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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Report: Alberta trout streams going downhill

FISHING — Jeez, Canada. We were hoping you were doing something productive for your streams with all the money you're charging nonresident aliens to come up and enjoy your fishing.

Biologist warns trout streams in S. Alberta at risk
Lorne Fitch, who spent 35 years as a biologist for Alberta, surveyed 54 small rivers and streams that flow into the Oldman River in Alberta that also hold bull and cutthroat trout, and found that, despite federal protections in place for native trout and a recovery plan for those species, the waterways are in dire shape.

They're contaminated by clearcuts, feedlot effluent, coal mining and erosion.

—Toronto Globe and Mail

EPA’s rule on Colstrip coal plant pollution struck down

The Clean Air Act requires companies to use the best available technology on older coal plants to reduce the pollutants, which can cause health problems such as respiratory illness.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the rule from the Environmental Protection Agency would arbitrarily require PPL Montana to install pollution controls costing tens of millions of dollars without assurance of improvements in visibility.

Tuesday’s ruling applies to the 2,100-megawatt Colstrip plant and a second plant in Billings that recently shut down partly because of the projected cost of complying with separate mercury pollution rules.

Clearwater Paper settles pollution case for $1.1 million

“We don’t agree with EPA’s reasoning. We don’t believe that we were ever in violation of our air permit,” said Matt Van Vleet, a Clearwater Paper spokesman. “But we agreed to settle rather than go through lengthy, expensive litigation.”

The violations stemmed from pulp washers and digesters that failed to capture all of the air emissions as required, said Roylene Cunningham, an EPA compliance officer. The permit required the equipment to be completely enclosed, so that no gases escaped, she said. More here. Becky Kramer, SR

Plastic bits in steelhead’s gut worries angler

FISHING — Somebody's trashing our fisheries. Something to think about next time you're tempted to buy bottled water or vote on a plastic bag law.

B.C. angler snags steelhead, finds guts filled with plastic
A British Columbia man who caught a steelhead last week on the Vedder River found several pieces of plastic inside the fish when he cut it open, and he put out the call to see if other anglers had similar experiences. Dr. Peter Ross, director of the ocean pollution research program at the Vancouver Aquarium, said it's likely the steelhead ingested the plastic in the ocean.
—Calgary Herald

Ecology offers online resource about toxics in products

Good news from the Department Of Ecology: Lab results revealing levels of toxic chemicals in consumer products sold in Washington are now available through an online database. The database includes test results for products such as children’s and baby’s items, clothing, personal care items, toys, children’s upholstered furniture, and electrical and electronic items. Information on more product types, such as office and art supplies, will be added in the future.

Tests show most manufacturers are following laws regulating the use of toxic chemicals.

The Department of Ecology tests products to understand where and why toxic chemicals are used, with the goal of working with businesses and green chemists to find safer alternatives. Ecology also tests products to verify manufacturers are following state laws:

300 years of fossil fuels in 300 seconds


The Post Carbon Institute produced this illustrated guide to how we have become so reliant on fossil fuels and how we could shake off that addiction. Here's the film description: Fossil fuels have been the driving force behind the industrialisation of much of the world over the past two centuries. But as we reach the end of the era of cheap coal and oil it is time to look towards a post-fossil fuel future. 

Study: mercury contamination affects even fish in national parks

FISHING — National parks in the Western United States and Alaska are some of the most pristine landscapes and waters on the planet, yet results of a four year study indicate that mercury contamination affects fish even in these protected areas.

It's important to note that 96 percent of the affected fish had low levels of contamination and are considered safe for human consumption.

However, the National Park Service says:

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in 21 protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

Read on for more details from the NPS.

Tuesday Video: Imagine a world of anti-science

Step into an alternate reality a la "The Twilight Zone" where people believe "gravity is just a theory" and "cigarettes aren't addictive." Welcome to the Heartland Department Of Education courtesy of Al Gore's Climate Reality Project.  Other favorite quotes: "Scientists are, like, altering their data just to get paid." Sound familiar?

Or: "Of course it's true. I learned it in school."

You've been warned.


