the patience, he says.

“When [politicians] say you’re overburdening [businesses] with regulation, what they’re really saying is you’re overburdening the big corporate people,” said Gary. “You’re not really thinking of the mom-and-pops.”

Another hurdle for some small business owners is that many speak English as a second language. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, entities that receive federal funding are expected to provide equal access to services, regardless of race, color and national origin. Courts have generally interpreted the law to include providing language assistance to people whose primary language is not English.

TCEQ appears to have taken some steps to provide language assistance. Morrow, the TCEQ spokesperson, said that whenever agency staff run into communication barriers, they “rely on available internal or external resources,” including staff who “are fluent in a variety of languages,” Spanish speakers in the agency’s small business program, and the EnviroMentor program, where environmental professionals volunteer their time to assist small businesses.

Still, it’s unclear how often those services are used. Based on interviews with nine gas station owners and two inspectors, many gas station owners don’t know that the agency provides translation services. Take, for instance, Joginder Singh. He quit school after eighth grade in Hathur, a small farming community in rural Punjab, India, and as a young adult worked at a Nestle milk collection center. He was “struggling, struggling” to make money, he recalled, and told his father, “Don’t worry… one day I’m going to the other country.”
Joginder Singh at his gas station in Floresvllle. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

In 1998, at age 35, Singh got a visa to the United States and flew to Syracuse, New York. There he found work as a gas station attendant, but Singh didn’t speak a word of English, and his boss fired him, telling him he couldn’t employ someone who wasn’t able to communicate with customers. Eventually, Singh picked up a little bit of the language, moved to Fresno, California, and later came to Texas with his cousin in the hopes of owning and running gas stations with him.

One cold December morning, Singh walks me to a small, cramped office at the back of his gas station in Floresville, a small town southeast of San Antonio. He opens a gray filing cabinet filled with files marked “TCEQ #1” and “TCEQ #2.”

In 2016, a routine inspection landed Singh in trouble. A contractor with UT-Arlington inspected his gas station and found that Singh hadn’t tested the pipes leading from the underground tanks to the pumps. The inspector told him to get the leak test done in the next week. Singh followed the instructions and the test came back clean, but he was still slapped with a $5,800 fine. When Singh told a TCEQ staffer over the phone that he wanted to contest the case, he says he was threatened.

“He said, ‘If you go before the judge, judge from TCEQ, he no listen to you, he listen to me,’” Singh recalled. Discouraged, Singh didn’t bother to appeal. (Morrow did not respond to a request to comment on Singh’s allegation.)

Singh says no one ever bothered to inform him that he had a right to a translator at no cost. With a Hindi or Punjabi translator, he might’ve had a clearer understanding of the violations and how best to defend himself.

“They need to ask first time, ‘Hey Mr. Singh, hey Mr. Kumar, hey Mr. Benjamin, hey Mr. Lopez, you need interpreter?’” Singh said. “If they give me the translator between lawyer, any judge, whatever, I can more fighting myself. I can more fighting there.”

The contract between TCEQ and UT-Arlington spells out that the university must comply with the Civil Rights Act: “As a recipient of EPA financial assistance, you are required … to provide meaningful access to [Limited English Proficiency] individuals.” The university also “has an affirmative obligation” to “ensure that its actions do not involve discriminatory treatment.”

Marianne Engelman Lado, an environmental law professor at Yale University, said that the legal argument for translating the violation notices and enforcement documents is “pretty strong.” According to Engelman Lado, the EPA has determined in response to a Clinton-era executive order that agencies need to translate certain “vital” documents to the respondent’s primary language. TCEQ’s enforcement letters and orders fit that definition, she said.

In Singh’s case, despite the fact that he primarily speaks Punjabi and Hindi, TCEQ sent letters in English notifying him that he was in violation of state laws and owed the state money.

“I come from India and I don’t have education,” said Singh. “How I can read everything?”

In New York, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies offer medical information in 16 different languages, using translation software.

“Technology has become easier and easier and access to translation has become easier and easier,” Engelman Lado said. “So an organization or an agency with resources, they should be able to at least give out notice and then provide these vital documents in people’s languages.”

