Matt Kasper, energy research assistant at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this piece.
Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).
On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.
“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”
Because the surcharge amount has not been determined, Gary is cautious about predicting the impact it will have on her business. She has already received multiple calls from people asking questions about the bill and wanting to have solar systems installed before the new fee takes effect. “We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”
“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” said Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, Oklahoma, in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”
The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.
“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”
But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.
As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and ALEC has set its sights on repealing them, referring to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system.” ALEC presented Gov. Fallin the Thomas Jefferson Freedom award last year for her “record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.”
Oklahoma “could be the first complete defeat for solar advocates in their fight against utility efforts to recover costs lost to DG [distributed generation] use,” writes Utility Dive. Net metering survived attacks in Colorado and Kansas and Vermont recently increased its policy in a bipartisan effort. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers, a move that was widely seen as a compromise, particularly after ALEC and other Koch-backed groups got involved.
While any extra charge placed on potential customers is a concern, Gary hopes that like Arizona, Oklahoma’s fee is modest enough to protect her business from serious damage.
We posted last year about a Measure R project to add tolled HOV lanes to 13.5 miles of the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. Vehicles with one or two occupants would pay a toll while vehicles with three or more occupants could use the lanes for free; tolling the lanes allows the project to be built well before the original Measure R completion date of 2040.
Today we have this update: Metro and Caltrans have decided to publicly finance the project instead of seeking a public-private partnership (known as a PPP). Why? It’s less expensive to publicly finance the project by using $352 million in now-available Measure R and other funds and a federal low-interest loan for $175 million.
Under a PPP, a private firm or firms would have paid for the construction of the project and then been repaid, in part, by collecting and managing tolls from the lanes for 35 years. In this case, public financing will allow Metro to borrow less money and secure a lower interest rate on the needed loan.
This project as originally proposed was also unusual because it included new sound walls for the 210 freeway in Pasadena and Arcadia and the 170 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, and adding extra lanes for a short stretch of the 71 freeway in Pomona. Under the public financing deal, those projects will be built separately. The toll revenues would be reinvested and used for transit services and traffic operations in the 5 freeway corridor in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The current forecast calls for the HOV lanes on the 5 to open in 2021, the soundwalls to be completed in 2019 and for the additional lane on the southbound side of the SR-71 to be done in 2021 and the lane on the northbound 71 to be finished in 2028.
In a victory for clean air, public health, and the Obama administration, a federal appeals court has upheld Environmental Protection Agency rules requiring large power plants to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollutants. The court rejected claims by industry and some states that the agency should have considered the cost of the clean air rules.
Writing for a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Judith W. Rogers determined that in giving the EPA the power to control hazardous air pollutants in 1990, Congress had focused more on public health and “concluded it was reasonable to make decisions without considering costs.”
One of the three appeals court judges, Brett M. Kavanaugh, broke with his colleagues and dissented on the issue of whether EPA should have considered the costs of its rules even as he concurred on other points. “In my view, it is unreasonable for EPA to exclude consideration of costs in determining whether it is ‘appropriate’ to impose significant new regulations on electric utilities,” Kavanaugh wrote. “To be sure, EPA could conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. But the problem here is that EPA did not even consider the costs. And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year – that’s billion with a b – by EPA’s own calculation.”
Though the rules established in 2011 that cover large coal- and oil-fired electric power plants will mean a $9.6 billion per year hit to the economy, the economic benefits total as much as $90 billion a year according to the EPA. The agency estimates the pollution reductions will each year prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks.
The ruling “is a win for children and families who deserve to have clean air to breathe,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The mercury and air toxics standards are critical public health safeguards that reduce deadly air pollution. These standards developed by EPA will require some of the nation’s biggest polluters, coal- and oil-burning power plants, to cut emissions because they pose a significant health risk to the American people.”
ART OF TRANSIT: That’s Lake Powell in southern Utah as seen by yours truly Monday afternoon. I’m in Ohio this week attending to family business but I will be posting occasionally as there’s lots happening — thanks in advance for your patience. Lake Powell, btw, is about 39 percent full — but 39 percent still equals more than a trillion gallons of water, some of which will end up in So Cal via the Colorado Aqueduct. No sign of the Icarus. Photo by Steve Hymon.
