The New York Times today writes that people in Nigeria are incredulous that we’re paying so much attention to the Gulf oil spill, considering spills in their country are so frequent and long that they don’t even make the news anymore.
It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.
Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.
The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage.
The environmental agency in Texas yesterday proposed some changes to the state’s air permitting system in response to concerns of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA has said it may take over air permitting for up to 40 facilities that supposedly do not comply with the Clean Air Act, although the facilities do have “flexible air permits” from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Those flexible permits set overall pollution reduction goals for the entire facility, instead of regulating each pollution source inside the facility individually.
According to the story by Asher Price in the Austin American-Statesman, the TCEQ is now proposing these changes:
The proposed changes would bar a company from leaning on state rules to circumvent federal regulations; companies also would be required to maintain stricter records and monitoring of equipment.
However, it’s unclear whether the EPA will accept these changes before the June 30 take-over deadline. Because of mandatory public comment periods, the changes wouldn’t go into effect for at least two months.
“Today’s action by TCEQ will take many months for the state to complete,” said Joe Hubbard, a spokesman for the Dallas office of the EPA. “It may or may not establish a new flexible permit program in Texas at a future date.”
The Associated Press has published shocking video from a scuba dive trip in the Gulf of Mexico that shows the pollution and forecasts the true, lasting damage of this disaster.
This link comes from the Society of Environmental Journalists, pointing to a TV news story that shows hired BP security guards attempting to forcefully bar journalists from reporting on the oil spill cleanup efforts. I think the company wants to hide the true extent of the damage from the American public.
Asher Price of the Austin American-Statesman writes today that the EPA has proposed a voluntary auditing program for industrial companies with Texas-issued air permits that the federal agency believes violate the Clean Air Act. Under the proposed voluntary program, an air permit holder (think large power plant, chemical plant, oil processing plant) would go out and hire an auditor to review deficiencies in its clean air compliance, send the audit results to the EPA, and then work voluntarily to repair the deficiencies within three years.
Here’s Price’s thoughts on this idea:
From my reporting, my sense is that the EPA wants to change the way Texas issues permits but it doesn’t want to get into the game of actually checking on each permit — that would take too much money and too much time. So the audit proposal is a way to bring facilities into federal compliance and have a third party do most of the lifting — with the lifting paid for by industry. It’s unclear to me, though, why a company would voluntarily pay an auditor, send the results to the government, and then pay to upgrade its facility — without seeing teeth from the feds …
Statesman reporters typically post information like this on their blogs while they’re working up a full story for the next day’s newspaper. I will watch for Price’s full story and post updates later.
Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, when people in multiple countries from many organizations host events and get-togethers to “celebrate our world ocean and our personal connection to the sea.”
According to the “about” page, the day is supposed to help participants:
Change perspective – encourage individuals to think about what the ocean means to them and what it has to offer all of us with hopes of conserving it for present and the future generations.
Learn – discover the wealth of diverse and beautiful ocean creatures and habitats, how our daily actions affect them, and how we are all interconnected.
Change our ways – we are all connected to the ocean! By taking care of your backyard, you are acting as a caretaker of our ocean. Making small modifications to your everyday habits will greatly benefit our blue planet.
Celebrate – whether you live inland or on the coast we are all connected to the ocean; take the time to think about how the ocean affects you, and how you affect the ocean, and then organize or participate in activities that celebrate our world ocean.
Considering the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I imagine the dialog will take on a sad tone. BP’s oil spill is likely to affect the water, animals and Gulf Coast residents for YEARS to come.
Mother Jones reporter Kate Shepperd has a caustic account of “mistakes” that BP has made during the 43 days that oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Go read the whole account, but here’s a very condensed version
From the top hat to the top kill: In the past six weeks, it’s become obvious that BP has no idea how to fix a hole a mile below the sea …
Tony Hayward, PR genius: BP’s tousle-haired CEO has a remarkable penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time …
Dirty dispersants: In a desperate attempt to contain the growing disaster it has created in the Gulf, BP has been spreading chemical dispersants on the sea and at the spill site a mile below the surface …
Oil? What oil? The dispersants that BP has pumped into the Gulf prevent the oil from hitting land … But by driving the oil under water, the dispersants are creating a different kind of environmental disaster in the sea.
