Tag: Pollution

The EPA Knew

You’re probably aware of the recent ecological disaster the EPA caused in the Gold King Mine. While cleaning up the heavily polluted site, they caused a blowout that put millions of gallons of toxic water into the Animas and San Juan Rivers, turning them yellow. I’ve been waiting for more details on the event. Accidents happen, particularly when you’re working at a poorly known site. The EPA wasn’t just screwing around with the mine; they were trying to clean up an ongoing environmental problem that had killed many of the fish in the upper Animas river. Acid mine drainage is a huge environmental problem and is one of the reasons we have the EPA in the first place (I was just reading an article about the Berkeley Pit mine, a potential time bomb tat the EPA is defusing).

Well, we’re finding out some things now. And it looks very bad:

U.S. officials knew of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” of poisonous wastewater from an inactive gold mine, yet appeared to have only a cursory plan to deal with such an event when a government cleanup team triggered a 3-million-gallon spill, according to internal documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released the documents late Friday following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. While shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the newly disclosed information also raises more questions about whether enough was done to prevent it.

A May 2015 action plan produced by an EPA contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, also noted the potential for a blowout.

The May plan also called for a pond that would be used to manage the mine water and prevent contaminants from entering waterways. That pond was not completed.

A 71-page safety plan for the site included only a few lines describing what to do if there was a spill: Locate the source and stop the flow, begin containment and recovery of the spilled materials, and alert downstream drinking water systems as needed.

Note that the EPA has actually redacted parts of the documents as if there are national security issues at stake. They have also not revealed what happened immediately before and after the blowout or why they waited for over a day to let local governments know that their water was turning to poison.

I expect, in the end, no one will be held accountable. “Stuff happens” is the way of the Obama Administration, at least when it comes to their own people. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to get a lot worse for the EPA.

Nukes Save Lives


A study published recently in Environmental Science and Technology by scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Columbia University Earth Institute adds heft to that argument, indicating just how much human life nuclear power may have saved over the years. To wit, researchers estimate nuclear power has prevented more than 1.8 million deaths due to air pollution between 1971 and 2009.

Given our fears, the findings are counterintuitive. But they’re persuasive. Those lives were spared, researchers say, because nuclear power spared the earth’s atmosphere 64 gigatons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, they argue, an additional 80 to 240 gigatons and up to 7 million deaths could be prevented by around 2050 if we replace some of our fossil fuels with nuclear power over time.

Mother Jones actually misquotes the study, I think. The 1.8 million lives were spared by dint of reduced pollution in the form of particulate matter (soot, sulphur dioxide, etc). That’s fewer heart attacks, lung cancers, etc. because people haven’t been breathing as much shit into their lungs. Nuclear power also saved 64 billion tons in CO2 emissions but there is no way to realistically correlate that to lives saved.

I’m suspicious of studies like this even when they reinforce my beliefs (especially when they do). But their number is, if not in the ballpark, at least on the highway to the ballpark. The number could be a lot less (which they acknowledge). But they would have to be way WAY off for the lives saved by nuclear power to be less than the 5000 they estimate to have been lost to it (from accidents and radiation).

Nuclear power is not perfect. But, of the realistic alternatives we have right now, it is the least harmful to the environment. It should be at the heart of any discussion about the future of energy.

Monday, Uh, Tuesday Morning Optimism

Cracked — which now probably eclipses CNN and MSNBC in reporting accuracy — has a great article up this morning on seven good pieces of news that no one is reporting. I suggest you read the whole thing — they don’t even have space for the plunging crime rates. But there is one piece of news in particular I wanted to focus on: the ozone hole.

Just like our reserve of gaping-hole jokes that don’t involve yo’ mama, the hole in the ozone layer is steadily shrinking every year.

Australian scientists have accounted for the numbers behind the fluctuations, which are apparently all about a natural weather phenomenon called dynamical forcing. Take away the weather-driven ozone swings and you still have a hole in the ozone layer, but one that has shrunk by 15 percent since its peak in the ’90s.
Even better, the hole has shrunk consistently every year, which hopefully means the ozone will be back to its pre-1980 conditions sooner than 2060, as previously predicted. So, good news for the planet. Bad news for all you heartless sunscreen moguls out there.

They also note how fast the Gulf of Mexico is cleaning itself up.

This story has been repeated, in one form or another, over and over and over again over the last forty years. Lake Erie was almost dead; now it’s not. LA used to be wreathed in a thick blanket of smog; now it isn’t. Acid rain was a dreadful problem; now it’s not. It seemed like half our body weight was from lead pollution; lead levels have plunged. Even the satanic gases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse chemicals aren’t so bad. Economic output per unit of CO2 has surged in the US. CO2 levels are holding steady while the economy keeps growing. And population growth? Even Islamic countries are showing falling fertility rates.

All of this has happened while tacking into the gale-force negativism of the environmentalists. None of these trends were supposed to reverse without massive economic sacrifice, long periods of suffering and, of course, incredible government empowerment. But all have improved during the largest economic expansion in human history.

All of this didn’t just happen of course. Sensible pollution controls enforced by the government cleaned up the lakes, banned CFC’s, forced catalytic converters into cars and installed cap-and-trade on sulfur dioxide emissions. But in all these cases, the action was straight-forward regulation, not complex schemes that enriched political operatives while doing little to work the problem. There have been a few negatives — the ban on effective asthma inhalers, for example, or the removal of lead-based solder in favor of solders prone to electrical shorts. But our world has not been turned upside down.

That’s why I remain an optimist on our remaining environmental issues (global fish stocks and AGW, mostly). The situation is never as bad as the environmentalists claim. And the solution is never as destructive as the skeptics claim. We tend to solve our problems rather smartly. IF we’re allowed to do so.