Morrow did not respond to specific questions about which documents TCEQ translates, but said broadly, “As a recipient of federal funding, the TCEQ must follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The system offers luxuries to large companies that are simply not available to Jafari, Singh and Farahnakian. First, TCEQ very rarely fines companies for violating their air pollution permits. For example, from 2005 to 2013, the agency declined to pursue fines in 152 cases against Exxon, or 63 percent of the company’s self-reported emissions events. In total the agency issued just $1.4 million in fines to Exxon, little more than mildly wagging its finger at the multinational behemoth.

But the extent to which the system is rigged in favor of Exxon came to light during a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against the company. Texas law allows air polluters to avoid penalties if the emissions occurred during plant startup or shutdown or because of a malfunction. However, during the trial, an Exxon official testified that the company reflexively uses that justification no matter the circumstances. The trial also showed that even when TCEQ fined Exxon, it allowed the company to dictate the terms. A top agency official testified that Exxon was allowed to write the first draft of a 2012 enforcement order and had significant input into the final version.

In 2017, the federal judge ruled against Exxon, finding that the company gained nearly $14.3 million in economic benefits by delaying projects that would’ve reduced emissions. Exxon was ordered to pay almost $20 million.

The Exxon judgment was a rare win. Refineries, petrochemical plants and other polluters under TCEQ’s purview still routinely claim that all excess emissions are related to startup, shutdown or malfunctions. Usually, the strategy works. In Citgo’s case, for instance, the company appealed three of the four times it exceeded its permit from 2012 to 2017. In all three cases, the company claimed the emissions were legal, successfully reduced the fine, and avoided admitting to any wrongdoing.
An oil refinery in Corpus Christi owned by Citgo. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

In one 2012 incident, the Citgo West plant in Corpus Christi released more than 25,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide and more than 400 pounds of a slew of other chemicals, including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen oxides. The emissions went on for more than a day, but the company failed to report them within 24 hours as required. TCEQ fined Citgo $50,500. But the company then simply claimed it was an authorized emission and appealed the case to SOAH. Ultimately, TCEQ settled with Citgo for $13,100.

“These guys have millions of dollars, literally, to spend on lawyers and lobbyists and will put up a fight, and, on the other hand, we know a gas station owner doesn’t have those resources,” said Metzger with Environment Texas. “Even if he or she wanted to go to SOAH or the courts, they likely don’t have the money or the time or the expertise to be able to mount any kind of real defense.”

Indeed, very few tank cases get appealed. From 2009 to 2017, only about 250 of the 4,200 underground storage tank cases — fewer than 6 percent — were appealed to SOAH, according to the Observer analysis. Jafari, the Fort Worth gas station owner, explained his decision not to appeal this way:

“If I request a hearing, I gotta go to Austin, I gotta hire a lawyer,” he said. “I’m taking a chance, maybe I win, maybe I lose. [If I lose], I have to pay the lawyer. So, excuse my language, we just say shut up and pay it and get it over with.”

What would a fairer system look like? Adrian Shelley, the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Texas, said that deciding how to prioritize industries is “a deep question in public health and environmental enforcement.” The Observer’s analysis raised a “social justice question” and showed that TCEQ’s priorities were “skewed,” he said.

“If they’re going after small business owners that don’t have a lobby to support their interests in the state, that’s unjust,” he said.

Metzger said TCEQ behaves like a schoolyard bully, picking on those who are least able to fight back. “TCEQ largely lets major corporations off the hook while disproportionately going after the smaller operators,” he said. “It’s not fair and it’s not very protective of public health for them to be going after the little guys and look the other way when the big polluters break the law.”

For Farahnakian and other gas station owners, the issue comes down to one of equity. The punishment should fit the crime.

“For big refinery, [a few thousand] is nothing,” he said. “It’s penny in the pocket. Why it’s like that? They should pay big fine and we should pay a small fine, compared to the money volume or business volume.”

Farahnakian is now semi-retired. Glaucoma has affected his eyesight and he walks haltingly. His daughter, Roya, takes care of the day-to-day operations at the gas station. “It’s her business now,” he beams.

Having been burned once, he’s more careful now about recordkeeping. He has hired a compliance company to keep track of the daily inventory records. While he doesn’t regret getting into the gas station business, he says the large fines have deterred him from opening another gas station, and he wouldn’t recommend that Roya open one, either.

“I told myself I’m not going to open no more gas station,” he said. “If they’re going to be hard on us like this, why you want to open a station? All this paper, all this records, all this things for what?”

Paying at the Pump

 

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