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Environment: Annual beach report card from NRDC highlights need to better manage stormwater runoff

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More work is needed to clean up polluted beaches.

Pollution still causing significant beach closures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to cleaning up coastal waters, where stormwater runoff and untreated sewage are still causing problems for beach-goers. Last year, there were more than 20,000 beach closings and advisories, confirming that serious water pollution persists at many U.S. shores, according to the annual beach report card from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water can spoil a family vacation real fast, turning a day of lounging at the beach into a day at the doctor’s office with a sick child,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “It’s no surprise that pollution in the waves is bad for business in beach communities. Our government leaders can help support local economies and salvage countless summer getaways nationwide by tackling … stormwater runoff.” Continue reading

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International legal petition aims to protect Baja ecosystems under NAFTA environmental provisions

Petition to NAFTA environmental commission seeks investigation

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Baja California, photographed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Click here to learn more on the NASA Earth Observatory website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Environmental groups are testing a North American environmental treaty with a legal petition, charging the Mexican government with failing to enforce its own environmental laws when it authorized four large developments along the Gulf of California.

The petition was filed with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, established under the North American Free Trade Agreement to promote cooperation among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on environmental issues of continental concern.

Specifically, the petition claims the Mexican government, “ignores laws requiring effective environmental impact assessment, protection of endangered species, and conservation of coastal ecosystems,” according to a statement from Earthjustice. Continue reading

Wildlife: Wolves under siege in the northern Rockies

Lawsuit filed to prevent wolf slaughter in Wyoming

Gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal wolf management in the northern Rockies will once again be tested in court, as conservation groups this week filed a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by handing management of the species to the state.

The state’s wolf management policy allows almost unlimited wolf killing much of the state in a designated predator zone and doesn’t adequately protect wolves even where killing is regulated. The lawsuit alleges Wyoming’s policy will result in wolf deaths that undermine the recovery of the species. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Continue reading

Study: Carbon-cost modeling based on flawed assumptions

A NASA satellite image shows thick air pollution over parts of China. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response.

U.S. government doesn’t accurately account for long-term pollution costs

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Faulty economic modeling by the federal government underestimates the economic cost of carbon pollution, in part by “discounting” long-term environmental impacts.

Because of its flaws, the formula used by the federal government skews the comparison of energy generated by fossil fuels in comparison to renewable energy sources.

Using a more realistic equation that fully incorporates long-term fossil fuel costs, including factors like health carea, would pave the way to cleaner, more economically efficient sources of power generation, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. Continue reading

Environment: New Gulf oil leases challenged in court

A massive oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico, visible in this NASA satellite image as a sheen on the surface.

Conservation coalition says feds are ignoring painful lessons of Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New deep water drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico won’t go forward without a legal test, as a coalition of environmental groups last week challenged the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with new permits without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.

While drilling regulators believe they have developed a robust new set of safety and environmental regulations, the conservation community thinks otherwise, claiming in the lawsuit that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill. Continue reading

Global warming: Severe Midwest storms increasing

Rains, flooding threaten water infrastructure

Climate researchers say they’ve documented an increasing number of severe storms in the Midwest most likely linked with global warming.

SUMMIT COUNTY — A startling increase in severe storms is straining water infrastructure and threatening public health and safety, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The number of those big storms has doubled in the last 50 years, with greatest increase in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

“Global studies already show that human-caused climate change is driving more extreme precipitation, and now we’ve documented how great the increase has been in the Midwest and linked the extreme storms to flooding in the region,” said Rocky Mountain Climate Organization president Stephen Saunders,” suggesting that it might not be accurate to simply characterize the storms as natural disasters. “And if emissions keep going up, the forecast is for more extreme storms in the region,” he said. Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges new Gulf of Mexico oil leasing

A U.S. Coast Guard photo shows firefighting ships battling flames on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups say latest leasing plans ignore Deepwater Horizon lessons

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Conservation groups say federal government didn’t take its NEPA duties seriously when it approved a new lease sale in the western Gulf of Mexico. This week, the filed a lawsuit to try and force federal agencies to do a new environmental study that takes into account the widespread impacts of last year’s BP blowout.

“This is their first attempt to do new leases since the Deepwater Horizon disaster … and we think there are fundamental things missing throughout the Environmental Impact Statement, said Deirdre McDonnell, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. Continue reading

Court rejects efforts to strip beluga whale protections

A pod of Beluga whales. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE.

Decision offers some hope for dwindling populations of endangered cetaceans

By Summit Voice

A federal judge this week rejected an attempt by Alaska to strip Cook Inlet beluga whales of Endangered Species Act protections. Last spring, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the whales despite state’s lawsuit.

“Today’s decision again clarifies that the belugas are in serious trouble. Now it’s time to get serious about finding solutions. Legal sideshows by the state are getting us nowhere,” said Sue Libenson, executive director of the Alaska Center for the Environment.

“This is clearly a case where science and the rule of law prevailed,” said Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council.  “The Cook Inlet belugas are an iconic species in Alaska and it is now absolutely essential that we protect them and their habitat if the population is to survive.” Continue reading

Expanded recycling touted for job-creation potential

More recycling could create jobs, according to a coalition of conservation and labor groups.

Groups eye ban on disposal of electronics in landfills

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Recycling 75 percent of the nation’s waste would create nearly 1.5 million jobs by 2030 while significantly reducing pollution, saving water and energy, and building economically strong and healthy communities, according to a new study released this week by leading labor and environmental groups.

The national report,More Jobs, Less Pollution, was released as part of a series of nationwide events celebrating National Recycling Day with events taking place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, Austin, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled to see the release of this important and comprehensive report,” said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling. “We are currently looking at legislation that would institute a ban on the disposal of electronic devices in our landfills, which will increase our recycling rate here in Colorado. This would protect our environment from the harmful toxics contained in some electronic devices, and also create more jobs in Colorado in the recycling, reuse, repair and remanufacturing fields.”

The report also shows that, while the vast majority of municipal solid waste nationwide can be readily recycled, re-used, or composted, only 33 percent is currently diverted from disposal, and only 30 percent of the 178 million tons of construction and demolition debris is recycled.

Most waste is still sent to landfills and incinerators. A national recycling and composting goal of 75 percent waste-diversion rate by 2030, would create local jobs, save resources like water, and reduce pollution and other environmental pollutants that harm human health. Continue reading

Quantifying health-care costs of climate change

Six recent climate-related disasters cost at least $14 billion

Climate-change related flooding and other natural disasters are resulting in staggering public health costs, according to a new study from Columbia University.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Researchers with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health said they’ve been able to start tracking health impacts stemming from six climate change-related events in the United States during the last decade.

The costs are estimated at $14 billion dollars, including 21,000 emergency room visits, nearly 1,700 deaths, and 9,000 hospitalizations, according to a  study published in November 2011 edition of the journal Health Affairs.

“When extreme weather hits, we hear about the property damage and insurance costs. The healthcare costs never end up on the tab, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there,” said lead author Kim Knowlton, DrPH, assistant clinical professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Right now, there’s a gaping hole in our understanding of the health-related costs of climate change. This report begins the work to fill that void. Only by having a clear sense of health impacts and their costs, can we work to reduce them.” Continue reading

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