A good look at the staff recommendation for a design-build contractor — Skanska USA and Traylor Bros. — for the Regional Connector project. As the article notes, Metro will need to shift some funds around to meet the project’s budget and the current cost hinges on Metro getting the construction permits it needs from the Los Angeles Police Commission.
Good article. The Eastside leg of the Gold Line will celebrate its five-year anniversary in November and Boyle Heights residents have mixed views on the line — some find it convenient, some think earlier bus lines were a better option. Metro officials point to community amenities that were part of the project (improved sidewalks, lighting and new trees, for example). My own three cents: the Regional Connector will especially benefit the communities along the Eastside line, allowing trains to travel directly into downtown L.A. instead of routing passengers to Union Station and a transfer to the subway.
The agency that serves the Philadelphia metro area will run all night service on two subway lines this summer for the first time since the early 1990s. Increasing night life and new residences in downtown Philly prompted officials to launch the experiment.
The Denver Post has two energy sections these days, but one isn’t like the other.
The paper’s “Energy/Mining” section runs stories from Denver Post reporters and the Associated Press on local energy issues. The “Energy and Environment” section, which was created in February, runs what at first glance appear to be similar stories, but with one catch: the section is funded by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), a pro-natural gas group, and stories are written by outside writers.
The Post makes clear on the Energy and Environment page that the section is sponsored by CRED; a banner across the top of the section reads “This Section is Sponsored by CRED” and the section also has a “Sponsored by CRED” disclaimer under its name in the drop-down menu for newspaper sections.
But some Coloradans aren’t happy about the section. Its existence, they say, raises questions about sponsored content and how readers respond to it — whether they’ll be confused by two distinct energy sections, which could have the potential for conflicting content, or whether they see the banner disclaimer overhead and take the content for the advertising it is.
“The way that it comes off to readers is that it’s actually written by the Denver Post reporters and that it’s backed by the Denver Post in the way that any other article would be,” said Catherine Collentine, Colorado campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign. “Advertising is a part of journalism, but this seems to have overstepped those bounds, and just basically taken things too far.”
Collentine, who lives in Denver, said she relies on the Denver Post for local news on oil and gas development in Colorado, and she said she thinks the sponsored content’s similarity to the rest of the news website could confuse readers. That’s something Jessica Goad, advocacy director at the Center for Western Priorities and formerly of the Center for American Progress, also worries about.
“What is particularly interesting about this ad is that it mimics the Denver Post’s energy section,” Goad said. “Considering that the font, the layout, everything looks just like the Denver Post, I think that there’s no doubt that a lot of readers could be misled.”
The Center for Western Priorities has been following CRED since the natural gas organization was founded in September 2013 by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Noble Energy, two major oil and gas companies operating in the western U.S. CRED’s aim is to educate Coloradans on oil and gas drilling, but from a pro-natural gas standpoint. CRED has been running TV and radio advertising in Colorado since it was founded, lauding the “environmentally-safe process called fracking” which creates “jobs for Colorado” and boosts “our energy independence.”
“For a group that’s designed to educate people about drilling, it seems like there are more straightforward ways to do that than sponsoring an advertising section that’s made to look like real journalism and real reporting,” Goad said.
CRED spokesman Jon Haubert told ThinkProgress that the organization got the idea for the sponsored section based on similar sponsored sections in news outlets. He also said that while the paper’s wide distribution was a “natural fit” for CRED’s educational campaign, the Energy and Environment section isn’t exclusive to CRED and could be sponsored by other groups in the future. He also said that though advertising has been a part of newspapers and news organizations for decades, it’s up to each publication to properly label its sponsored content.
Haubert said CRED sends story ideas to the Denver Post’s advertising department, and also accepts ideas that the advertising department comes up with. The department then assigns stories to freelance writers, who Haubert says CRED does not contact during the writing process.
