Deepwater Horizon Cleanup Ends, GM Invests $449M in EVs, Court Upholds Mercury Rule, Mercury High in Remote Parks, Jazz Timber Sale OK’d, Ski Areas Open Year-Round, Marine Sanctuaries Could Expand
Active Deepwater Horizon Cleanup Ends Today … GM Puts $449 Million Into EV, Battery Production … Appeals Court Upholds EPA Mercury Emissions Rule … Fish in Western National Parks Test High for Mercury … Bark Loses in Court, Jazz Timber Sale Goes Ahead … Ski Areas on National Forests Opened for Summer Fun … NOAA Plans to Expand Two National Marine Sanctuaries
Active Deepwater Horizon Cleanup Ends Today
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – The U.S. Coast Guard and BP today brought to a close the four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill that started in April 2010.
Lasting 87 days, and leaking 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, it was the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.
Patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana ended today, but the entire area of response is subject to the National Response Center, NRC, process.
These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013.
Response is not complete, says Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon Response. Both Coast Guard and BP are on standby, ready to respond to reports of oiling.
“Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned,” said Capt. Sparks. “But let me be absolutely clear. This response is not over – not by a long shot. The transition to the Middle Response process does not end clean-up operations, and we continue to hold the responsible party accountable for Deepwater Horizon cleanup costs.”
The terms Middle Response or Middle R describe a National Response Center process of responding to reports of oiling across the Gulf with dedicated Coast Guard teams pre-positioned for rapid response to residual oil; and pre-stationed Oil Spill Removal Organizations on standby, ready to clean when directed. This process is fully functioning on more than 3,200 miles of Louisiana shoreline as well as along the Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi coasts.
“Whenever an NRC case is initiated anywhere in the Gulf – which happens virtually every day – active clean-up operations are undertaken, and we go out and clean up the oil,” Sparks said.
Across the Gulf Coast, Coast Guard personnel have responded to 1,082 suspected Deepwater Horizon NRC reports and overseen the cleanup of more than 5,500 pounds of oily material since June 2013.
“BP has spent more than $14 billion and more than 70 million personnel hours on response and cleanup activities,” said Laura Folse, BP’s executive vice president for Response and Environmental Restoration. “Even though active cleanup has ended, we will keep resources in place to respond quickly at the Coast Guard’s direction if potential Macondo oil is identified and requires removal.”
“We are absolutely committed to continuing the clean-up of Deepwater Horizon oil along the Gulf, for as long as it takes, and to surge as necessary and as the situation dictates,” Sparks emphasized.
GM Puts $449 Million Into Future EV, Battery Production
DETROIT, Michigan, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – Preparing for the next generation of electric vehicles and advanced batteries, General Motors will invest $449 million to upgrade manufacturing at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Brownstown Battery Assembly plants.
The investment is the largest to date at both facilities.
“General Motors is committed to building award-winning products and developing technologies in America, which helps to grow our economy from a resurgent auto industry,” said Gerald Johnson, GM North America Manufacturing vice president. “These investments will help the next-generation Chevrolet Volt build on its position as the leader in electrified propulsion.”
GM will spend $384 million at Detroit-Hamtramck for new Body Shop tooling, equipment, and plant upgrades to build the next generation Chevrolet Volt and two future products, as yet unamed. This brings GM’s total investment at Detroit-Hamtramck to more than $1 billion over the last five years.
GM’s $65 million investment at its Brownstown Battery Assembly will support the next generation of lithium-ion battery production and future battery systems. Brownstown Battery Assembly’s 479,000-square-foot, landfill-free facility south of Detroit produces the lithium-ion battery packs for GM’s extended-range electric vehicles.
It started mass production in October 2010 and is the first high-volume manufacturing site in the United States operated by a major automaker for automotive lithium-ion battery production.
The Brownstown Battery Assembly site was made possible with the help of the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding through the U.S. Department of Energy.
GM’s investment is a big boost for the struggling city of Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. It is the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history by debt, estimated at $18-20 billion.