Friday Quote: A coal miner’s son in his own words

I've mentioned this quote before but I thought it fitting to share again since I've been posting about coal a lot lately. This comes from Roger Philpot's A Coal Miner's Son In His Own Words:

Black lung was prevalent and most of the miners contracted this disease. Coal mining is dirty filthy job I saw my Father come home every day covered with coal dust. I made a vow that I would never go to a coal mines to work. Organized labor came into being, thanks to the United Mine Workers and John L. Lewis. This changed pay and mine conditions for the miner. Prior to the union, life was not easy. Folks had to “make do”, which in my opinion made stronger and better people. This life did me no harm it made me a better person who appreciates what I have today, I am sure others who have experienced this life can give testament to that. I made this web site for those who have experienced this life and can appreciate what it means to be a coal miner's son or daughter. 

BP builds the largest fleet of drilling rigs…in the Gulf Of Mexico

Like Louis Armstrong said: "There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell them." But they do know. They know oh too well.

"They" in this equation would be British Petroleum, who paid $113 million in fines to impacted states last week for Deepwater Horizon fines. How can you put a price tag after killing workers, ecosystems, and fisheries? It doesn't slow BP down as they've deployed two more oil rigs, bringing their fleet to nine in the Gulf, now the largest in the area. 

From Fuel Fix

The two new rigs reflect “the vital importance of the deep-water Gulf of Mexico to the future of BP,” Richard Morrison, the company’s regional president for the Gulf, said in a written statement.

Every year for the next decade, the British oil giant plans to spend about $4 billion on its deep-water fields in the Gulf. And it’s working to ramp up operations in several fields including the Atlantis North and the Na Kika, the company said.

Spokane company pays $40,000 settlement for waste violations

I might be a little tardy in posting this but seeing how it didn't get much coverage, better late than never.

N.A. Degerstrom Inc. (NAD) was ordered to pay the state $40,000 to settle recent violations for mishandling dangerous waste at its Spokane Valley property. In response to a complaint in May, Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) inspectors found two illegal disposal pools of chemicals on the company’s property. The pools were filled with a variety of chemicals, some which require special disposal under state law.

NAD hired contractor Able Cleanup Technologies to remove the waste from the pools, excavate the contaminated soil, and properly dispose the materials. Ensuring proper safety and environmental practices at facilities that generate hazardous waste supports Ecology’s priority of preventing and reducing toxic threats to human health and the environment.

So long Sriracha?

I love Sriracha - with almost everything. Apparently it's burning more than just mouths as residents of Irwindale, California — where Huy Fong Foods produces the hot sauce — claim they've been experiencing headaches and burning sensations in their eyes and throats because of the odor emanating from the Sriracha-production plant. The city has now filed suit against Huy Fong Foods, claiming the smell is a public nuisance and requesting that the plant cease production until the issue can be resolved.

“The odors are so strong and offensive as to have caused residents to move outdoor activities indoors and even to vacate their residences temporarily to seek relief from the odors,” according to the suit.

Open house set for Spokane’s Integrated Clean Water Plan

The City Of Spokane released an update on all of the work happening this summer to develop an Integrated Clean Water Plan. In short: There's a lot of work happening!

And they need to hear from you. If you want to learn more and engage with the City, there will be an open house opportunity on Monday, Aug. 19, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Chase Gallery in the lower level of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. The Open House is designed to provide information about a number of projects and proposals that will change the landscape surrounding the Spokane River as it flows through the core of the City.

Here are the projects and proposals that will be discussed at the Open House:

Huntington Park & City Plaza improvements. Avista Utilities is working to upgrade the 3.8-acre Huntington Park area on the south side of the Spokane River between Post and Monroe streets and adjacent to the River’s lower falls. This work also will include a new public plaza in what has been a small parking to the north of City Hall. Read my post about the project HERE.

Department Of Ecology sets scope for environmental impact of coal exports

If you oppose coal trains rumbling through Spokane on their way to the Gateway Pacific terminal there's reason to celebrate.

After 125,000 comments from Washingtonians, the Department of Ecology said it will study a broad array of environmental impacts before determining if development should move forward.  The Gateway Pacific would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, exporting up to 48 million metric tons of coal per year to Asia.