“I hear lots of stories that never make it into the news — companies who do great environmental work, community/charitable giving, innovative technologies no one has heard of, etc.” Haubert said in an email. “The insert is a supplement and that’s how we think of it…to add to the dialogue, not compete against what’s out there.”
A former Denver Post staffer who asked not to be named told ThinkProgress that he was conflicted about the sponsored section. On the one hand, he said, newspapers have to make money in an online market, where banner ads don’t always make up for the loss in traditional print ads. On the other hand, he said he was worried readers would be confused by the two energy sections.
“If I weren’t a journalist, I’m not sure I could tell the difference here,” he said of the sponsored section. “It’s more than a little troubling … I still think it kind of masquerades as ‘real news content’ when it’s not.”
The Denver Post has a disclaimer on its Energy and Environment section: under a small banner reading “What is sponsored content?” the paper makes clear that the articles were produced by the advertising department in collaboration with CRED and that “this publication’s editorial staff had no role in its preparation.” It goes on to state that the Post strives to ensure that the “treatment and design of all advertising and Sponsored Content is clearly differentiated from editorial content.” The Post’s editor, Greg Moore, declined to comment on the section.
The Future of Journalism?
The Post’s advertising section may have ruffled a few feathers in Colorado, but the paper is hardly the first news organization to have stories, or even entire sections, sponsored by outside advertisers. Congressional news organization Roll Call has two sponsored sections — a Boeing-sponsored defense section and, similar to the Denver Post, an energy section sponsored by BP.
The Atlantic’s sponsored content caused a stir last year, when the website posted a sponsored story about the church of Scientology. The story was later taken down after readers and other news outlets took notice, and the Atlantic issued an apology for posting the sponsored content. The New York Times, Time, BuzzFeed and TPM have also ventured into sponsored content.
And while one of the major concerns of news organizations and advocacy groups is whether or not readers will recognize sponsored content as advertising, Kelly McBride, senior faculty member for ethics at the Poynter Institute, told ThinkProgress that not much is known yet about how readers respond to sponsored content.
“Clearly news organizations have got to find new sources of revenue, and I think sponsored content is a stream of revenue many news organizations are turning towards,” she said. “We don’t know much about how consumers perceive sponsored content — we haven’t seen many good studies yet.”
Joshua Benton, director of Harvard’s Nieman Lab, told ThinkProgress via email that while he knows of many examples of sponsored content in national news organizations, he hasn’t seen as many examples like the Denver Post’s, at local news outlets.
“Most of what we’ve seen like this has been at national outlets, particularly those that appeal to an industry audience,” he said. “I’m unaware of any examples of a sponsored section at a local news outlet. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist — I just haven’t come across one.”
McBride also said she didn’t know how common the practice was at local newspapers or online news organizations, but said she did know most of the newspapers she’s talked to about sponsored content are committed to publishing the content responsibly.
“If you consider the broad swath of sponsored content, yes, there are clearly ethical issues that need to be addressed, and transparency is the biggest one of them, and independence of the news organization is another one,” she said. “Most of the news organizations that I have encountered — which is a lot — seem very open to establishing healthy processes that will allow them to find a stream of revenue, preserve their credibility, and maintain a relationship with their audience that is based on transparency.”
But maintaining transparency is something the former Denver Post staffer worries the paper isn’t doing successfully with its sponsored content.
“I go back to the way in which non-editorial material used to be identified in printed pages of the newspaper — that was different type fonts, different look, everything different so that you know that it’s advertising,” he said. “Clearly, that’s not done here.”
America’s total greenhouse gas emissions actually fell 3.4 percent over the course of 2012, according to the LA Times.
“The decline over the previous year was driven mostly by power plant operators switching from coal to natural gas,” the LA Times reported, as well as by “improvements in fuel efficiency for transportation and a warmer winter that cut demand for heating.”
The report pulls from an annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory released by the Environmental Protection Agency — and the 2012 edition came out Tuesday. It shows the country’s GHG emissions peaked in 2007, at 7,325 million metric tons, and then fell. It hit 6,526 million metric tons in 2012, putting it 10 percent below 2005 levels. The 2012 number is also within a stone’s throw of the 6,233 million metric tons released in 1990 — the first year the inventory was taken.