“This is a significant investment by General Motors and it helps to further position Detroit as a leader in the innovative technologies of tomorrow,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, encouraged by the investment.
“We anticipate that the upgrading of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and the production of GM’s next-generation electric vehicles will create well-paying jobs for Detroiters,” the mayor said. “As we continue to bring real change to our city, we need partners like GM who are committed to investing in our future.”
The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant is the world’s only automotive plant that mass produces extended-range electric vehicles, including the Volt, Cadillac ELR and Opel Ampera. They are sold in 33 countries.
Detroit-Hamtramck also builds the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala sedans and features a 264,000-square-foot photovoltaic solar array that can generate up to 516 kilowatts of electricity, enough to charge 150 electric vehicles a day.
Appeals Court Upholds EPA Mercury Emissions Rule
WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Tuesday upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, MATS.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard applies to 1,400 of the country’s largest power plants and would come into force in 2015 for most facilities, in 2016 for the others.
In the case, White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA, the federal agency’s position was supported by the attorneys general of many states, while power companies and the National Association of Manufacturers supporting White Stallion Energy Center argued that the standard would be too expensive for them to be achievable.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic air pollutants, and account for almost half of the nation’s mercury emissions. The Clean Air Act directed the EPA to set limits requiring the maximum achievable reductions in mercury, arsenic, lead, and the many other hazardous air pollutants that power plants emit no later than 2002.
In 2012 after a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. A group of industry and corporate entities filed this lawsuit challenging the rule.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice represented the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in support of the EPA.
Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew said Tuesday, “The emission limits upheld in court today have already won broad public support, and for good reason. Power plants’ toxic pollution takes a horrible toll on peoples’ lives and health, especially in low income communities and communities of color. By allowing this rule to take effect, today’s decision will help reduce that toll.”
On behalf of communities of color, Jacqueline Patterson, director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program for NAACP, called the ruling “important and historic.”
“Civil rights are about equal access to protections afforded by law. Given the disproportionate impact of coal combustion pollution which negatively affects the health and educational outcomes as well as the economic wellbeing of communities of color, the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule is a critical tool for exacting justice. These standards provide essential safeguards for communities who have suffered from decades of toxic exposure,” said Patterson.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller said, “Mercury from power plants is a leading source of the pollution that has led to fish consumption advisories in rivers and streams around the country as well as here in the Chesapeake Bay region. Those contaminated fish put the health of many, including those who fish to feed their families, at risk.
Joseph Otis Minott, executive director, Clean Air Council, said, “The court’s decision to affirm these long, overdue standards clearly demonstrates the importance of controlling toxic emissions while also rejecting the complaints of inconvenience raised by industry and corporate polluters.”
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed days of work, according to EPA data.
The standard also will protect babies and children from exposures to mercury that can damage their ability to develop and learn. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to mercury in the womb.
Mary Anne Hitt, campaign director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said, “Coal- and oil-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution that poisons our lakes and streams, as well as arsenic and other toxic metals and gases. By upholding the rule, the court has helped our country take a great step forward toward protecting our children from these dangerous pollutants.”
Fish in Western National Parks Test High for Mercury
WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – High mercury levels have been found in fish from some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for impacts to fish, birds, and humans.
The new scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service is the first of its kind to incorporate information from remote places at 21 national parks in 10 western states, including Alaska.
Western parks were selected for this study because of the significant role that atmospheric mercury deposition plays in remote places, and the lack of broad-scale assessments on mercury in fish in remote areas of the West.
Mercury concentrations in fish exceeded the most conservative fish toxicity benchmark at 15 percent of all sites, and levels exceeded the most sensitive health benchmark for fish-eating birds at 52 percent of all sites.
“Although fish mercury concentrations were elevated in some sites, the majority of fish across the region had concentrations that were below most benchmarks associated with impaired health of fish, wildlife, and humans,” said USGS ecologist Collin Eagles-Smith, the study’s lead author.
“However, the range of concentrations measured suggest that complex processes are involved in driving mercury accumulation in these environments and further research is needed to better understand these processes, and assess risk,” he said.
