Archive for December, 2011

A Great Way to End the Year

Friday, December 30th, 2011

     In the closing days of 2011, a truly great thing happened.  The EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, an amendment to the Clean Air Act that will have a significant, positive impact on Americans’ health for many years to come.

     On December 21, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced the new rule, which will cut mercury emissions from power plants by 90%.  Coal-fired plants are one of the largest emitters of mercury, a potent neurotoxin known to damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children.  Power plants’ mercury emissions also contribute to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and asthma.  

     “This is a great victory for public health, for the health of our children,” Jackson told reporters gathered at the Children’s Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Public health leaders agree.  The rule is ”a step in the right direction for protecting our families by limiting the amount of mercury that will enter our environment, contaminate our water supplies, and wind up in our food chain,” according to Lexington, Kentucky physician Dr. Vicki Holmberg.  The levels of mercury currently coming out of power plants, Holmberg explains, “can overwhelm the capacity of our bodies to metabolize and eliminate toxic metal pollutants.”

     Americans who live near the older, more polluting power plants will benefit the most from the new standard, with fewer illnesses and fewer asthma attacks.  The new rule is expected to result in as many as 11,000 fewer premature deaths a year, 4,700 fewer heart attacks a year, and other widespread health benefits.  In addition to mercury, the rule also targets coal plants’ emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium, and acid gases.

     While health experts and environmentalists hail the new standard, the coal industry and many utilities have been fighting for years to stop the issuance of such a ruling.  Kentucky’s Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul recently tried unsuccessfully to block the new rule through legislation, and are already calling for the rule’s repeal.  It’s too costly, they insist.

     Compliance with the ruling will cost the nation’s utilities $9.6 billion, according to EPA.    About half of the nation’s coal-fired plants are more than 40 years old and must be replaced or modernized.  And 44% of coal-powered plants have never bothered to install technology that could easily reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins.  While some coal industry jobs will be lost, Jackson notes, the ruling will actually mean a net job increase, with the creation of 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 longer term utility sector jobs.  Utilities will have up to four years to comply. 

     With this new ruling, coal-fired power plants are finally joining every other major industrial sector in dramatically reducing mercury and other air toxins.  Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel induustries, and heavy manufacturers have all been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years. 

     I applaud the EPA for issuing this very important new rule.  We can go into the new year breathing a little more easily.–April Moore

Gifts from Our Fellow Creatures

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

     At this season of giving, I am reminded of how much we humans are given by the animals and plants with whom we share our planet. 

     I am posting here a lovely, short piece by Joanna Macy, a woman I greatly admire for her work in helping people to experience their grief over what we have lost and are yet to lose of this beautiful world that nurtures us every minute.

     And I add, here at year’s end, a heartfelt thank-you to EARTH CONNECTION readers.  I am grateful that many people are interested in reading my postings.  Happy Holidays to you.  And a healthy New Year–for all of us humans and for the planet we love.–April Moore

     “We hear you, fellow creatures.  We know we are wrecking the world and we are afraid.  What we have unleashed has such momentum now, we don’t know how to turn it around.  Don’t leave us alone;  we need your help.  You need us too for your own survival.  Are there powers there you can share with us?

     “”I, lichen, work slowly, very slowly.  Time is my friend.  This is what I give you:  patience for the long haul and perseverance.”

     “”It is a dark time.  As deep-diving trout, I offer you my fearlessness of the dark.”

     “”I, lion, give you my roar, the voice to speak out and be heard.”

     “”I am caterpillar.  The leaves I eat taste bitter now.  But dimly I sense a great change coming.  What I offer you, humans, is my willingness to dissolve and transform.  I do that without knowing what the end-result will be;  so I share with you my courage too.”"–Joanna Macy

Make Two Phone Calls to Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

     Big Oil and its Republican friends in Congress are determined to win approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, a 2,147 mile channel to transport extremely dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas.

     Despite the President’s recent announcement that he would delay his decision on the project for another 12-18 months, in order to fully assess its environmental impact,  Republicans are trying to force his hand.  On December 13, House Republicans included in a bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits language that would force the President to make his Keystone decision within 60 days. 

     Very soon, the measure will be voted on by the Senate.  The good news is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Republicans he will halt negotiations on another important year-end spending bill unless Republicans drop their insistence on premature action on Keystone.  And President Obama has said that if a measure forcing him to decide on Keystone reaches his desk, he will veto it.

     Even so, we must make sure our Senators know that we citizens strongly reject this carbon-spewing, water-contaminating project.  You can be sure that Senators are all hearing from the big oil companies involved in the project.  As the wealthiest industry on the planet, Big Oil can–and does–spend vast sums of money to ’get the attention’ of our Members of Congress.

     So please pick up the phone and make two calls, one to each of your U.S. Senators.  You can leave a message on the Senate office constituent voice mail.  Or you can ask to speak to the aide who handles energy matters.  I suggest the latter, even if it means leaving a message on the aide’s machine.  I don’t have the feeling that the constituent message line carries much clout.  You can get your Senators’ names and phone numbers by clicking  http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm  Or you can call the U.S. Congress Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask to be connected to your Senator’s office.

     Please call today  (Wednesday) or tomorrow (Thursday).  The Senate may be voting very soon. 

