Posts Tagged ‘water quality’

May10

Saving Oregon’s Famed Rivers and Wild Salmon from Gold Mining

by Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
It has been a long road to suction-dredge mining reform in Oregon, but this campaign is close to finalizing permanent protections for Oregon's iconic rivers and wild salmon.  Suction dredging is an incredibly harmful, gold-mining practice that involves sucking up fragile river bottoms through a large, gas-powered vacuum. This mining practice is damaging in numerous ways, but most importantly, it impairs water quality and the recovery of wild salmon.
 
SpawningThis mining technique first crossed Cascadia's radar in 2009, when the American Fisheries Society first began pressuring the California Legislature to ban the practice that was harming salmon runs. Ultimately in 2012, California banned suction dredging legislatively. In the meantime, they began migrating north into Oregon, and dedgers began targeting some of Oregon's most treasured waterways including the Rogue, South Umpqua and Illinois Rivers. From 2009 to 2012, the number of dredging permits issued doubled from approximately 900 to nearly 2,000 in Oregon. Because there was little oversight of the practice in Oregon, miners were running amok in some of the best salmon-spawning habitat in the state.  
 
Cascadia Wildlands combined efforts with numerous other conservation organizations, recreation groups, and commercial fishing interests and began a campaign to reform this harmful practice.  In 2013, our coalition was able to get two bills introduced to address the issue.  The first bill, Senate Bill 401, updated Oregon's list of State Scenic Waterways to enable the state to protect these areas from mining.  The second bill, Senate Bill 838 championed by the late senator Alan Bates, placed a moratorium on suction-dredging in salmon habitat until 2018, until which time state agencies would implement a permitted, regulatory system. 
 
After a hard-fought battle in the Legislature, the Governor ultimate signed Senate Bill 838, which placed a temporary moratorium on suction-dredge mining in key salmon habitat in Oregon.  The bill also convened a working group with stakeholders, including the miners and conservationists, to develop the permit and regulatory system that would be implemented by the state after the expiration of the moratorium.  Simultaneously, miners elected to sue the state in an attempt to invalidate the recently passed legislation and argued that Oregon did not have the authority to regulate mining due to conflicts with an archaic, federal mining law passed in 1872. Cascadia and our allies intervened in the legislation, and on March 25, 2016, the Court dismissed the miners' challenge, which is currently being appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
 
In the midst of the litigation, Cascadia moved forward and worked with our partners and state officials in developing permanent reforms to prevent this harmful gold mining from adversely impacting imperiled aquatic species. Our solution has culminated in Senate Bill 3-8, which recently passed Oregon's Senate and will be scheduled for a House vote soon.  Your voice is needed for a final push to achieve victory for Oregonians, clean water and wild salmon.  Take action here, and urge your Representative to vote yes on Senate Bill 3-8.
Jun29

Rachel, Rachel Where Art Thou?: The Need for a Noisy Spring

By Bob Ferris
 
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This past April marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson.  And while I certainly bemoan her absence and miss her rachelcarson_binocularsiconic Silent Spring voice, I mourn more for the fact that her life’s work and sacrifice on our behalf has apparently taught many of us little or nothing.    Exhibit “A” in this thesis is the list of herbicides contained in a 2012 private forestry spraying application for a 3,416 acre unit near the Willapa Headwaters in southwestern Washington (thank you, Jon Gosch). 
 
"If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." Robert White-Stevens American Cyanamid biochemist
 
Rachel’s story is a powerful one and too often repeated.  Here’s how it goes: A systems thinker (in her case a marine biologist) noticing trends and problems in the natural world compiles evidence that establishes correlative links between a chemical or chemicals and a natural or human health issue and then brings it to the public’s attention.  These are not “proofs” in the traditional scientific sense but rather concrete rationales for further investigation—in short these are the building blocks of testable hypotheses.  
 
“Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn't it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.” Letter to the editor of the New Yorker
 
But once these building blocks form and become known, a storm of industry-led criticism always follows.  We know the pattern: Credentials and motivations are questioned; industry scientists rush in to defend the safety of products; new brochures addressing criticisms are prepared; and those offering the hypotheses are quickly and roughly kicked to curb for being un-American, job-killers, communists or worse.  In all of this we have to really wonder where the sin lies in raising legitimate and justifiable concerns.  And when exactly did poisoning our wildlife and future generations become an American value?  
 
