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Environment: Northeast lakes rebound from acid rain

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

It’s simple: Cleaning the air improves water quality

Staff Report

FRISCO — Acid rain, once the scourge of freshwater ecosystems in the eastern U.S., is waning, and the health of New England lakes and streams is improving, scientists said this week after documenting declines in sulfate concentrations in snow and rain.

The data gathered by scientists working under the auspices of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, show that sulfate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 40 percent in the 2000s. Sulfate concentration in lakes declined at a greater rate from 2002 to 2010 than during the 1980s or 1990s. During the 2000s, nitrate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 50 percent and nitrate concentration declined in lakes. Continue reading

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Environment: Soot pollution targeted by new lawsuit

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Green group cites lack of EPA enforcement in nine-state legal action

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — More than 100 years after the dawn of the industrial age, factories and power plants are still spewing toxic soot into the air, even though the technology to halt the pollution is readily available.

Conservation advocates last week said enough is enough, and announced a far-reaching lawsuit that would force the EPA to finally live up to its obligation to enforce Clean Air Act standards.

“The Clean Air Act can only work to protect public health and ecosystems if it is actually enforced,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA and the states have a moral and legal duty to work to together to clean up the toxic soot that’s polluting our skies.” Continue reading

Environment: BLM to take a closer look at air pollution from oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope

Settlement with conservation groups also will provide more public transparency of permitting activities and environmental data

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

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The BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office covers some of the most active oil and gas drilling territory in Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Acknowledging a gap in its analysis of Colorado western slope oil and gas drilling activities, the Bureau of Land Management this week agreed to take a much closer look at air pollution resulting from 34 projects covering a total of more than 1,300 proposed wells in the jurisdiction of the agency’s Silt-based Colorado River Valley Field Office.

More than 250 wells have already been drilled, and 54 more have been permitted, but any new permits will require additional analysis.

The settlement came after conservation groups filed a 2011 lawsuit to force the BLM to examine pollution from oil and gas drilling, acknowledged as one of the main sources of regional haze and ozone pollution in the Intermountain West. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most-viewed and weekend headlines

Travel, climate and photography …

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Moonrise over Independence Mountain.

FRISCO — A short weekend travel blurb on the opening of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park quickly became the most-viewed story of the past week, followed by an architecturally themed photo essay — thanks, #FriFotos friends! Beyond that, the list included a hurricane season forecast, public land news, wildfires and climate and state wildlife and water stories. Click on the headline to read the stories and share this post with your friends.

 

 

EPA moves to clear the air in Four Corners region

Conservation groups seek more fundamental shift to renewable energy

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Grand Canyon hikers should be able to breath a little easier and enjoy more expansive views, as the EPA continues to mandate air quality improvements in the Four Corners region.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After years of back and forth over the toxic pollution spewing from the San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners region, The EPA and PNM New Mexico have reached an agreement to address air quality issues by shutting down two of the dirtiest coal-burning units.

Conservation groups say the plan is a step in the right direction, but will scrutinize the deal to make sure it complies with clean air regulations. Replacing coal with natural gas only delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels to a renewable energy future, said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance.

”Closure of two units at SJGS is in line with the economic realities that coal is in decline as a way to generate electricity,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We are greatly concerned over the replacement of coal … with natural gas, when proven renewable energy, specifically solar at the SJGS site, should be the preferred replacement.” Continue reading

Environmental groups challenge EPA’s sulfur-dioxide emission exemptions for Southwest power plants

Fight over regional haze plans now at the federal appeals court level

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Conservation groups continue to fight for air pollution cleanup in the Southwest.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean Air Act loopholes in regional EPA-approved air quality plans are unacceptable, according to a coalition of environmental and community groups who last renewed their challenge to the regs in a Denver-based federal appeals court.

According to the groups, the plans allow coal-fired power plants in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to escape federal requirements to reduce their emissions of haze-causing pollutants. Of particular concern are exemptions for sulfur dioxide emissions, responsible for obscuring visibility and for significant human health impacts.

The exemptions are being challenged by HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice. Continue reading

Shell Oil notified of multiple violations in Arctic drilling program

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

Company responds to violations by asking for permission to emit more pollution

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Environmental groups say numerous and ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act stemming from Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean are yet another sign that the company isn’t prepared to operate in the pristine environment off the north coast of Alaska.

Most recently, the EPA issued notices of violation for failures to install required air pollution control technology, for failures to maintain and calibrate the equipment it is using and for violating emission standards set to protect human health and ambient air quality. Continue reading

Colorado: State to study drilling emissions

Methane leakage from the gas production fields of northeastern Colorado may be twice as high as previously estimated, according to new research from NOAA.

Methane leakage from the gas production fields of northeastern Colorado may be twice as high as previously estimated, according to new research from NOAA.

Energy boom contributes to regional haze problems and potential health impacts

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado officials took another small step to address growing public concerns about the impacts of the state’s energy boom by announcing a $1.3 million study of emissions from oil and gas drilling operations.

According to a press release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the study will help provide information about how oil and gas emissions behave, how they travel and their characteristics in areas along the northern Front Range.

A second phase would assess possible health effects using data collected in the first phase. Testimony at this week’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rulemaking hearing reinforced the views of experts for both industry and the conservation community that more and better science is needed related to oil and gas emissions. Continue reading

Environment: Study tracks historic changes in atmospheric acidity in Greenland ice sheet

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A NASA satellite photo shows Greenland’s ice sheet.

Fossil fuels leave clear fingerprint

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Researchers find all sorts of climate clues in Greenland’s ice sheet, and now, a new study of isotopes shows a distinct fingerprint of the long-term increase in atmospheric acidity.

The research by University of Washington researchers shows a decrease in levels of the isotope nitrogen-15 in core samples from Greenland ice starting around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The decrease has been attributed to a corresponding increase in nitrates associated with the burning of fossil fuels. But the new evaluation links the decline increased acidity in the atmosphere — primarily from sulfur dioxide, which in the atmosphere is transformed to sulfuric acid, according Lei Geng, a UW research associate in atmospheric sciences. Following the Industrial Revolution, sulfur dioxide emissions increased steadily because of coal burning. Continue reading

Environment: Earth headed for a bad acid trip

Earth’s natural systems may not be able to handle increasing levels of acidification of the air, water and soil. Photo courtesy NASA.

Study tries to pinpoint future acidification hot spots

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — You’ve heard about acid mine drainage and ocean acidification, but the problems don’t end there.

After reviewing a slew of scientific papers from different disciplines, researchers found that  combustion of fossil fuels, smelting of ores, mining of coal and metal ores, and application of nitrogen fertilizer to soils are all driving down the pH of the air, water, and the soil at rates far faster than Earth’s natural systems can buffer. That could pose threats to both land and sea life.

The research was presented at a poster session of the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in North Carolina. See the abstract here.

“It’s a bigger picture than most of us know,” said Janet Herman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

In their work, Herman and USGS researcher Karen Rice tried to anticipate future acidification hot spots to enable communities to plan proactively and mitigate the harmful environmental effects, says Herman. Continue reading

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