The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene for the Alternative and WFHB Community Radio's EcoReport. This week's edition includes:

  • Threats to Indiana forests multiply
  • Big Coal running out of room for disposing coal ash
  • Vast amounts of waste from factory farms
  • Whales under threat from Japan
  • FDA rejects petition to ban bisphenol A for humans
  • Congress considers wilderness-protection bills
  • Gasoline Regulations Act attacks undermines clean air and public health
  • Planting genetically modified crops before they’re proven safe
  • Extending nuclear reactor operating licenses for up to 80 years

Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.


Threats to Indiana forests multiply

Indiana hardwoods face a greater threat than do those in any of the great western parks, including Yellowstone, according to a recent email from the Indiana Forest Alliance.

Each year, Indiana is losing 100,000 acres of open land to development, comparable to only the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

The purpose of I-69 isn’t improved transportation but a chance to open up southern Indiana forests for the development of strip malls, motels, convenience stores, gas stations, big-box stores and other businesses along the highway exchanges.

Our taxes pay for state-subsidized logging of Indiana state forests, and Governor Daniels has quintupled the logging rate. Through this corporate welfare, the trees from our state forests are being sold to China and Taiwan, according to the email.

Indiana Forest Alliance is gearing up to be very active this summer because of the forest threats.

The IFA’s website is here.


Big Coal running out of room for disposing coal ash

Coal-fired power plants are running out of room for disposing the ash they produce, according to a June 6 Earth Island article.

In Claxton, Tenn., for example the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which has a dismal environmental record, forced 24 families and the owner of a 118-acre horse farm to relinquish their land for a new coal ash dump.

The post says, “Tennessee isn't the only state that is losing land to coal waste storage. Even though the coal industry is on the decline as the percentage of coal-fired electricity in the U.S. continues to plummet, the utilities still have a major problem with storing all of the waste they create. The nation's coal-burning power plants produce 136 million tons of ash every year. So while land is being grabbed at an alarming rate for resource extraction, it's also being snatched up to store the wastes from burning those resources.”

As the post notes, environmentalists and concerned local citizens have had some small victories.

“In late May,” the post says, “the EPA decided to oppose a wetlands destruction permit from Louisville Gas & Electric. The company had proposed to store almost 1 million tons of ash along the Ohio River, which, according to the EPA, would have damaged as much as 10 miles of streams, 1.1 acres of wetlands, and .27 acres of ponds within the watershed. This was a bold move for the EPA, which has failed to make a final coal ash rule since it promised to do so just after the Tennessee spill” of toxic sludge at a TVA ash dump over three years ago.

That spill covered 400 acres and has not yet been cleaned up adequately. Afterward, TVA decided to convert all its ash sludge to dry storage, which requires a lot more land.


Vast amounts of waste from factory farms

Factory farms, also known as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), create 100 times more waste than do all U.S. residents combined, according to a May 29 Activist Post article.

“Much of this waste,” the post says, “is dumped into the water supply, drastically increasing overall water pollution as well as contributing to the pollution found in drinking water.”

The concentration of animals in CAFOs is enormous:

• Though the number of U.S. hog farms has fallen from 650,000 to 71,000 in the last 30 years, those farms are larger: the number of hogs has remained almost the same. Further, 13 years ago, 2 percent of American hog farms contained 46 percent of the total number of hogs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.)

• A total of 10 companies produce more than 90 percent of U.S. poultry.

“Nutrients in animal waste cause something known as algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water and effectively cause a lack of oxygen for aquatic life to survive,” the post says. “These lifeless areas are called ‘dead zones.’ The most notorious of dead zones can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, where it extended a record 8,500 square miles during the summer of 2002 and stretched over 7,700 square miles during [the] summer of 2010, and is always fluctuating. Ammonia, a toxic form of nitrogen released during waste disposal, can be carried via air over 300 miles before being dumped back onto the ground or into the water, where it causes algal blooms and fish kills.”


Whales under threat from Japan

Commercial whaling continues to thrive despite the fact that in 1986 the International Whaling Commission banned the practice, according to a June 11 email from the National Resources Defense Council.

Also providing protection to whales from commercial hunting are provisions of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Yahoo! Japan sells more than 200 whale products, including sashimi, bacon and canned meat, according to a recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Despite the ban, Japan continues to hunt whales illegally, claiming that it’s doing “scientific research.”

Every year, Japan determines a quota for hunting whales. Hunting about 1,000 minke, fin, sperm, Bryde’s and sei whales in the Antarctic and North Pacific oceans is the rule.

According to the email, “Many of these whales were hunted nearly to extinction and are just now rebounding from centuries of overhunting.”

By providing a market for whale meat and other products, Yahoo! Japan is supporting the killing of whales for profit.

“Some of the whale products sold through Yahoo! Japan,” the email says, “originate from endangered species, while others have been shown to contain dangerously high levels of mercury and are harmful to human health.”

Because of the public’s opposition, Amazon’s Japanese website ceased selling whale products. A petition to Ross Levinsohn, interim CEO of Yahoo! Inc., urges him to stop selling whale products on its Japanese site.

Japan is also trying to stop a proposal at the upcoming International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama that would create a permanent whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, according to a June 12 email from Greenpeace.

It’s even bribing smaller countries to vote against the sanctuary proposal, the post says.

“The establishment of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary,” the post says, “would mean that the whales of the Southern Hemisphere could live their entire lives in an area free from the threat of commercial whaling.”

If it so chooses, the U.S. delegation to the meeting can take the lead in furthering the sanctuary proposal, and it’s important that the delegation knows it has widespread public support in the U.S.