The study examines total mercury in fish, of which 95 percent is in the form of methylmercury, the most dangerous form to human and wildlife health. Mercury is among the most widespread contaminants in the world. At a global scale it enters the environment from olcanic eruptions, and from human sources such as burning fossil fuels in power plants.
At local or regional scales mercury enters the environment as a result of current and historic mining activities. These human activities have increased levels of atmospheric mercury at least three-fold during the past 150 years, the scientists said.
Between 2008 and 2012, National Park Service resource managers collected more than 1,400 fish from 86 lakes and rivers, and USGS scientists measured mercury concentrations in fish muscle tissue.
Sixteen fish species were sampled, especially commonly consumed sport fish such as brook, rainbow, cutthroat, and lake trout. Smaller prey fish eaten by birds and wildlife also were sampled.
The authors found that mercury levels varied from park to park and among sites within each park. Mercury concentrations were below EPA’s fish tissue criterion for safe human consumption in 96 percent of the sport fish sampled.
But the average concentration of mercury in sport fish from two sites in two Alaskan parks exceeded EPA’s human health criterion. Mercury levels in individual fish at some parks from other states including California, Colorado, Washington, and Wyoming also exceeded the human health criterion.
The other study states were Oregon, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.
Neither agency regulates environmental health guidelines. The NPS is coordinating with state officials in the 10 study states on updating fish consumption advisories.
High mercury levels in birds, mammals, and fish can result in reduced foraging efficiency, survival, and reproductive success.
“This is a wake-up call,” said Park Service ecologist and co-author Colleen Flanagan Pritz. “We need to see fewer contaminants in park ecosystems, especially contaminants like mercury where concentrations in fish challenge the very mission of the national parks to leave wild life unimpaired for future generations.”
Bark Loses in Court, Jazz Timber Sale Goes Ahead
PORTLAND, Oregon, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – The environmental watchdog group Bark has lost its lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, so logging is expected to begin this week in the controversial Jazz Timber Sale on Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest.
On Friday, a federal judge sided with the Forest Service, which Bark says “wants the public to trust that the impacts of logging will be minimal, and that the logging company, the Canadian-based timber company Interfor, will use Best Management Practices to make everything okay.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Jazz Timber Sale will log some 2,000 acres and rebuild 12 miles of decommissioned road across 30 square miles of the Collawash River Watershed in the southern part of the Mount Hood National Forest.
“This Collawash River is a critical habitat for threatened coho salmon,” said Bark Program Director Russ Plaeger.
The Collawash Watershed is the most geologically unstable watershed in Mt. Hood National Forest and is designated critical habitat for threatened salmon, including the last wild late run of winter Coho salmon, Bark warns.
The road reconstruction would cross nine streams, and the Forest Service’s own Environmental Assessment states that road building and logging would contribute at least 19 tons of sediment into waterways each year.
Out of the 2,000 acres of forest proposed for logging, only nine acres are designated to be managed for timber emphasis. The remainder is designated Earthflow or Special Emphasis Watershed by the Forest Service’s own management plan.
Bark questions how logging would be consistent with the Forest Service’s management objectives in these areas, which are designed to enhance and protect aquatic conservation objectives.
The U.S. Forest Service say their environmental assessment determined that any sediment and environmental impact from the selective logging will be inconsequential.
“We have to consult with national marine fisheries, regulatory agency in this case, and they concurred with our findings on this project,” said U.S. Forest Service Ranger Mike Chaveas, told local media.
Plaeger said all Bark can do now is monitor Interfor’s activities to make sure the logging company complies with guidelines.
But Plaeger says Bark has caught Interfor breaking the rules before, as when it cut a 172-year-old tree on a different timber sale.
Bark is hostin a field trip to the Jazz Timber Sale on Sunday, April 27, 9am-5pm to celebrate the wildness of the Collawash River watershed and document the forest as it stands, before logging begins.
Ski Areas on National Forests Opened for Summer Fun
WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – Ski areas on National Forests will be able to promote year-round recreation activities that are natural resource-based, encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature and will create additional jobs, under new policy guidelines finalized by the U.S. Forest Service Tuesday.
There are 122 ski areas on nearly 180,000 acres of public land administered by the Forest Service.
“The new directives will help usher in a wider spectrum of developed recreation opportunities that will encourage more people to enjoy the national forests,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“This change will allow ski areas to offer expanded recreation choices that will benefit local communities and recreationists,” he said.
The guidelines, called directives, will be published in the Federal Register this week and take effect immediately. They will be used by agency administrators to determine which summer recreation activities and associated facilities will be allowed on ski areas operating on national forests.
Early estimates by the agency indicate that expanding ski area recreation activities will increase by 600,000 the number of summer visits on national forests; ski areas now average 23 million visits annually.
Also expected are an additional 600 full-time or part-time jobs and almost $40 million infused in local mountain communities.
The revised directives were spurred by the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, which amended the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 that limited recreation to Nordic and alpine skiing.
The 2011 law includes such activities as zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses and rope courses. These types of activities are natural resource-based and encourage further exploration of Forest Service lands in contrast to theme or amusement parks.
The agency received more than 300 comments to the proposed directive, which helped to formulate the final guidelines. The guidelines require that new activities are natural resource-based, encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature, and are consistent with the intent of the act. The guidelines also will address the types of facilities that will be permitted.
The guidelines also address management of other recreational uses within the operational boundary of ski areas by the non-paying public, such as snowshoeing and hiking.
“This is more than just a policy change,” Tidwell said. “This opens up new opportunities to bring people onto national forests to enjoy the great outdoors, become more physically active and recreate in new ways.”
NOAA Plans to Expand Two National Marine Sanctuaries
SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 16, 2014 (ENS) – NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries proposes to expand the boundaries of Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, located off north-central California, two of 14 sanctuaries managed by NOAA.
The proposal is intended to protect the distinctive marine ecosystem north and west of the sanctuaries’ current boundaries.
It would include waters and submerged lands off of Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, including North America’s most intense “upwelling” site offshore of Point Arena.
The nutrients brought to the surface during upwelling events at Point Arena are carried south into the sanctuaries by the prevailing California Current. NOAA says these nutrients fuel “an incredibly productive ocean area” protected by the two sanctuaries.
“The waters off the northern California coast are nutrient-rich and drive a thriving marine ecosystem,” said Daniel Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The sanctuaries are feeding areas for endangered blue whales and humpback whales, sharks, salmon, and seabirds like albatrosses and shearwaters that migrate tens of thousands of miles.
Food from the Point Arena upwelling center also supports the largest assemblage of breeding seabirds in the contiguous United States on the Farallon Islands.
“These two sanctuaries provide great recreational and educational opportunities for thousands of visitors each year,” Basta said.
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 1,300 square miles of ocean and coastal waters beyond California’s Golden Gate Bridge. The sanctuary supports species including the largest breeding seabird rookery in the contiguous United States, and other species such as whales and white sharks.
Under the proposal, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would be extended north and west from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to a few miles north of Point Arena lighthouse in Mendocino County, including state and federal waters.
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, with its main feature, Cordell Bank, located about 49 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, is a destination feeding area for local and migratory marine life.
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary expansion would be extended west and slightly north to protect subsea features such as Bodega Canyon.
Established in the 1980s, the sanctuaries together protect more than 2,000 square miles of ocean near the coast of San Francisco.
“Public comments are an important part of the process as we look at this proposal to expand the boundaries,” Basta said. Public hearings are planned for the public to learn more about the proposal and provide comments. Meetings are scheduled for:
- May 22: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito, 6 pm
- June 16: Point Arena City Hall, 6 pm
- June 17: Gualala Community Center, 6 pm
- June 18: Grange Hall, Bodega Bay, 6 pm
The agency is accepting public and stakeholder comments on the proposal and related regulations through June 30 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov with Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2012-0228
Or comments can be mailed to: Maria Brown, Sanctuary Superintendent, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, 991 Marine Drive, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129. These comments will be considered when preparing the final rule.