The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene. This week's edition includes:

  • Push for high-speed rail in Indiana
  • Earth First! temporarily halts fracking operation
  • Fossil fuels draining water supply in middle of drought
  • Four environmental victories in two weeks
  • Victory for baby sea turtles in Puerto Rico
  • Critical fight to save Alaska’s Bristol Bay wilderness
  • Problem at California nuclear power plant is worse than originally thought
  • Dirty Dozen, Clean 15 produce
  • Big polluters opposing EPA’s regulations on soot
  • Bureau of Land Management to safeguard public lands from fracking, with public pressure

Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.

Push for high-speed rail in Indiana

Recently Indiana’s candidates for governor, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Mike Pence, recently received a letter urging them to support high-speed passenger trains in the state, according to a June 22 Public News Service article.

Signed by mayors and other lawmakers from both political parties and by organizations and businesses, the letter says after the Chicago-Cincinnati line environmental and engineering studies are finished, Indiana would become eligible for federal high-speed rail grants, which might provide as much as 70 percent of capital costs, the post says.

Amtrak lines would need to be improved for 110-mile-an-hour trains.

"You'd have to put in new welded rail, improve all the at-grade crossings, better signals, and you have to have gates that block the crossing. That's all technology we have; it's just a matter of upgrading it,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. "A tremendous amount of economic potential, you get environmental benefits from more efficient travel via rail, reduced dependence on oil."

Maloney said numerous companies are interested in Indiana’s investment in high-speed rail. "Steel Dynamics,” Maloney said, “one of the big steel companies in Indiana, is supportive; they manufacture rails. Chambers of Commerce in Lafayette/West Lafayette, Ind., are supportive."

Upgrading the current lines, Maloney said, is merely a matter of installing new welded rail, enhancing all the at-grade crossings and putting in better signals.

High-speed rail is being developed between Chicago and Detroit and between Chicago and St. Louis.

Earth First! temporarily halts fracking operation

For the first time in U.S. history, protestors temporarily shut down a fracking operation when 100 Earth First! activists and allies forced a 70-foot-tall EQT hydrofrack drill rig to stop operating for 12 hours in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest on July 9, according to a July 10 Ramps Campaign article.

“A tree-sitter hung above the access road, with their anchor ropes blocking it,” the post says. “A second person was also in a tree to support the sitter, while dozens of supporters guarded 10 large debris piles that were across the road. Another group of 50 activists blockaded the entrance to the access road. The State Police, with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, dispersed the blockade around 9 p.m. and removed the tree sitters with a ladder truck. Three arrests were made for disorderly conduct, but protesters were cited and released on-site.”

The small number of drill rigs operating in the state travel from site to site on a tight schedule, so the blockade probably caused the company to lose money.

“The site is part of a high concentration of wells in Moshannon State Forest, one of the most heavily drilled state forests in Pennsylvania,” according to the post. “Over half of the forest’s 190,000 acres have been leased for Marcellus drilling using hydraulic fracturing. Despite widespread public opposition, the former Pennsylvania secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources predicts 12,000 Marcellus wells will be drilled in state forests in the coming decade. A recent poll showed that the majority of Pennsylvanians are opposed to fracking on public lands.”

Fossil fuels draining water supply in middle of drought

The fastest growing use of freshwater supplies in the U.S. is thermoelectric energy (coal, nuclear and natural gas), found a River Network report called Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity,  according to a June 30 Care 2 Make a Difference article.

The report says “that for every gallon of water used in an average household, five times more water (40,000 gallons each month) is used to provide that home with electricity via hydropower turbines and fossil fuel power plants. That means every time we flip on the television or crank up the air conditioning, it sends more potable water down the drain.”

According to the report, 1 megawatt of coal-generated electricity withdraws about 16,052 gallons of water from the environment and consumes about 693 gallons, whereas natural gas withdraws about 6,484 gallons and consumes some 172 gallons per megawatt generated. Nuclear power withdraws about 14,881 gallons and consumes an average of 572.