Size matters: … It’s no surprise BP wants to play down the size of the catastrophe, as the company is likely to face penalties based on the amount of oil spilled.
Oppressing the press: Blocking fly-overs, barring press from beaches, sending reporters on wild-goose-chase-missions in search of the “BP liaison,” and making workers sign contracts promising not to talk to the media? Low, BP, low.
Disastrous planning: The emergency plan BP put together for its Gulf exploration was a joke.
Misleading Congress: … [A BP executive] assured legislators that drilling is totally safe.
Plus all those other accidents: If we were to list all of the disastrous exploits in BP’s recent history, this list would run a lot longer than a top 10.
Last week I posted news about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threatening to take over some air permitting duties from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Since that time, the issue has blown up into a political firestorm.
If the EPA takes over, it will be replacing a successful program “with a less effective Washington-based, bureaucratic-led, command and control mandate,” Perry wrote to Obama. On Wednesday, he called the EPA’s move a federal power grab.
The EPA thinks Texas’ flexible permitting program, which sets general pollution limits for an entire facility instead of individually regulating each source of pollution within that facility, has failed to live up to provisions in the Clean Air Act. “The agency believes Texas’ program allows industry to release double the amount of pollution allowed by law,” the story says. It seems the whole issue is turning into a red-vs.-blue issue.
Several Democratic state legislators and environmental activists accused Perry on Friday of turning a public health issue into a partisan debate. They called on the EPA to do everything in its power to ensure that Texans breathe clean air.
Conservative state lawmakers, however, called the EPA’s move an “arrogant and unnecessary exercise of federal power.”
It’s also turning into a federal-vs.-states’ rights issue, thanks to Gov. Perry. A similar argument happened in the early 1990s, according to another article in the Austin American-Statesman.
The current dispute with the EPA is, in a way, like a time capsule from the early 1990s. The anxiety about federal oversight and criticism of “command-and-control” methods echoes the rhetoric Bush used in 1994.
“The old command-and-control school of environmental policy is not what I am for,” Bush, then a candidate, told the American-Statesman that year. “I am for setting standards and letting industry comply.”
The sort of weird thing about all of this is that since the 1990s when this EPA vs. TCEQ argument first came up, Texas has decreased its pollution overall.
Air quality has, in fact, improved overall in the state, but major cities, like those across the country, continue to fail federal clean air standards, which have gotten progressively tougher.
Today’s green tip comes from Cooking Green: Reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen by Kate Heyhoe, who happens to be a fellow Austinite. Heyhoe writes that 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions comes from growing, shipping and cooking our food. That comes out to 14,160 pounds of emissions annually. She coined a few cute terms to describe ways individuals can choose food options that impact the environment less. An “ecovore” is someone who chooses food with the environment in mind to reduce her “cookprint,” the carbon footprint in the kitchen.
Here’s today’s tip from the book:
Without succumbing to eco-anxiety, we can start fixing what’s broken by setting greener goals–person by person, aisle by aisle, and kitchen by kitchen. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants–And I would add, in this order: mostly local, mostly organic, and mostly fuel- and water-conserving. In a lifestyle of climate change, it’s the new green basics of cooking.
Crap. Hurricane season starts in June. If they don’t get this spill stopped and cleaned up before the first hurricane hits … I can imagine a huge mess. The Associated Press is reporting that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts eight to 14 hurricanes this season, which would make it one of the more active seasons on record.
According to the story:
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A hurricane might help break up the oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil won’t affect significantly how tropical storms develop, forecasters said. They don’t know what kind of environmental hazards to expect, though there are fears that winds and waves could push the oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands.