Environment

This Week in Pollution: Have you read ‘The Road’? 20-year climate change estimates suggest you should.

Holiday reading for your favorite nihilist

 

“Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made.” — The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Because holidays are supposed to be a joyous time spent with friends and family, I instead read The Road over Christmas in 2006. Between stringing lights and hanging cat stockings, I delved into a future ridden with cannibals and consumption, extinction and the apocalypse.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I thought of that book this week when, in addition to Hurricane Michael, its intensity as a near-Category 5  linked to climate change, the international science panel announced that by 2040 parts of the our warming planet (the only one we have, by the way) will likely be uninhabitable.

If fossil fuel emissions continue on their current trajectory, increased wildfires, droughts and floods will cause some species — such as the mass die-offs of coral reefs — to go extinct. Environmental refugees, displacement and poverty from climate change will irreversibly alter where and how we live.

This dystopic scenario, just 22 years away, can be blunted if countries rein in their carbon dioxide and methane emissions. But don’t count on America to be among those trying to preserve a livable future. The Trump administration is relaxing regulations on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions, both major sources of carbon dioxide.

Lost among all the hurricane coverage was the troubling development that the US Senate this week confirmed Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an attorney for BP Oil who has disputed the science of climate change, as the nation’s top environmental lawyer, according to Inside Climate News.

It could be worse. Jim Womack could be the nation’s top environmental lawyer. Instead, Womack, the chairman of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission, still wants the nine-member board to take that very, very expensive taxpayer-funded field trip to Pennsylvania to observe fracking operations. Because what could be more rewarding than scoring a front-row seat to climate change: watching fossil fuels be sucked from beneath the earth while leaking methane into the atmosphere? The commission meets Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — four hours you’ll never get back — in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, on the north end of Halifax Mall.

Well, this is just offal: A rendering plant in Bertie County and the Smithfield hog slaughter plant in Bladen County made two national Top 10 list of processors discharging the most nitrogen into nearby waterways. Too much nitrogen in water contributes to algae growth, which can strain water treatment plants, kill fish and in some cases, be toxic.

Valley Proteins “processes” — grinds up, drains and heats — fat, bone and animal hides, which can be used to make bone meal or pet food. But converting the innards and skin releases wastewater containing nitrogen, an average of 1,429 pounds a day, into the Roanoke River.

As for the Smithfield, whose ginormous plant in Tar Heel is the largest such facility in the world, it discharges more than 1,700 pounds per day.

Both facilities have federal and state discharge permits.

Based in Washington, D.C., the Environmental Integrity Project analyzed federal and state data for plants throughout the US to find Clean Water Act violations and other illegal discharges. It is recommending that state and federal governments more closely regulate the slaughterhouse industry, stepping up enforcement, strengthening outdated EPA standards for water pollution, and tightening state pollution control permits to reduce discharges

What sucks more than sucking pests? The pesticides used to kill the sucking pests. Bayer CropScience, headquartered in RTP, wants to spray the pesticide flupyradifurone on North Carolina’s tobacco crop, even though the compound is known to hurt bees and freshwater mussels. The Center for Biological Diversity has asked the EPA to deny the request.

Flupyradifurone is supposed to be an alternative neonicotinoids, which have been linked to bee die-offs. Meanwhile, the aphids and other insects have grown resistant to the pesticide’s effects.

However, flupyradifurone is chemically similar to neonics, and it is acutely toxic to bees that ingest it.

Endangered freshwater mussel species that could be imperiled from the pesticide include the dwarf wedgemussel, which is found in Swift Creek. That mussel and its habitat are already under siege from urban runoff, and they face further jeopardy from the Complete 540 toll road proposed for southern Wake County. Federal wildlife officials have approved an environmental impact statement for the  multi-billion project, even though the mussels could be virtually wiped out in the wild.

“Suppose you were the last one left? Suppose you did that to yourself?” — The Road

 

 

 

News

Sen. Hise rebuffed in attempt to postpone campaign finance hearing

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell)

Next week the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is set to hold a hearing on alleged campaign finance violations by N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell).

Though the case has been winding its way toward a hearing for nearly two years, Hise’s campaign last week wrote a letter looking to push it back further. In the letter to board chair Andy Penry, attorney Steven B. Long wrote that Hise’s mother – who was also his campaign treasurer from 2009 until last year – would not be able to attend the hearing due to her cancer treatment and recent hospitalization. Long argues that her testimony will be key to the hearing.

In his reply, Penry said the board will hear the request at its Oct. 17 meeting but that he is “not inclined to delay the entire matter to an unknown date.”

Further, Penry wrote:

“I have directed staff to place your clients’ request for delay on The Board’s agenda for October 17, 2018. The Board will hear the request on that day prior to any merits hearing. As you know, this matter, along with several of the other matters scheduled on October 17, have been pending for quite some time. Scheduling a hearing on this matter has been delayed on several occasions. And, as you know, our statutes contemplate that matters such as this be resolved expeditiously. See N.C. Gen. Stat. 163A – 1440 (7).

To assist you in preparing for the motion and the merits proceeding, please consider the following:

  • Provide the Board with evidence, including a verified statement from a treating physician, that Ms. Hise is unable to participate in the proceeding;
  • Provide evidence as to when Ms. Hise will reasonably be able to participate;
  • Provide evidence that all forms of participation, including written statements, telephonic or web participation, or depositions have been considered and are not possible;
  • Provide evidence that your clients will be unfairly prejudiced if Ms. Hise cannot participate;
  • Provide evidence that the information anticipated to be provided by Ms. Hise cannot be provided by others or by documentary evidence, including the affidavit previously submitted on August 21, 2018.

You should be prepared to proceed with all portions of your presentation other than the testimony of Ms. Hise, assuming she remains unavailable, on October 17, 2018.”

 

 

 

News

After back-to-back hurricanes, North Carolinians embrace environmental policy changes

North Carolinians who has witnessed first-hand the destruction of Hurricane Florence (and now Michael) are voicing strong support for restricting development in flood-prone areas, according to a new Elon Poll.

More than half of those surveyed earlier this month believe these storms are getting more severe, with a majority wanting lawmakers to make policy decisions that minimize future risk:

In its exploration of climate change and environmental regulation policy, the poll found strong support for restricting real estate development in flood-prone areas (76 percent) and for increasing environmental regulations for coal ash ponds (72 percent). Sixty-two percent support incorporating findings from climate change scientists into local government planning and ordinances and 59 percent support increasing environmental regulation for hog farms.

More than eight out of 10 said that climate change is “very” or “somewhat” likely to negatively impact the coastal communities of the state within the next 50 years, a slight uptick from when the Elon Poll asked that question in April 2017.

Here’s more from the Elon poll:

You can read the full poll results and methodology here.

Commentary, News

Momentum against all six constitutional amendments continues to grow

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

A group of Triangle mayors and council members are the latest political leaders to oppose six constitutional amendments on the ballot Nov. 6.

On Thursday, Common Cause NC and Local Progress released a letter signed by mayors of five cities: Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Holly Springs, and Morrisville. The groups will hold a press conference Friday in Raleigh with more local officials who are expected to support the letter.

The letter states, as local elected officials, they are aware of the “potentially damaging impact of the legislature’s proposed six constitutional amendments on the ballot this November.”

“The tax amendment and several others would have major impacts on the local level. We are at a critical juncture in the future of North Carolina,” it states….

“Passing any of these six amendments furthers the partisan divide and makes it even more difficult for our state to make the progress it needs to serve all the people of North Carolina so we can meet our potential,” Morrisville Mayor T.J. Cawley said in the announcement.

The full list of signers will include elected officials in Raleigh, Wake County and Orange County, and will be announced Friday, said Justin Guillory of Stop Deceptive Amendments, a group opposing the amendments.

And this is from the letter:

“The proposed amendment to lower the cap on income taxes has the potential to shift even more money from education to tax breaks for the wealthy. North Carolina has already fallen behind in meeting the needs of its citizens. The limits on current state revenue have put pressure on local budgets and have required local officials to either cut vital services or raise property taxes. Property tax rates have been raised in 74 of 100 counties since 2012. capping the tax rate will also limit North Carolina’s ability to respond to future unforeseen needs, such as responding to a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence or another recession.”

The press event will take place today at 10:30 in downtown Raleigh. For more information go to: https://stopdeceptiveamendments.com/.

Environment

Federal government seeking public comment on listing two bird and one mussel species in NC as threatened

Black-Capped Petrel (Photo taken by Tom Benson, Aug. 25, 2017, in Dare County.)

When the Black-Capped Petrel flies over the sea at night, the wind passes over its wings, creating a sound that those fortunate enough to hear it describe as “flute-like.” Its nighttime calls have been characterized as eerie, like that of a cat hooting. Although the rare bird, with its white rump and collar, and of course, black cap, nests in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, its range includes the North Carolina coast.

Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the Black-Capped Petrel as threatened, along with the Eastern Blackrail and the Atlantic Pigtoe, whose native habitats include portions of North Carolina. The agency is accepting public comment on the plan through Dec. 10.

A threatened designation means the species is likely to become endangered within the “foreseeable future” — 50 years — throughout all or a significant portion of its range, according to the agency.By designating the species as threatened, USFWS can then extend protections to their habitats, such as triggering environmental reviews and other analysis.

Climate change, with its attendant flooding, temperature increases and projected sea level rise, are threatening the Eastern Blackrail, whose numbers have declined in some areas of the country by as much as 90 percent. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned USFWS to designate the bird as threatened because it is also losing ground to “continued alteration and loss of wetland habitats, land management practices that result in fire suppression (or inappropriately timed fire application that may cause direct mortalities), grazing, haying and mowing, and impounding of wetlands,” according to USFWS.

If the bird receives threatened status, certain activities, such as grazing on public lands, would be prohibited in its habitat during critical time periods, such as nesting and brooding seasons, and post-breeding flightless molt periods, the agency said.

The Atlantic Pigtoe, a type of freshwater mussel, has been found, albeit in low numbers in the Chowan, Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear and Yadkin-Pee Dee river basins. North Carolina considers the Atlantic Pigtoe endangered/critically imperiled, as its habitat has been damaged by water pollution from sewage treatment plants, road runoff, and private wastewater discharges, as well as disrupted by dams.

While these designations can help prolong the life of the species, the protections aren’t airtight. In the case of the Black-Capped Petrel, its primary breeding habitat is on several Caribbean islands, beyond the reach of US authority to control deforestation there. Here in the US, private landowners aren’t required to protect the species unless they are involved in projects that require federal funding or permits.

And the agency can still issue “incidental take permits” if it determines a certain number of the species can be killed, for example, as the result of a highway or pipeline being built. As part of the Complete 540 toll road project in Wake County, USFWS issued incidental take permits for the endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel and the Yellow Lance Mussel, which live in Swift Creek. The Southern Environmental Law Center has signaled it intends to sue over those permits.