The study will require many aspect the coal industry hoped to bypass. Those include:

-A detailed assessment of rail transportation impacts in Whatcom County near the project site, specifically including Bellingham and Ferndale.

-An assessment of how the project would affect human health, including impacts from related rail and vessel transportation in Whatcom County.

-An evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions from terminal operations, and rail and vessel traffic.

-A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.

-An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.

-A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.

-An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.

Nuclear waste leaking into soil at Hanford

Hanford is the most contaminated site in the western hemisphere and, twenty-five years into the cleanup, there are still new challenges to face. It's not like there weren't dangerous hurdles to begin with when you consider he facts:

-56 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste stews in underground storage tanks and awaits treatment and long term storage.

-80 square miles of contaminated groundwater threatens the Columbia River.

-Eight cocooned reactors await radioactive decay in place near the rivershore. 

That said, the latest bad news from the AP shouldn't come as a surprise but it is none the less a set back as more cancer-causing isotopes are leaking into soil only five miles from the Columbia River. This is the cost of delays as the tanks designed to temporarily hold waste fall apart. From the AP:

An underground tank holding some of the worst radioactive waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site might be leaking into the soil.

The U.S. Energy Department said workers at Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation detected higher radioactivity levels under tank AY-102 during a routine inspection Thursday.

Spokeswoman Lori Gamache said the department has notified Washington officials and is investigating the leak further. An engineering analysis team will conduct additional sampling and video inspection to determine the source of the contamination, she said.

Army Corps ignores broad view of coal exports

On Tuesday, at a hearing in Washington, D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers rejected studying the cumulative effects of sending millions of tons of Powder River Basin coal across Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon.

Regionally, more than 500 businesses, 160 elected officials, Washington and Oregon Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber, 10 members of Congress, 3 dozen municipalities, more than 100 organizations, 600 health professionals and more than a dozen newspapers have called for a full and thorough cumulative review of the proposed terminals. At least 35,000 citizens wrote to the Army Corps calling for an area-wide EIS.

It's definitely a step back. Three of the remaining proposed coal ports would have significant cumulative impacts, including dramatically increased rail traffic through Spokane leading to more pollution, traffic congestion, and longer emergency response times.

Stay tuned.

BNSF Railways, Coal Shippers Sued in Federal Court for Water Contamination Violations

Big news on the coal train front from the Beyond Coal Exports campaign: Yesterday, the Sierra Club and its partners filed suit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) and several coal companies for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge sent a 60 day notice in April after collecting evidence demonstrating the companies’ responsibility for emitting coal into waterways in several locations across Washington. Spokane Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently sent a notice letter for these violations as well.

“BNSF and the other coal shippers had two months to figure out a way to stop polluting our waterways and communities with coal dust but they chose to do nothing to find a solution,” said Cesia Kearns, Senior Campaign Representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Exports campaign. “After years of railroad and coal companies playing the coal dust blame game, the last two months proved we can only expect more of the same from these companies. ”

Monroe St. bridge closed for two weeks due to stormwater project

Heads up: The Monroe Street Bridge will be closed for about two weeks starting this Monday, June 3rd. Motorists will be detoured over the Spokane River via the Washington Street Bridge, and delays should be anticipated. Motorists also can use the Maple Street Bridge.

The closure will accommodate utility work needed for a project that will manage stormwater from some City streets and from streets and other hard surfaces within the Kendall Yards development. The $1.6 million joint City Of Spokane project requires significant excavation work at the north end of the bridge, ultimately catching stormwater that is currently flowing, untreated, into the Spokane River. It will now direct runoff to a retention tank, then pump it to a treatment area in a new park being built to the west on the Kendall Yards site, called Olmsted Green.

This project is consistent with a new Integrated Clean Water Plan the City is developing to manage stormwater and wastewater that impacts the Spokane River. The plan will prioritize projects based on their positive environmental impact to the river. It will include projects to reduce untreated discharges to the river from both separated storm sewers and combined sanitary and stormwater sewers.  

