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Galveston Bay Oil Spill Might be Hard to Clean Up

New, on-location footage

Bunker Seyfert, videography coordinator for Project Survival Media, an Earth Island Institute project, was traveling through Texas and stopped by at Galveston to document the oil spill in Galveston Bay. A barge ship carrying nearly a million gallons of marine fuel oil collided with a ship in Bay, spilling more than 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil and halting shipping in one of the busiest ports in the United States. Experts say the sticky, viscous oil, that's used to propel oceangoing vessels, is going to be harder to remove than the Deepwater Horizon oil that was a lighter crude. The spill is also quite close to sensitive wildlife estuaries. Check out Seyfert’s short video, that was filmed three-and-a-half miles from the actual spill location.

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Why California’s Ban on Retail Sale of Toxic Rat Poisons Isn’t Enough

Licensed pest control operators will still be allowed to use rodenticides that kill wildlife and pets

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of d-Con rat poison, has held the US EPA hostage for the past several years, keeping it from implementing stricter rules about the use of dangerous rat poisons—the products that are killing pets and wildlife. But on March 18, after several years of pressure from Earth Island project Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) and many other groups, as well as from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation took a giant leadership step by making these “second generation anticoagulants” harder for consumers to use.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto by Grendl on FlickrA Cooper's Hawk with a dead mouse. Poisoned rodents can then be eaten by other animals, like this hawk and can end up poisoning other animals and birds farther up the food chain.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation is banning direct over-the-counter sales to consumers of the deadly second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) that have killed thousands of birds of prey as well as predatory mammals like foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, and the endangered California fisher.

The new regulations take effect on July 1, and will prevent consumers from purchasing these compounds (many under the brand name d-Con) from hardware, convenience, grocery, and other stores. The active ingredients in SGARS are Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone, Difenacoum, and Difethialone. DPR’s review of these products is available here.

While RATS and its partners are thrilled that DPR has taken the critical step of banning over-the-counter sales of these poisons, many threats remain to California wildlife and pets from rodenticides.

Unfortunately, the new regs do not apply to pest control companies, which will still be allowed to use SGARs. As I’ve written before, innocuous looking silver-and-black “bait boxes” containing SGARs can be found all around cities and suburbs. You’ve probably seen the big pest control company trucks in your neighborhood. They place the tidy little boxes around houses and businesses — and it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” But bait boxes are not like the roach “motels,” where the bugs “check in and don’t check out.” With bait boxes, rodents check in, eat the poisoned bait, and then “check out” again, like little toxic time bombs. The poisoned rodents can then be eaten by other animals and end up poisoning other animals and birds farther up the food chain, including pets like …more

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Kentucky Lawmakers Using Animal Welfare Bill to Sneak in Ag Gag Provision

Senate ag committee introduces amendment that would penalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators at factory farms

Industrial Ag interests are at it again, trying to block public scrutiny of their operations in Kentucky this time. I just learned that the Kentucky state senate is using a popular animal welfare bill as a cover to quietly slip through an “ag-gag” stipulation that would criminalize independent, undercover investigations of factory farming facilities.

The original intent of HB 222 (Word doc), introduced by House Democrat Joanie Jenkins earlier this month, was to set euthanasia standards, such as restricted use of gunshots and a ban on using gas chambers, for animal shelters in the state.

Pigs confined in metal and concrete pens at a factory farmPhoto courtesy Farm SanctuaryThe amendement was made a month after the Humane Society of the United States exposed appalling animal abuse at a Kentucky pig factory.

However, on Monday, after the bill had made it through the House, the Senate Agricultural Committee tagged on an amendment that would penalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators at factory farms. The amendment stipulates that any person who commits “agricultural operation interference” such as getting a job at a facility using a false identity or taking photos and videos without the owner’s consent, can be charged with “criminal trespass” and considered guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

The amended bill isn’t available online yet, but you can read a version here (pdf). The amendment is added on at the end, beginning with page 5. (Representative Jenkins is reportedly unhappy with the amendment, but hasn't yet responded to my requests for comment.)

The amendment was approved by the Senate Ag Committee yesterday and will likely be sent to the full Kentucky Senate tomorrow (Thursday). If the Senate passes it, it will go back to the House for approval, but there will be no debate on the added ag-gag provision. Basically, the committee is trying to rush the bill through at the end of the session, that’s likely to end this week, without much public scrutiny.

“It’s a sneaky way to pass legislation…. [What the ag committee did] is not surprising, but disturbing,” says Matthew Dominguez, public policy manager for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, that had initially supported the bill. Dominguez says the animal welfare group, that had been watching the bill closely, had been “a little concerned” about its fate all along since HSUS …more

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Chile Finally Gets Tough on Mining Industry

New Environment Superintendent cracking down on domestic and foreign operations

Chile’s new office of the Environment Superintendent was only five months old when, last May, it took the country by surprise: It slammed the largest gold-mining company in the world, the Canada-based Barrick Gold Corporation, with a $16 million fine for water pollution and other environmental violations at its open-pit gold mine Pascua Lama. In response, Barrick Gold indefinitely suspended operations at the mine, which had cost $5 billion to construct. “Companies didn’t realize that the Superintendent was going to be so rigorous in its inspections,” says Ana Lya Uriarte, who was Chile’s environment minister when the law creating the Environment Superintendent was passed.

photo of an enormous open pit mineby James Byrum, on FlickrCodelco’s Chuquicamata Mine, near Calama, Antofagasta Region, Chile

This month, the country’s equally young Environmental Court of Santiago caused another big sensation. The court was initially put in place to protect companies, which wanted a way to challenge the fines imposed by the superintendent. But, instead of protecting Barrick Gold, the court ruled that the $16 million fine was inadequate given the magnitude of the company’s environmental violations. It ordered the superintendent to review its process and return to the mine for another inspection.

The tough attitude toward the mining industry marks a major departure from the past. The Chilean government has long prioritized economic growth above environmental protection, especially since the Pinochet dictatorship’s neoliberal reforms. Now, it seems the government is finally cracking down on the environmental damage and public health risks associated with the country’s mining industry.

Mining is a bedrock of the Chilean economy. Copper alone represents one third of the country’s exports. Before the creation of the Environment Superintendent, mining companies operated with very little regard for the environment, and the government didn’t intervene much. “Everyone did whatever they wanted,” says Fernando Dougnac, a Chilean environmental lawyer. There was an agency responsible for making companies toe the line: the National Environment Commission, or CONAMA, which was created in 1997. But CONAMA had limited power to investigate environmental violations, and the maximum fine it could levy was only about $3,000. Now, the much stronger Environment Superintendent can levy a maximum fine of about $16 million for each infraction it finds.

The more rigorous investigations and higher fines aren’t intended to be punitive, says former environment minister Uriarte. Instead, …more

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Drought-ridden California Plans Trucking Salmon Smolts to Sea

Effort could save 30 million young salmon, but may impact Chinook spawning patterns

Every year between late March and early June, roughly 30 million Chinook salmon make their way from five Central Valley hatcheries to the Pacific Ocean. This year, however, these young salmon, called smolts, face a perilous journey due to California’s enduring drought.

juvenile chinook salmonPhoto by Roger Tabor/USFWSDrought conditions in California mean that there isn’t much rainfall or snowmelt to convey young salmon to the ocean.

In order to ensure that the Chinook make it all the way to the sea, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have adopted a drought contingency plan to transport salmon smolts closer to the Pacific Ocean in tanker trucks. Trucking operations will begin this week.

“If you are a baby salmon, the name of the game is to get from the river where you were born to the ocean,” explains John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, an organization that aims to protect and restore California’s Central Valley salmon habitat. “Well, these fish are not great swimmers when they are four inches long, so the way they have evolved in nature is they get flushed out to the ocean. How do they get flushed? They get flushed from the rainfall or the snow melt.”

Unfortunately, drought conditions in California mean that there isn’t much rainfall or snowmelt to convey young salmon to the ocean. The drought also means less sedimentation in the rivers. Salmon rely on the murky water caused by sedimentation for camouflage and protection, and are left vulnerable to predation by larger fish and birds in clear water. According to McManus, these factors combine to create extremely hostile conditions in the river.