“Each of these individually is more than the water consumption of wind, solar, geothermal and solar thermal power generation combined,” the post says.

The post adds, “And the part that’s really shocking: more than a quarter of the water withdrawn by fossil-fuel power plants to cool their generators goes up in steam – the remainder carries pollutants and excess heat into rivers and waterways, causing fish kills and algae blooms.”

Four environmental victories in two weeks

The Environmental Defense Fund reported, in an email, that citizens achieved four environmental wins in a two-week period.

First, the Senate rejected a bill promoted by the Senate’s No. 1 climate denier, James Inhofe (R-OK), that would have permanently blocked the Mercury and Air Toxics clean air protections.

Second, the EPA’s comment period for its proposed climate-pollution limits for U.S. power plants ended with 2.25 million comments. The email says, “The Dirty Energy Lobby will fight this rule with everything they have, but our unprecedented grassroots strength gives us huge momentum in this ongoing struggle to solve the climate crisis.”

Third, a federal appeals court upheld EPA’s climate pollution emission standards, thereby “rejecting four legal challenges that had been filed by industry groups and several states' attorneys general. The unanimous and unambiguous ruling affirmed the importance of having rigorous, independent science as the bedrock of efforts to protect our health and environment,” the email says.

Last, Congress passed the RESTORE Act, which “dedicates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines from BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 gulf oil spill where they are needed most to restoring the fragile Gulf Coast environment and local economy,” the email says.

Victory for baby sea turtles in Puerto Rico

For more than 15 years, developers tried to build two huge resorts in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor, one of the critical nesting grounds for the endangered leatherback sea turtle, “but its bioluminescent lagoon, mangrove swamps, coral reefs and dense tropical rainforest are also home to more than 50 rare, threatened and native species, according to a July 5 Sierra Club article.

The resorts would have meant 1,900 residential and tourist units and three golf courses.

The governor of Puerto Rico recently signed a bill protecting almost 2,000 acres of the corridor, the post says. In 2008, the former governor had named the corridor a nature reserve, but his successor, the current governor, reversed that decision when he took office in 2009. The governor reversed his decision again after the Puerto Rico House and Senate passed the corridor bill unanimously.

“How did the Puerto Rico Sierra Club and other grassroots groups keep this wondrous place from being turned into condos and putting greens? Through good old-fashioned grassroots organizing – leading tours, putting on the Sea Turtle Festival and mobilizing Puerto Rico's citizens to action,” the post says.

Critical fight to save Alaska’s Bristol Bay wilderness

Global mining companies want to create one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, says a July 12 email from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

EPA, however, just released a scientific evaluation of the Bristol Bay watershed that shows “unequivocally that large-scale mining would jeopardize the area’s legendary salmon runs – the lynchpin of this world-class ecosystem and its Native communities,” the email says.

EPA’s scientific evaluation was prepared by independent scientists without ties to the mining industry and found, according to the email, “there’s no way to dig a mine 2,000 feet deep and generate billions of tons of contaminated waste and not have a dramatic impact on the environment.”

At a minimum, the Pebble Mine would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and more than 50 miles of streams that are critical to some of the world’s largest wild salmon runs, the email says.

“Mining would produce acidic and metals-laden waters that would degrade water quality downstream with virtual certainty, and there is a 98 percent likelihood of pipeline failure per 25 years of operation,” the post says.

EPA is authorized to prevent construction of the Pebble Mine under the Clean Water Act but could bow to industry pressure if it doesn’t hear immediately from concerned citizens. A petition to stop the Pebble Mine can be signed here.

Problem at California nuclear power plant is worse than originally thought

The San Onofre nuclear power plant in California shut down temporarily because of problems that caused Daniel Hirsch, an expert from the University of California, Santa Cruz, to say, “This reveals a far greater problem than has been previously disclosed, and raises serious questions about whether it is safe to restart either unit,” according to a July 12 Raw Story article.

The plant was shut down after investigators found erosion on tubes that carry radioactive water, and the update uncovered the fact that more than 3,400 steam generator tubes in the new steam generators are damaged.

“Edison had been talking about trying to get Unit 2 back on line at end of summer; now we know to do so they would have to run with a large number of damaged tubes,” Hirsch said.

San Onofre generates enough energy for 1.4 million residences and is one of two nuclear reactors in the state. Its operator is Southern California Edison. The other reactor is at Diablo Canyon, operated by Pacific Gas and Electric.

Dirty Dozen, Clean 15 produce

The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, a list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the smallest and largest amounts of pesticide residues.

According to a June 19 email, “EWG always recommends eating more fruits and veggies and buying them organic if you can – for adults and babies. But sometimes organic produce can cost more or isn't available. That's why we created the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce – so you know which fruits and vegetables have the lowest pesticide residues and which you should try to buy organic. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower your pesticide intake by up to 92 percent!”

For the first time since the inception of its pesticide-testing program in 1991, the USDA reviewed pesticide residues on green beans, pears and sweet potatoes sold as baby food. Green beans in baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including organophosphates, associated with neurodevelopmental problems. Pears in baby food showed considerable contamination, but sweet potatoes in baby food had “virtually no detectable pesticide residues,” according to the email.

One disturbing finding was that the pesticide iprodione, categorized by EPA as a probable human carcinogen, was found on some samples of baby food pears. Iprodione, the email says, “is not registered with the EPA for use on pears. Its presence on this popular baby food constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

This year, the Dirty Dozen has become the Dirty Dozen Plus with the addition of green beans, kale and collard greens. Though they didn’t meet traditional Dirty Dozen standards, they were commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides. Pretty much removed from agricultural use in the past decade, organophosphates haven’t been banned and can be found on some produce.

Big polluters opposing EPA’s regulations on soot

The America Petroleum Institute and other major polluters are opposing EPA’s new clean air safeguard to protect Americans from soot pollution, according to a recent email from the Sierra Club, because they’re afraid the safeguard would hurt their profits.

Seventeen million Americans with asthma would be helped by the new safeguard, which would protect the public from the fine particulate matter in soot.

“Soot,” the email says, “much of which comes from coal-fired power plants, is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. It contributes to heart disease, asthma, and premature deaths – adding up to $1 billion a year in health care costs!”

Fine particle pollution, much of it from fossil fuel-burning power plants, petroleum refineries and vehicle exhaust, is a pervasive problem and a particular threat to pregnant women, young children, elders, poor people and those with lung or heart disease. Physicians and scientists say exposure can cause premature death, heart and lung damage, and maybe even cancer and reproductive harm.

“The science clearly tells us that the current standards are not strong enough to protect public health and too many Americans are needlessly breathing dirty air,” the email says.

You can send a message to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in support of EPA’s clean air safeguard here.

Bureau of Land Management to safeguard public lands from fracking, with public pressure

It’s time to tell the Bureau of Land Management to adopt strong safeguards that will protect our national forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands from fracking, says a July 5 email from the National Resources Defense Council.

The BLM’s decision to update rules for oil and gas extraction on our public lands is long overdue, the email says.

“The technology used to extract oil and gas has advanced rapidly and regulations to protect our health and environment have not kept pace, putting our communities and wildlands at risk from dangerous chemicals, air pollutants and waste products,” it goes on to say.

The email urges the BLM to enact tough, new rules and to put in place stronger safeguards, including:

• Requiring operators to perform baseline water testing to ensure that oil and gas operations do not pollute our drinking water;

• Requiring full disclosure of all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing  both before and after activities occur, and ensuring that medical professionals have access to all chemical information, even trade secrets;

• Ensuring that wells are constructed to the highest standards; and

• Requiring operators to use existing technologies -- which are proven to be effective and profitable -- to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Many grassroots environmentalists think that stronger regulations on fracking in public lands aren’t the way to go; rather, an all-out ban needs to be instituted.

Linda Greene can be reached at