CREDIT: Environmental Protection Agency
Eighty-two percent of the emissions were carbon dioxide; 9 percent of the emissions were from methane; 6 percent were nitrous oxide; and 3 percent were fluorinated gases such as hydrofluorocarbons — particularly potent GHGs that the U.S., China, and other major countries have sought to crack down on in recent years.
Methane poses a potential hazard: it is the major component in natural gas, and some of it inevitably leaks from the industry’s infrastructure. Like hydrofluorocarbons, methane traps much more heat on a pound-for-pound basis than carbon dioxide, and multiplestudies suggest EPA’s measurements severely undercount the scale of the leakage. If that’s correct, then methane’s contribution to America’s GHG problem is more than enough to wipe out any advantage to natural gas in terms of avoiding climate change.
Also on the bad news front: an initial estimate by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, released in January, anticipated that national carbon dioxide emissions ticked back up by 2 percent in 2013. The reversal was largely due to a rise in natural gas prices — which may not be temporary — that shifted some utilities back to burning coal.
Over the years, the Chesapeake Bay has been known for many things: bountiful seafood, such as clams, oysters and the bay’s iconic blue crabs; its boating, fishing and water sports industry; its curly-haired duck-hunting dogs.
Now, however, the bay has become famous for something else: its pollution.
For more than 30 years, states in the region have tried to restore the bay, the largest estuary in the U.S. and a body of water which has effectively served as a dumping ground for agricultural pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from urban runoff and industrial sources for decades. In the last few years — and after numerous failed attempts — they’ve inched closer to succeeding, thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency-led plan that puts limits on the amount of agricultural nutrients entering the bay, pollution that has spawned numerous oxygen-free, marine life-killing “dead zones” in the bay and its tributaries. The plan was created at the request of the six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia, and according to Claudia Friedetzky of the Maryland Sierra Club, is “the best chance that we have ever had to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”
But to a group of 21 Attorneys General from states almost exclusively outside the Chesapeake Bay region, the plan means only one thing: EPA overreach.
Earlier this year, a group of 21 Attorneys General from states as far away from the Chesapeake Bay as Alaska and Wyoming submitted an amicus brief that aims to strike down the EPA’s Chesapeake cleanup plan. The AGs argue that the cleanup plan raises serious concerns about states’ rights, and they worry that if the plan is left to stand, the EPA could enact similar pollution limits on watersheds such as the Mississippi.
“This is one of the great examples of people working together across federal, state, local business and agriculture, and it’s working, and outsiders are coming in to try to stop it,” William Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said. “It’s absolutely bizarre.”
Big Ag Enters The Fray
The Chesapeake Bay watershed.
CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
To understand why the 21 state AGs care about a cleanup plan that is, for the most part, outside of their boundaries, you first have to understand why outside groups are suing to strike down the cleanup plan in the first place. That comes down to the interests of one powerful entity: the U.S. agriculture industry.
When the EPA enacted its latest cleanup plan, the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, in December 2010, major agriculture groups were quick to sue, arguing the agency didn’t have the power to restrict the amount of pollutants that enter the bay. Their response came as no surprise, considering agriculture is the largest contributor of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, accounting for 42 percent of the nitrogen, 58 percent of the phosphorous and 58 percent of the sediment that entered the bay in 2012. The EPA’s new cleanup plan established a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can enter the bay each year, potentially cutting pollution by 20-25 percent.
Those pollution limits, Baker said, are exactly what the bay needs to recover and “absolutely consistent with what science says is needed to address the Chesapeake Bay.” Successfully reducing nutrient runoff could mean shrinking the dangerous “dead zones” — oxygen-free areas that kill clams and worms, key food sources for blue crabs — and deadly algal blooms that have plagued the bay for decades. The pollution diet, as it’s written, also allows states “maximum flexibility” in determining how to meet the limits set forth by the EPA, Terri White, press officer at the EPA, told ThinkProgress.