CDFW and USFWS, which, combined, run five hatcheries for fall-run Chinook, will try to circumvent this hostile environment by loading young salmon into tankers and trucking them several hours downriver. This is not unprecedented for CDFW — the state agency trucks between 8 million and 14 million fish on an average year — but this year CDFW will truck an estimated 18.4 million fish. (The USFWS will truck another 12 million.)

“It has been done before,” says Harry Morse, an information officer with the CDFW. “The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has trucked up to 18 million or more [salmon] several times over the …more

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China Gobbles the World

Meat consumption is skyrocketing in China – and that's bad news for the environment

When the world’s biggest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, was bought by China’s largest pork company last year, early coverage provoked fears of putting US hogs in the hands of foreigners.

However, in time the deal may come to be seen as symptomatic of something much more troubling: the meatification of Asian diets and the spread of the environmental disaster that is American-style industrial farming.

Chinese pig farmerphoto by by ILRI, on FlickrChinese pig farmer.

The speed of the growth in meat consumption in China during the past three decades is staggering. While the amount of meat eaten per person annually in China remains around half the US equivalent, it still managed to jump from 4 kilograms to 61 kilograms between 1961 and 2010.

And with a population roughly one billion persons larger than the US, this translates into a lot of meat. One-third of the world’s meat, to be precise, is produced in China. And China alone consumes half of the world’s pork.

As its meat production and consumption has risen, China has looked enviously at the US, not just in terms of its large-scale commercial pig, poultry and beef rearing systems, but also its comparative abundance of resources.

With not-so-distant memories of famine, China has long been wedded to self-sufficiency in key food staples, including meat. Yet, as Chinese officials recently admitted, such a policy is unsustainable. Its water availability per capita is around 2,000 cubic metres (cm) compared to 9,000 cm in the US. China’s per capita arable land availability is about one-quarter of the average for developed countries.

There just aren't enough resources in China to produce such large quantities of meat.

And what resources it does have are rapidly being degraded by livestock production. Livestock is the main source of both soil and water pollution, according to data released by the government.  Animal feed production is leading to severe soil degradation and water shortages in the North China Plain  –  the most important agricultural region in the country.

For a solution, China has looked West – to Brazil, to offshore some of the resource strain by importing its oilseeds to feed livestock, and to the US for expertise on how to intensify production and control environmental and public health problems.

As a recent …more

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Why Roger Pielke, Jr.  is the Wrong Choice for FiveThirtyEight

New news venture's science writer ignores data on climate science

Editor’s Note: In addition to writing for 538, Roger Pielke, Jr. is also a one-time contributor to Earth Island Journal and has an article in our current print edition. We found Dr. Pielke a pleasure to work with and were pleased to have him in our magazine.

Roger Pielke, Jr. Photo by Tine Harden/Play the GameRoger Pielke, Jr.

There are consequences for being wrong — consistently. We are a forgiving society but even Americans can sense when someone passes from being well intended to habitually in the wrong.

That’s sadly where we are with climate contrarian Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who has joined Nate Silver’s new high-profile news venture at ESPN, . Ever since he correctly predicted all 50 states’ presidential choice in 2012, Silver’s reputation for accuracy has been legendary.

Pielke’s hire makes us question his judgment.

Yesterday, climate scientists criticized Pielke’s first piece published on FiveThirtyEight as “deeply misleading” for downplaying extreme weather concerns, putting Pielke on the defensive and drawing attention from national media outlets.

Pielke argued that extreme weather events are costing us more money to clean up, but that is not because climate change is making extreme weather more frequent or intense. It’s because we are getting richer. Pielke denies the link between climate pollution and drought, extreme downpours and intensifying hurricanes. He has for years.

Just about everyone of any reputation disagrees with him. Take Dr. Michael Mann, who has been fighting against phony science and climate deniers for years. Said Mann in Think Progress:

“Pielke’s piece is deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change. Pielke uses a very misleading normalization procedure that likely serves to remove the very climate change-related damage signal that he claims to not be able to find.”

Silver launched the data-driven FiveThirtyEight website to “critique incautious uses of statistics when they arise elsewhere in news coverage.” But for years, Pielke has done just the opposite. Check out Joe Romm’s great work debunking Pielke over the years. You might also check out a paper from White House …more

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