Coeur d’Alene basin clean up update today at 11am

One of the largest Superfund sites in the country, Bunker Hill, is located not too far east from Spokane in the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin. For about 100 years, beginning in the 1880s, the Silver Valley was leading the nation in the production of silver, lead, zinc, and other heavy metals. However, this led to a toxic legacy with the mining and processing leaving behind hazardous substances such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and zinc. Most of it was just fllushed away in the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries.

I realize this is late notice but there will be an update for the Quarterly Coeur d'Alene Basin Cleanup at 11am at the Environmental Protection Agency's Field Office 1910 Northwest Blvd. Suite 208. There will be a review of the annual construction season launch in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. EPA and their partners are moving forward with several large projects in the Basin this summer using both settlement and Trust funding for clean up. Approximately $38 million dollars will be spent during the upcoming year making it one of the largest construction seasons seen in the Silver Valley in a number of years.

For some background on clean up history, check HERE. It's a timely topic given Rich Landers' recent article on swan deaths in the basin from toxic wetlands and the flooding that occurs each Spring from snow melt. 

Sightline Report: Northwest Fossil Fuel Exports

Check out this Sightline report that counts the potential carbon emissions from fossil fuel export infrastructure currently proposed throughout the Pacific Northwest. There's a lot at stake. In Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia alone there are proposals in the works for seven new or expanded coal terminals, three new oil pipelines, and six new natural gas pipelines. Sightline puts it best. "The projects are distinct, but they can be denominated in a common currency: the tons of carbon dioxide emitted if the fossil fuels were burned."

CO2 crossed 400ppm threshold and I’m officially scared

This isn't good. Last year, I remember stumbling across an article that said our carbon dioxide could pass a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm) in at least four years. That number is significant because it's an atmospheric concentration not seen in human history. Over the weekend, like a sequel that was rushed to theaters without time for screening from critics, the New York Times reported we've now gone beyond that milestone

Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

The whole article is worth reading.

Key quote: “If you start turning the Titanic long before you hit the iceberg, you can go clear without even spilling a drink of a passenger on deck,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at the Pennsylvania State University. “If you wait until you’re really close, spilling a lot of drinks is the best you can hope for.”

Tips for dust season

In Eastern Washington, dust storms can be a serious problem, posing a number of serious health risks. Fortunately, the Department Of Ecology has got your back with some great tips.

From DOE: It’s dust storm season when wind speeds pick up and the air can turn gritty with dirt particles from dry farming areas, construction sites, and unpaved roads.

When inhaled, dust particles settle deeply into lungs and can irritate or damage sensitive tissues in the respiratory system. People with respiratory illnesses, the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and anyone engaged in strenuous physical activity outdoors are most at risk.

After a windstorm, fine dust remains suspended in the air or is kicked up by vehicles. In some low-lying areas where the air is stagnant, particles may settle out of the air slowly. Sensitive people who want to prepare for dust storms should pay attention to local weather forecasts and check with their doctors.

Swan deaths: annual spring disgrace continues along CdA River

ENVIRONMENT – I received the following email from a reader this morning:

Last Sunday my wife and I were riding our bikes on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene's between Rose Lake and Harrison. Along the way, we saw what appeared to be a significant number of dead swans. I probably know the answer, but is it the heavy metals in the area that are the cause of their demise?

The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is a paved rail trail over a corridor used for a century to transport the produce of mining prosperity and its toxic aftermath. One of the benefits of the conversion to a recreational trail is that it  exposes more eyes to the issue of heavy metals pollution still lingering in the Silver Valley.

The saddest indicators are the carcasess of 150 or so tundra swans that die slow, agonizing deaths in our backyard during their migration stopover on the Lower Coeur d’Alene River.

It’s not a pretty sight, but your head's in the sand if you don’t see the carnage and the reasons for it.

Read on.

May is Clean Air Month

Poor air quality can affect people of all ages, especially those sensitive to air pollution, including people with asthma or heart conditions, people who work and exercise outdoors, and older adults and children. The truth is that almost every day, each of us contributes a little to air pollution even though we don’t always realize it. Since May is Clean Air Month, here are a few tips from Spokane Clean Air to help get you started to do your part:

Update gas cans made before 2009 - Replace an old one with a new one and you'll prevent FOUR pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — a problem pollutant that contributes to Spokane's summer ozone (smog) pollution.