     For more information on the harm that would come from proceeding with the Keystone XL pipeline, click here:  http://www.tarsandsaction.org/spread-the-word/key-facts-keystone-xl/  –April Moore

Winter Boys

Friday, December 9th, 2011

     A friend, Fred Andrle, is also one of my favorite poets.  I post here his poem Winter Boys.  Fred captures beautifully, I think, his memories of being a boy out with his friends on a snowy day.  Mostly, the boys are about action, but the poem also depicts a moment of awe at winter’s beauty.

     Winter Boys is included in LOVE LIFE, Fred’s latest book of poems, published by XOXOX Press in Gambier, Ohio.–April Moore

WINTER BOYS

It’s the full life of winter’s blustery height
ice and flurry and sharp-scented cold
could be mistaken for nature’s call to death
but it’s character, soft landscape, chill flame.

So we’ll pull on big boots and tussle out the door
trek on back to the river frozen deep
jump up and down on the ice until it cracks
walk across water like apprentice Jesus.

Then up along the railroad track, hollering down the valley
teetering on the slippery rails, pounding our chests
at the approaching engine, falling away
at the very last second, down into warm and
                 welcoming drifts.

We pack up solid ice balls, lob them over the precipice
listen for their smack against the distant shivery pavement
then clamber down the hill to the snow-snarled street
dart out suddenly, grab rear bumpers, pogey on the cars.

All the neighbor girls are trying on their delicate skates
they’re ready to giggle across the ice in frilly skirts
they need our trusty shoveling to open up reluctant ponds
and that we do, but we disdain their dainty pirouetting.

We’re tough guys body-slamming each other on the ice
the pond is a great hibernal wrestling ring
it’s only when some peewee warrior cracks his head
                and wails
that we shrug away from rowdy bickering.

We’re headed out for an icy exploit
ready to revel in the frigid winter world
we’ll chop and stack an igloo fort, or roll up a snowman,
push in lumps of coal for eyes and a dead carrot nose.

All the frail adults indoors, but this our wild universe
we stride right forward into the knifey wind
breaking a path out back to the trees
and we don’t need any big-brother snowshoes.

It’s there in the woods that we’ll build a fire
with matches purloined from mothers’ purses
crisp sticks gathered by our aching mitten hands
suddenly we’re warming and invincible.

All around the sky is milky white and falling
not a sound in the little tree grove
our piping voices hushed and still
as the great being of winter embraces our small daring.–Fred Andrle

Kissimmee River Makes a Comeback

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

     The Kissimmee River in south-central Florida is an environmental success story.  In a way.  

     The story of the Kissimmee is an example of humans ruining a river and then working hard to restore it again.  

     The Kissimmee River originally meandered this way and that, along a wide, shallow path from Lake Kissimmee southward to Lake Okeechobee.  The river’s 50,000 acre floodplain supported numerous and diverse wetland communities–birds, fish, and a wide variety of other wildlife.

     But in the early 1960s the Kissimmee River fell victim to a program that was popular at the time–river ‘straightening.’  In an attempt to avoid major flooding during hurricane events and to enable people to build homes and other buildings in a floodplain without fear of floods, many rivers during the 1960s were channelized;  they were straightened and deepened.  The Kissimmee was one such river.  Its meanders were sliced off, a deep-channel canal was dredged along the Kissimmee Valley, and the once winding, 103 mile-long river was transformed into a straight, 56-mile long, lifeless gutter.    Even the name was changed.  The former Kissimmee River became the C-38. 

     The goal of keeping the river out of the floodplain was largely achieved.  But at a great price.  Water that had once slowly wound its way southward, now shot through the trench and poured, unsettled and unfiltered,  into Lake Okeechobee.  C-38 was an inhospitable place to the many fish that had inhabited it.  The surrounding wetlands dried up and the birds disappeared.

     “The folly of ditching the Kissimmee River was recognized almost the day it was completed,” states the Everglades Foundation on its website, “and the magnitude of the ecological crisis led to a public outcry.”  In 1992, Congress approved a plan to restore the Kissimmee River.  The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the restoration.

     While the restoration project won’t bring the entire river back to its original health, normal flow is being returned to more than 40 miles of the river’s historic channel, and about 40 square miles of the river/floodplain ecosystem will be restored.

     Restoration efforts got underway in 1999, and the results have been inspiring.  “Recovery of wetland function was much faster than expected,” according to the Everglades Foundation, “with rapid recolonization by native plants and animals.  The Kissimmee Restoration  is a true Florida environmental success story three decades in the making.”  Almost right away,   shorebirds returned.  So did ducks, songbirds and wading birds.  Aquatic invertebrates like insects, mollusks, crayfish, and freshwater shrimp again inhabited the river, and the river became home once again to fish and alligators.  

     Unfortunately, I cannot end our story here.  While I salute former Floida Republican governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist for their strong support for restoration efforts, the current governor, Tea Partier Rick Scott, elected in 2010, has been working to slash funds for restoration efforts and has tried to get the EPA to relax clean water regulations that affect the Kissimmee River.  If the investment by the public of more than $3 billion in state and federal funds to restore the Kissimmee River are not to be wasted, we must hope that Scott (currently out of favor with his Tea Party base) will be a one-term governor. April Moore  

 

a restored section of Floridas Kissimmee River

a restored section of Florida's Kissimmee River

 

 

 

  

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