Now I cannot say conclusively, for instance, that forestry herbicide use on private lands is directly causing hoof rot in elk in southwestern Washington.  That said, I know that the chemical cocktails being sprayed have some impact because herbicides directly lower available food supplies and that stresses elk (and deer) making them generally more vulnerable to any infections.  
 
And I have good reasons to suspect additional impact from glyphosate herbicides like RoundUp or Rodeo because they often control the availability of trace metals and micronutrients to plants, soil microbes, and thus bigger critters through a complicated process known as chelation that undoubtedly alters metabolic functions and other systems at each step up the food chain (see 1, 23)  And then there are some concerns about the immunological and thyroidal impacts of some herbicides. So this is not so much a debate about whether or not herbicides are contributing to this current elk affliction, but how far this class of chemicals moves the needle from zero (no impact) to 100 (proximate cause).
 
“The New York Times reported that in 1996, "Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically nontoxic" to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines."  Under “Legal Cases” in Glyphosate Wikipedia listing 
 
I suspect that many in America believe that the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of theAutism_and_Glyphosate_correlation Clean Water Act have worked together to reduce herbicide use since the 1960s when things were really “bad.”  These are after all the pollution cop agency and a bedrock piece of environmental legislation.  The reality is that while many chemicals were eliminated from use, many more emerged with a lot of them being herbicides.  At the same time lots of wildlife issues such as difficult-to-identify diseases, deformities and population drops are manifesting themselves with similar things happening in human communities too.  Certainly there are multiple factors involved in any wildlife or human health syndrome but the incidence of these problems and the rise of herbicide use seems to track well enough that serious questions should be asked (see glyphosate use and autism graph at right).
 
Now herbicide proponents will be quick to point out that these are only correlations and not causation.  True enough, but like Rachel Carson’s work these correlations are and should be the vibrant roots of hypotheses that we must pose and follow to their conclusions.  And before the charges of scare tactics are deployed and my ethics questioned, my sense is that it is much more responsible to ask legitimate questions arising from a well-constructed correlation, even if it might elicit fear and caution, than to agressively deny that fear and condemn that caution in the absence of adequate and conclusive testing.  And if there is one thing that you learn from plowing through mountains of primary literature on herbicides it is that there is much we do not know and the number of studies that end with a desperate call for more studies is astounding.  
 
It should also be clear to those in the pro-herbicide camp by now that curiosity met with swift denial only leads to suspicion.  And ultimately this becomes distrust if legitimate concerns are ignored or dismissed without visible investigation.  They should also understand that suspicion and distrust can easily snowball into campaigns.  This brings us to our present state which is not quite a broad campaign but more like isolated prairie fires across the rural western landscape that are starting to send sparks back and forth to each other. 
 
These efforts include those by non-traditional folks like hunters and citizen activists Jon Gosch (1,2,3) and Bruce Barnes working on the elk hoof rot issue in Washington; wildlife rehabber Judy Hoy in the intermountain West trying to figure out deformities in deer, elk and antelopes; and Josh Leavitt’s emerging efforts in Utah to serve as a research destination and clearinghouse.  They also include the fine work of groups like our soon-to-be-ex-across-the-hall-neighbors, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides or NCAP that fight this battle daily. (You see, Kim, I was listening and we will miss your shining faces and having Edward's organic eggs just a few steps away).  They should give us all hope that the brave spirit of Rachel Carson lives. 
 
But there is a second part of the Carson lesson and that is the grassroots part of the equation.  For the US EPA to not think it is alright to characterize RoundUp similarly to table salt and for state agencies in charge of our forests, waterways, wildlife and health not to cavalierly sign off on the chemical carpet bombing enumerated at the top of this piece, we all have to speak up.  Carson’s efforts were initially successful because you, your parents or grandparents spoke up in the 1960s and, therefore, for these current efforts to be successful you, your children and your grandchildren have to be vigilant and not think that the first Earth Day was the end of the battle but rather the beginning.  Let’s get to it.  The below action is one to get started, but more will follow from us or other "prairie fires" in the West.
 
 
Jul30

Let’s Talk of Wolves and Cattle but Please Include Elk, Deer, Fish, and Birds Too.

Having worked in orchards and on ranches as a child and young adult, I have a tremendous respect for the folks who actually produce our food.  That respect has led me to work diligently over the years to protect farm land, working landscapes, and family farmers.  But in all of this we have to be realistic and honest.  We also have to understand—particularly when we look at public lands that are owned by all—that there are a myriad of issues that need to be considered and they need to be considered in a rational and equitable manner.