FDA rejects petition to ban bisphenol A for humans

Though hundreds of independent scientists have documented the health effects of the estrogen-like bisphenol A (BPA) – among them cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, neurobehavioral abnormalities, allergies, asthma, breast and prostate cancer, and a wide range of reproductive defects – the FDA has rejected a petition by the National Resources Defense Council to ban the chemical from food packaging, according to a June 8 Environmental Health News article.

BPA is used in plastic food containers and the lining of food-containing cans.

As the post says, “[FDA has] chosen to ignore most of this data, relying instead on a small number of studies conducted by FDA scientists and scientists funded by industries that manufacture BPA.”


Congress considers wilderness-protection bills

Congress hasn’t passed any wilderness legislation in more than three years but is now considering a package of bills that would permanently protect 1.5 million acres of wilderness, says a June 7 Sierra Club email.

Meanwhile, oil, gas and fracking companies are working hard at attempting to exploit public lands.

“This proposed omnibus wilderness bill would give greater protections to public lands in 12 states across the nation,” the email says. “One of these places is the Organ Mountains of New Mexico. These desert mountains are extremely diverse and are home to species that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, they are also threatened by mining and urban sprawl. Passing this legislation would protect these amazing mountains from the worst damage.”

The legislation would protect mountains, deserts, forests and shorelines and is receiving support from both political parties.

To express support for these bills to your legislators, go to this Sierra Club website.


Gasoline Regulations Act attacks undermines clean air and public health

The House of Representatives is about to vote on a bill, the Gasoline Regulations Act (H.R. 4771), that is about increasing the profits of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of clean air and public health, according to a June 12 email from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The bill,” the email says, “would force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to give undo weight to the industry's economic claims when setting what should be, first and foremost, science-based standards that protect our health and environment.”

The bill delays the implementation of standards that would reduce sulfur in gasoline.

“The bill also attacks standards that would limit ozone and other harmful air pollutants from power plants and global warming emissions from oil refineries. Some members of Congress may even attempt to amend the bill to prevent the EPA from moving forward with its historic draft standard to limit global warming pollution from new power plants,” the email says.

Lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress are claiming falsely that the proposed standards would increase gas prices. It’s certain the bill would have a lasting, negative effect on public health, according to the email.

“The legislation delays standards that would save lives and save money by reducing sulfur in our fuel and setting fleet-wide emissions limits for pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds from new vehicles. According to a recent study by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, these reductions would avoid more than 400 premature deaths and 52,000 lost workdays each year, at a cost of less than a penny a gallon,” the post says.

EPA needs public support for its efforts to protect our health.

Ask members of Congress not to block standards vital to our health and the environment and to vote no on the Gasoline Regulations Act.


Planting genetically modified crops before they’re proven safe

“A provision in a U.S. House bill would allow farmers to grow genetically modified crops while court battles are under way to decide if the plants are safe, said a biotech skeptic on Tuesday, calling the idea an unprecedented muzzle on federal judges," according to a Reuters report.

The one-paragraph provision is embedded in a funding bill for the Department of Agriculture and requires the agency to approve the planting of a genetically modified crop while the agency finishes “any required analyses or consultations” to determine whether the plant is safe to cultivate.

“We can’t find a single legislative precedent to this,” according to Andrew Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety, an organization that’s frequently sued the government over its approval of genetically engineered crops.

According to the post, “Kimbrell said the provision would prevent judges from issuing injunctions against cultivation while courts decide if a crop poses a risk.”

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, denies having had a hand in writing the provision.


Extending nuclear reactor operating licenses for up to 80 years

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is “inviting atomic catastrophe,” in the words of investigative journalist Karl Grossman, by considering extending nuclear reactor operating licenses for as long as 80 years, according to a June 6 Beyond Nuclear article.

According to the post, “NRC has already rubberstamped approvals for 73 reactors' operations out to 60 years, as well as scores of risky ‘power uprates’ to run ‘break down phase’ nuclear plants harder and hotter than originally designed, so utilities can ‘maximize profits.’"

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chair of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, is holding a hearing to promote a proposal of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, a favorite of President Barack Obama’s and Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s, to expedite the search for a new national dump site for high-level radioactive waste.

This scheme “would launch a radioactive waste shell game on our roads, rails and waterways (including Delaware's),” the post says, “involving unprecedented thousands of shipments through major metropolitan areas, vulnerable to accidents or attacks. Ironically, as revealed by the 1982 CRAC-2 (Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences) report, which NRC unsuccessfully tried to cover up, Sen. Carper's home state would suffer some of the worst casualties in the country (up to 100,000 ‘peak early fatalities,’ 75,000 ‘peak early injuries,’ and 40,000 ‘peak cancer deaths,’ not to mention $300 billion or more [2010 dollar figures] in property damage), if a catastrophic radioactivity release were to occur at a single [one] of the three reactors at the Salem 1 & 2/Hope Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey, just 18 miles from Delaware's state capital, Wilmington.”

In March 2011, a few days after the Fukushima nuclear accident, U.S Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sponsored a Nuclear Energy Institute lobbyists’ briefing that asserted that the accident was not that serious and couldn’t happen in the U.S. even though this country has numerous GE Mark I reactors just like those in Fukushima. 

Beyond Nuclear is asking opponents of nuclear power to contact the president, their senators and representatives and urge them to halt the generation of radioactive waste by blocking subsidies for new reactors, shutting down old reactors and requiring hardened, on-site storage for existing radioactive waste.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.