The American Farm Bureau, a powerful agricultural interest group which has sued the EPA on behalf of farmers multipletimesbefore, has led the charge against the EPA, claiming they’re concerned the agency’s actions in the Chesapeake Bay region could lead to similar plans in the Mississippi River watershed. The Mississippi runs through the heart of agricultural country in the U.S. and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, a water body that’s been plagued by massive dead zones for years.
Though the Farm Bureau’s suit failed in court in September 2013, the group isn’t giving up. It appealed in late January, and soon after, the 21 state AGs added their support.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed the brief on behalf of the group of AGs. He said in a statement that he does not think the EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act to implement the bay’s TMDL.
“The issue is whether EPA can reach beyond the plain language of the Clean Water Act and micromanage how states meet federal water-quality standards,” Schmidt said. “We think the clear answer is ‘no,’ and we would prefer to get that answer while the question surrounds land use in the Chesapeake Bay instead of waiting for EPA to do the same thing along the Mississippi River basin.”
The AGs write in their brief that they’re worried about what implications the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan has for other states.
“If EPA follows through, it could start requiring States to zone specific parcels of land to permit or prohibit certain uses — all without any political accountability or vested interest in the State’s welfare,” the brief reads. “This is the kind of ‘gun to the head’ and ‘economic dragooning’ that the federal government cannot use to coerce States to implement its policy choices.”
Ellen Steen, General Counsel and Secretary for the Farm Bureau, told ThinkProgress via email that though the AGs’ worries reflect those of the Farm Bureau, it’s not that the Farm Bureau wants to stop the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay altogether. The Farm Bureau wants a clean Chesapeake Bay, but it disagrees with the way EPA has gone about implementing the plan.
“What we oppose is that EPA’s plan eliminates state flexibility to make their own cleanup decisions, or to modify their plans based on new technologies or new information,” she said. “It gives EPA the power to decide which land can or cannot be farmed, where homes can or cannot be built, and where schools, hospitals, roads and communities can or cannot be developed — with no regard for local economic or social impact.”
But in her September opinion, Judge Sylvia Rambo said some of the Farm Bureau’s claims were overblown, and that the EPA did not have the authority to “dictate to a state what measures a state must take to reduce pollution from a specific source.” Terri White, press officer with the EPA, did not respond directly to the Farm Bureau’s claims, citing the ongoing lawsuit, but told ThinkProgress that it was up to states, not the EPA, to determine how to achieve the needed reductions for the pollution diet. What’s more, she said, the pollution diet was decided upon with state input, after the bay states agreed in 2000 that if voluntary efforts to restore the bay didn’t work by 2010, a TMDL should be implemented.
Baker, whose Chesapeake Bay Foundation supports the pollution diet and in 2009 sued the EPA to try to force a cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, was more forthcoming in his rejection of the claims of the Farm Bureau and Attorneys General.
“Nothing in the TMDL dictates that agriculture do anything one way or another — much less that any kind of zoning occur that is not supported by local government,” Baker said. “States and local governments worked together with a number of federal agencies to develop this Clean Water Blueprint for the bay. It’s hardly a mandate being imposed on high down to the states.”
Judge Rambo also rejected the Farm Bureau’s argument, and the argument the 21 state AGs would later make, that the Chesapeake Bay pollution limit sets the stage for the EPA to implement similar restrictions in a single state and then mandate it to be accepted in all other upstream states — all of the states in the Mississippi River watershed, for instance.
“In short, the court endorses the holistic, watershed approach used here. This approach receives ample support in the CWA [Clean Water Act], its legislative history, and Supreme Court precedent,” the opinion reads.
The Farm Bureau’s appeal hopes to overturn that endorsement, backed by the 21 Attorneys General. But in April, the EPA got a little extra help from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who decided to throw his weight behind the cleanup plan. Herring announced on April 10 that he’s filed his own brief in support of the EPA’s cleanup effort, saying he won’t let the AGs’ attacks “go unanswered.”
“When the most promising plan to protect and restore the bay comes under attack, I am going to stand up for the health of Virginia’s families, for Virginia’s economic interests, for Virginia’s efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay,” Herring said.
