Environment: Proposed new federal regulations would reduce water quality impacts of mountaintop coal mining

Changes would slow decades of environmental destruction

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The scale of mountaintop mining in West Virginia is visible in this NASA Earth Observatory Satellite image, taken in 1984.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After decades of environmental degradation, the federal government has tentatively moved to reduce impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released the proposed regulations after several rounds of stakeholder sessions. Agency leaders said the new rule would protect about 6,500 miles of streams nationwide over a period of 20 years, “preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

Guided by the best-available science and utilizing modern technologies, the proposed rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. Continue reading

Polluters sue to block new wetlands regulations

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Polluters are asking a federal court to roll back protection for important wetlands. @bberwyn photo.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads effort to overturn Waters of the U.S. rule

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A new federal wetlands rule that helps protect water quality and important wildlife habitat will face a federal court challenge from groups representing some of the country’s biggest polluters.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business,  and the Portland Cement Association last week filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, seeking to overturn the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule. Continue reading

Climate change, pollution linked with amphibian decline

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A boreal toad captured as part of a research project in Breckenridge, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Warming and tainted waters raise threats to wood frog tadpoles

Staff Report

FRISCO — With more than a third of the world’s amphibian species threatened by extinction, scientists have been try to figure out what’s driving the decline. For some species, the chytrid fungus has been pinpointed as the biggest threat, but a study by scientists from California and Alaska shows that climate change and pollution may also be big factors.

Lab tests showed that wood frog tadpoles were attacked by dragonfly larvae 30 minutes sooner and three times more often in warmer water with a slight increase in copper pollution, than in cooler, copper-free treatments. The attacks either killed the tadpoles directly, left them with injuries that could become abnormalities in later life, or increased levels of stress measured by the behavior of other tadpoles in the tanks.  Continue reading

Study shows farm, urban runoff affect fish abundance

Dune-protected wetlands on Texel.

Estuaries are important nurseries for marine species, and they are also susceptible to pollution from land-based sources.

‘We are finding hypoxic areas wherever we look’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Nutrient pollution from farming has seeped into nearly every corner of a California estuary, affecting the abundance of fish in the important marine nursery, according to new research by scientists with the University of California at Santa Cruz and The Nature Conservancy.

Lead author Brent Hughes began studying water quality in Elkhorn Slough as a UCSC graduate student. His earlier research showed that virtually every portion of the estuary is adversely affected by high nutrient levels. The pollution stimulates the growth of algae, leading to low oxygen levels when the algae die and decompose.

The new study, based on data collected over the past 40 years, shows how low levels of dissolved oxygen (a condition known as “hypoxia”) affects fish populations in the estuary and beyond. Continue reading

EPA fracking study eyes drinking water impacts

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A fracking rig in western Colorado.

Environmental agency found no evidence of widespread impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — In a draft fracking study that was subject to a political tug-of-war even before it was released, the EPA found no evidence of “widespread, systemic” impacts to drinking water, but identified numerous weaknesses in the fracking process that could lead to contamination. Continue reading

Environment: New Clean Water Rule finalized, but the fighting is not over

Runoff and rainstorms have combined to keep flows high in the Blue River.

A new EPA rule aims to define which streams and rivers are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Big loopholes for industry, farms will continue to threaten water quality

Staff Report

FRISCO — After years of wrangling, the EPA has finalized a new rule intended to define which streams are covered under the Clean Water Act. The debate goes back more than a decade to a pair of court rulings that called into question whether smaller tributaries and seasonal streams are subject to federal regulations.

Yesterday’s announcement probably won’t end the fighting — Republicans in Congress have launched a bitter attack on the rule at the behest of big polluters like industrial farms and factories, and some national conservation groups like the Waterkeeper Alliance say the new rule is too weak, and rolls back protection for some streams that were previously covered. Continue reading

Study shows link between air, water pollution

This Meadow Creek, a wild, free-flowing stream that starts in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and ends up flowing right past our house before its confluence with Dillon Reservoir, where it's wild no more.

Atmospheric emissions of hormone-disrupting chemicals found to pollute rivers and streams.

Hormone-disrupting toxins in Missouri streams traced to factory emissions

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists say atmospheric releases of hormone-disrupting chemicals may be a big source of of pollution in streams and lakes. After studying water quality near industrial sites permitted to release toxic chemicals into the air, the researchers said they found unexpectedly high levels of BPA in water around those factories.

“This finding suggests that atmospheric BPA releases may contaminate local surface water, leading to greater exposure of humans or wildlife,” said Don Tillitt, adjunct professor of biological sciences at MU, and biochemistry and physiology branch chief with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Columbia Environmental Research Center. Continue reading

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