Cattle grazing (US FWS)

I bring this up because I was disturbed this week by the news coverage over the wolf attack that seriously injured at calf on federal land in eastern Oregon.  That calf will likely be put down and that has an impact on that rancher and that needs to be dealt with, but not hysterically.  Portraying wolves as another nail in the coffin of ranching is not borne out by reality or experience.  

Right now there are 1.3 million or so beef cattle in Oregon and many of those cattle die before reaching market.  In fact, in an average year something like 50,000-60,000 cattle die of non-predator related causes in Oregon.  That is about 150 head per day.  But one calf gets killed by a wolf in 6 months and it is time to ring the alarm bells and call out the cavalry, because wolves are going to put ranchers out of business.  This sort of hyperbole is not helpful.

As much as this piece would suggest that the public lands ranching equation is just a wolf and rancher question, it really is not.  There are several other vested players in this equation that need to be considered such as hunters and fishermen as well as the growing number of wildlife watchers who visit our public lands.  These uses and desires need to be balanced and currently they are not.

We also need to remember that cattle displace both elk and deer.  They also muddy trout streams and remove streamside vegetation critical to invertebrate food production for trout and other fish.  They also foul potential campsites with their flops.  And grazing from all three often impacts bird habitat—both watchable and hunt-able.  Sure ranchers pay to graze BLM and Forest Service lands but those fees are generally much lower than private land grazing fees and degradation much higher.  

So am I advocating for an end to public lands grazing so we have more wolves as well as more elk, deer, fish and wilderness experiences? No, but I think we need to examine the entire system again and assess the ecological, economic, and social value of each activity.  Are elk and elk hunting more valuable and employ more people than cattle grazing?  What are the trade-offs to keep cattle away from streams and have vibrant fishing on our public lands again?  Which of the activities provides the largest returns to local communities?  And are subsidized grazing fees for a few still appropriate in these times of great fiscal stress for many, particularly in those counties that are hardest hit by the economy?

Moreover, we probably need to re-evaluate each in the light of climate change.  Studies coming out of Yellowstone at this point are linking the drop in elk populations to climate change related drought conditions.  This notion is reinforced by the fact that female elk are in poor condition which leads to low reproductive rates.  This makes sense when you realize that July temperatures in Yellowstone are nine degrees higher than normal and brown-up is happening several days earlier than it has in the past.  Any shortening in critical summer feeding is going to hurt elk numbers so keeping commercial grazing levels on public lands static does not seem like a logical course.

 

Jul16

Please Take a Cold Hard Look at Coal Trains

"It's déjà vu all over again"
–Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra made the above quote when he watched Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs in the early 1960s.  I feel the same way—absent the elation—as I watch this coal debate unfold here in Eugene just as it did in Bellingham two years ago.  It is roughly all the same except for some of the details.  I have lived this before and it all came rushing back to me as I read the recent letter from the Port of Coos Bay director—David Koch—to the City of Eugene and the Project Mainstay  Economic Impact Assessment.  (Since it is all the same but the players, amounts, and locale, I will take the liberty of linking to Bellingham-based writings that have addressed many of these same issues.)
 
As I look at these two documents recently offered in support of the Coos Bay coal terminal project, I find myself scratching my head in the same spots I did two years ago when similar documents were released in Bellingham.  None of these documents are compelling.  I find it puzzling, for instance, that the port director—David Koch—feels compelled to brag about the 158 tons of carbon dioxide taken out of the air in the last 10 months by their railroad operations when arguing for a project that will eventually place more than 15 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere upwind from us.  Then you add in the CO2 from the 800 unit trains traveling to and from Wyoming and Montana (1600 annual trips for mile and half long trains).  And add to that the bulk carriers sailing to Korea and back that burn bunker fuel.  (Bunker fuel represents the dregs of the fuel refining process with up to 5 percent sulfur content its use likely erases any global sulfur budget benefits of Asia using our lower sulfur coal.)  
 
In this equation, it is important to note that bulk carriers of the size we are talking about burn about 4 tons of diesel fuel a day when in port.  With roughly one hundred of them going in and out of Coos Bay annually to haul this coal, that 158 ton bit of green house gas (GHG) progress would get erased sometime during the first month of operations.  Did Mr. Koch think we were going to be so distracted by this good news and that we would not see the bigger picture bad news implications of this endeavor?  This seems a little someone seeking your thanks for brushing a mosquito off your arm, while not telling you that there is a rabid dog standing behind you.  
 
With the massive dredging of the Coos Bay estuary and more than 150 water crossings between Eugene and this proposed coal terminal along the Coos Bay Railway, protecting water quality and aquatic ecosystem function is an important consideration to those of us who want to see salmon and steelhead runs improve.  Doing a little research we find that coal trains dump considerable coal dust all along their routes and every coal terminal in North America has a coal dust control problem that results in air, soil, and water pollution (please see Coal Dust is Complicated).  Some are certainly worse than others such as Seward, Alaska and Mobile, Alabama, but even the best and most responsible such as Robert’s Bank near Vancouver, British Columbia expel dust plumes that travel miles from their facilities and create oxygen-poor “dead zones” in the surrounding waters.  You can watch the decks of the ships at Robert's Bank after they are loaded and see them change from white to black.  When these legitimate concerns are raised, industry will retort that all that coal chunks and dust are lost near the mines so take a moment and watch this Seattle piece on coal coming off the trains and apply it to Eugene, Coos Bay and the 150 water crossings on the CBR or look at the photos just posted by our friends at Columbia Riverkeepers on facebook.   

When looking at the risk offered by the above, it is important to look at the players involved.  The Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO) is a Korean government-controlled company (51%) that has a spotty environmental record globally.  It is interesting that Mr. Koch calls out KEPCO’s in-progress facility as remarkable.  I agree, but I find it remarkable that any facility that espouses renewables would lead with coal which is arguably the dirtiest and most costly fuel imaginable.  
 
Mitsui is another of the development partners.  This Japanese company has its fingers in a lot of pots in the US and globally including oil exploration through their MOEX subsidiary.  MOEX was just fined $90 million dollars by the US EPA for their part in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now I may be somewhat of a cautionary person when it comes to water and aquatic ecosystems, but I think foreign companies involved in the “Gusher in the Gulf” should be treated to a well-deserved time out when it comes to any future projects that might jeopardize our country’s waterways and fisheries.  
 
I am happy that the Economic Impact Assesment being shipped around by the Port and other project proponents is marked “draft” because the figures seem a bit inflated and the scope wildly inappropriate.  For one thing the job density of 16.5 jobs per million metric tons (MMT) of coal shipped is roughly twice what economist projected for the coal terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham (8.8 jobs per MMT) which was judged by many to be high.  With both using “industry standard” projections I can understand a 10 percent or so difference, but 100 percent variance seems highly unlikely. Jobs should certainly be one of the core considerations, but we really need to look at net jobs not just jobs created in Coos County or on the rail line because the implications of the rail traffic and the shipping of underpriced raw material to a competing economy need to be examined fully (please see This Country Used to Make Things and I Heard the Lonesome Whistle Call).  
 
Moreover, this Economic Impact Assessment seems seriously mislabeled because it really only looks at a narrow band of economic benefits covering a small geographic area.  Where are the figures for the impact that this level of train traffic with have on business activity including the rail shipment of other goods in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana?  How will this impact housing prices all along the route?  In Los Angeles a long term study found that doubling freight traffic reduced housing prices about $2500.  
 
And then we get into the whole issue of human health and diesel particulates.  Be prepared because once the local doctors express concerns about the health impacts ranging from childhood asthma to cancer of these particulates—particularly the nano-particles that are less than one billionth of a meter—the misinformation will fly about trains and GHGs as well as fireplace chimneys and particulates by weight.  Don’t be fooled, it is all PR deception (please see Deception Pass).
 
There is much, much more to be said and prepared for but as I hope all of us are getting ready to go to the Coal Hard Truth Forum this evening, I will end with a final point.  Mr. Koch opens with the classic argument of condemning the City Council for considering passing an anti-coal train resolution in the absence of facts.  Wow, that is a bold statement and absolutely un-true.  There is a mountain of existing information out there that indicates that jeopardizing human health and local economic activity and environmental integrity through these heavily subsidized coal export ventures makes no sense.  This is not a premature decision by any means and it is a decision being made by potentially impacted communities in Washington, Oregon, and Montana—what is not prudent is taking a supportive position with slim details provided by the Port (please see Of Garlic and Rail Traffic).  We need leaders on this not folks who are being lead to harmful conclusions.
 
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