Herring said the lawsuit wasn’t about EPA overreach, but rather whether the surrounding states had the authority to work together to clean up the bay, something they’ve been trying to do “for decades.”
“Each bay state, including Virginia, voluntarily entered into the current restoration plan because of the economic, recreational, environmental and intrinsic value of a healthy Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “I hope the courts and my colleagues, none of whom serve a state which touches the bay, recognize that fact and allow Virginia and its partners to continue their work.”
A History Of Failure
Dead fish at Northwest Creek on Kent Island in Stevensville, Md.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Maryland Department of the Environment, Charles Poukish
It’s that “for decades” qualifier that points to why many environmentalists and lawmakers in the bay region are so protective of the TMDL — support it or oppose it, the cleanup plan has been a long time coming in the bay region. The first time Chesapeake Bay states made an attempt to improve the health of the bay was 1983, when the EPA, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia signed an accord “recognizing the need to act” to clean up the bay. The states failed multiple times to stick to voluntary goals of reducing nutrient pollution in the bay, and in in 2006 the EPA realized the states wouldn’t meet their latest goal by 2010, or even 2020.
In 2009, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the EPA, saying the agency had “abdicated leadership and weakened regulations that would have reduced pollution.” The lawsuit ended in a settlement in 2010, the same year that the EPA released its strategy for restoring the bay.
Brown Bullhead (Ameriurus nebulosus) from the South River with lip tumors.
CREDIT: Fred Pinkney, USFWS.
A host of problems have plagued the bay and its tributaries as a result of this pollution. Since the early 1990s, the Fish and Wildlife Service has documented a surge of tumors and lip lesions in catfish in the Anacostia River, which flows through D.C., and the South River, which flows through Maryland.
Algal blooms, which develop when algae feed off of excess nutrients in the water and multiply rapidly, have long been a problem in the bay and its tributaries. The blooms led to a mass fish kill in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 2012, a consequence of the algae sucking the oxygen out of the water and suffocating fish. Maryland saw other fish kills in 2012, too — 60,000 to 100,000 fish died in three Maryland creeks that year after strong rains washed more nutrients than usual into the creeks, turning them “the color of malted milk” for weeks.
And it’s not just aquatic life that’s suffering.
“Many people in many parts of the bay watershed can’t drink their well water because nitrate levels are so high, and they routinely and without any thought really have to drink bottled water,” Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said. “People are also worried about the effects polluted water has on their livestock, and most health departments now discourage against swimming after heavy rains because of the pollution washed into local waterways.”
It’s these pollution woes that worry Baker most of all, not just because he wants the bay to be healthy for ecological reasons but because he knows it’s an essential part of the region’s economy, a tourist draw and recreational and commercial fishing hub. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a 2005 Shenandoah River fish kill caused a loss of $700,000 in retail sales and revenues in the region.
“If the Chesapeake were to get worse to the point that it was so bad that it was viewed as something bad for the region rather than something good, the economic impacts would be huge,” Baker said.
Changing For The Better
Baker said he wasn’t surprised that the farm industry opposed the cleanup plan — after all, it’s the industry most affected by a plan that targets nutrient runoff. But he was dismayed that a group of AGs from states almost exclusively outside the Chesapeake Bay region signed on to help stop the effort.
“It’s just one more example of the attempts to derail good things that have broad-based support in this country when narrow interests feel they are threatened,” he said.
Claudia Friedetzky with the Sierra Club said that while the national agriculture industry seems to largely have its mind made up about the TMDL, the farmers she’s talked to in the region have mixed feelings. Many of the farmers who oppose the cleanup plan are those who have ties to Big Ag, but it varies from farmer to farmer, she said.
“The feelings that are very prevalent [among farmers] are that we have done enough already, and now it’s time for other pollution sectors — like the urban sector — to step up and clean up their act,” she said.
Steen said that since the TMDL is still relatively new and states are still developing their plans on how to meet the pollution limits, she doesn’t know yet how the plans will affect individual farmers in the region. Richard Hutchison, a farmer at a Talbot County, Maryland farming partnership of about 3,400 acres, said the plan hasn’t caused him to change his practices much at the farm, other than requiring him to complete a little more paperwork each year. But he still worries what the TMDL means for the future of farming in the state, and whether the regulations will prevent new farmland from opening up in the future.
“We have to have land available to farm, and there are so many different regulations that remove food producing land from producing food,” he said. “And the TMDL [pollution limits] could be one of them.”
But Cleo Braver, who runs the organic Cottingham Farm in Easton, Maryland, said she thinks a pollution diet is exactly what the bay needs. A dirty bay has implications for the community’s environment and health, and she said farmers should step up to improve their practices.
“Farmers can be a part of changing [the bay] for the better, and I think we have a long, long way to go to clean up our farming,” she said.
Braver said she’s been looking for ways to reduce nutrient pollution since she started her farm. She uses buffer strips — things like grass and vegetative barriers which can remove up to half of the nutrients and pesticides and 75 percent of the sediment from farm runoff, something Hutchison has on his farm, as well. Braver has also used cover crops, which cut down on the need for fertilizers, for the past seven or so years. She said other farmers should be encouraged to do more of the same if they want to do their part in improving the bay.
While many of the farmers who own their land in Maryland have implemented these pollution-reduction measures, Braver said the farmers who don’t — often those who are paid to farm land that doesn’t belong to them — aren’t pushing for the landowners to plant things like buffer strips on their farms. Farmers can get financial help to install pollution control measures through Maryland’s EQIP initiative, which provides incentives for conservation on farms.
There are differing opinions on how much progress has been made in constructing buffers in the bay region. In December, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said farmers in bay states were falling behind in planting buffer trees around their farmland, an effort that’s part of a pledge by the bay states to plant 185,000 acres of trees on farmland by 2025 to help reduce pollution. The Farm Bureau, however, maintains that farmers have done enough to help the bay recover. The group states that farmers in the bay watershed have implemented pollution-reducing measures in 96 percent of the cropland acres in production in the region, which has resulted in nutrient runoff reductions.
According to Braver, however, there is always more to be done to help restore the region’s iconic bay.
“Instead of us all pointing our fingers at each other, we should all just say, ‘you know what, I’m part of the problem, and there’s things I can do to help, and I’m going to,’” Braver said.
Metro today announced that release of the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (EIR/EIS) for the State Route 710 North Study will be delayed. Metro is working with Caltrans on a revised schedule and will make an announcement as soon as it is confirmed.
Metro had hoped to release the draft environmental documents this spring but the work was delayed while the latest Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) regional travel demand computer model for analyzing the alternatives was calibrated and applied.
Metro was one of the first agencies to use the new 2012 model in a major project. Calibration and validation of the model was not completed until last year and the associated travel demand forecasting for all of the alternatives was not completed until February of this year. However, it has become apparent that additional time is required to complete the technical studies, which means that the release of the Draft EIR/EIS must be delayed in order to perserve the integrity of the environmental process.
Metro has been working with the community, technical consultants and Caltrans on various alternatives for addressing traffic and environmental impacts within east/northeast Los Angeles, the western San Gabriel Valley and the region generated by a 4 ½ mile gap in the original 710 Freeway design that exists between Alhambra and Pasadena.
The draft EIR/EIS will thoroughly analyze five alternatives – Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail Transit, Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management, a freeway tunnel, and a No Build option.
Metro, Caltrans, local cities and private developers all are required to use the SCAG regional travel demand model as a basis for project planning. It predicts future (2035) traffic through a thorough analysis of projected travel patterns considering such factors as population and employment growth, goods movement, land use changes and other variables. Other critical analysis including air quality, a health risk assessment, noise and energy effects also depend on travel demand computer modeling.
Metro and Caltrans are fully committed to ensure that the public has a voice in the process. Detailed analysis for each alternative will be incorporated in the SR 710 North Study draft EIR/EIS. For updates on the revised schedule and project background, go to metro.net/sr710study or facebook.com/sr710study or follow on Twitter @sr710study.