Use low-VOC or no-VOC paints - One gallon saves the air from 2.46 pounds of VOCs.

Replace old yard equipment - Upgrade to a new, lower-emissions models, including electric-powered lawnmowers and push mowers can help. Each piece of old equipment that is replaced protects the air from 3.1 pounds of VOCs.

Heat with wood? Upgrade your device and prep your firewood a year in advance. If you live in the populated area of Spokane County and heat regularly with a 1995 or older wood stove or fireplace insert, you might qualify for instant savings off a new device. Program details.

Tuesday Video: Ocean Acidification and the People Of Washington

This video from the Ocean Conservancy does a great job of explaining the dangers of ocean acidification off the Washington coast and the deadly effects on shellfish. Ocean acidification primarily occurs when carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean and turns into carbonic acid, absorbing about one-quarter of all of the carbon dioxide that has been released by humans into the atmosphere. To make matters worse, in many coastal areas along the Washington coast, the impacts of ocean acidification can be magnified due to land-based pollution and runoff.

How the 2010 BP oil spill was worse than we thought

It has been three years since the Deepwater Horizon well exploded 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven men lost their lives that day. On April 22, the rig sank into the Gulf of Mexico, triggering 87 days of uncontrolled oil discharges to the Gulf. From April 20 to July 18, it is estimated that 250 million gallons of oil were released into the environment

Without a doubt, it was the worst oil spill in history. The oil is not gone while offshore drilling continues in the Gulf of Mexico.

But you don't hear much about the spill anymore even as BP is on trial right now for billions in penalties.

Canada mines taint Elk River fishery in B.C., threaten downstream fisheries

FISHERIES — A new study says a metal-like element called selenium is leeching from coal mines into the Elk river drainage in southeastern British Columbia, threatening fish habitat in Canada and downstream in Montana.

The study found five coal mines in the Elk River Valley are causing toxic pollution, and four of the coal mines are planning expansions.

The Elk River in the area near Fernie, British Columbia, is a fishing stream prized by fly fishers.

The Missoulian reports a new coal mine proposal and three exploration projects are also under way.

The executive director of a conservation group called Wildsight says the selenium affects reproductive organs in fish and could lead to a population collapse.

The Elk River joins the Kootenai River at Lake Koocanusa.

The study was commissioned by Glacier National Park and carried out by the University of Montana’s Ric Hauer and Erin Sexton.

Expect more information on this alarming development.

9 Presidents with the worst environmental records

"Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do". – President Ronald Reagan 1981. 

Cough, cough. What? The Daily Green has a round up of nine Presidents with awful environmental records. It would be comical if it wasn't so bad. 

We know the Eisenhower-era loved highways and gave birth to sprawl.

Nixon signed milestone legislation - Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act - but only under intense politcal pressure in the run-up to the 1972 election. After re-election, he all but stripped the EPA’s power to do its job.

The Gipper tore down the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the roof of the White House. More importantly he also dismantled the federal energy standards Carter had put in place.

George W. Bush. He was to the environment as Jar Jar Binks was to Star Wars.

But what about McKinley? Grant? Read on HERE.

Tuesday Video: Bob Dylan replaces Beyonce at Super Bowl halftime show

This just in: Due to the lip synching scandal at the Presidential inauguration, Beyonce is being replaced by Bob Dylan for the Super Bowl Half Time show. The song being used as promotion is "Running Out The Clock" off Dylan's underrated 80's gem Infidels. "Running Out The Clock" is apropos and it certainly had an environmental bent which justifies its appearance on DTE.

But is 'Merica ready for the following lyrics on game day:

They say the rivers are all polluted
And the waters not safe to drink
But then they try to confuse us 
And trick us not to think
Better head for the docks


They say the food we eat
Is not even safe for a dog
But they sell it to your wholesale
As ya walk around in a fog.
MIght just sell your stocks

Only time will tell, I suppose. Don't believe me?

Watch after the jump.