J500 Media and the Environment


Where’s Nemo? by Victor Vijayakirthi

Not for Assignment.

Last week the US Supreme Court ruled on the Couer vs Southeast Alaska Conservation Council case. What an environmental disaster! The net effect of this ruling is that any company in the country can dump toxic materials in a lake or river as long as the toxic dump can be classified as “fill” or slurry.

Coer Alaska, a gold mining operation, will, over the lifetime of the mine, dump over 4.5 million tons of toxic waste containing concentrations of aluminum, copper, lead, and mercury into the Lower Slate Lake. This will raise the lake bed 50 feet—to what is now the lake’s surface—and will increase the lake’s area from 23 to about 60 acres. The discharge would kill all of the lake’s fish and nearly all of its other aquatic life.

The discharge from the lake would flow about 2 miles through Slate Creek into Berner’s Bay eventually.

This ruling flies in the face of the Clean Water Act which expressly states that its goal is to protect the integrity of the nation’s water so that they can support “the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water.”

The ruling also states that the EPA’s section 402 permit (permit for the discharge of a pollutant) “authorizes Coeur Alaska to discharge water from Lower Slate Lake into the down-stream creek, subject to strict water-quality limits that Coeur Alaska must regularly monitor“. Seriously?

The argument made by the company was that this was the “least environmentally damaging practicable” way to dispose of the tailings. In other words, that’s the price of doing business. I’m not so sure. If the company wants to, it can build sludge recycling systems to properly recycle these hazardous wastes and be true to its corporate social responsibility statements. Or it can just greenwash while focusing on just the bottom line.

The question we must ask ourselves is, where does this stop, and what can we do about it? While I believe that it’s important for each of us to do what we can, in our own backyards, to be environmentally (and socially) responsible, I also believe that we need to ask our elected officials and business leaders to take us seriously and stop abusing the environment. We must ask them to stop putting in every imaginable loophole into environmental laws and regulations. We must ask them to walk the talk.

More importantly, we must do the same. And we must act before every lake and river becomes a toxic dumping ground.

I believe in environmental conservation and preservation. I believe in advocacy. And I believe that if we try, we can still find Nemo.

Victor V

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Not a Drop to Drink by matthewtb

Access to fresh water is one of the most vital needs we have as humans. More than 70% of the world’s surface is covered by water. Given that 98% of this is oceanic salt water, we have little remaining for our consumption.

Since the industrial revolution, water has been used for everything from powering machinery to carrying away the waste byproducts of manufacturing. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that groups, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), set more stringent regulations for industrial runoff.

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In the past thirty years, raising livestock has become a huge industry. As our fresh water sources become polluted from animal waste, policies are being created to combat the dilemma. The EPA established the Clean Water Act, in 1972, as a way to help regulate the rise of chemicals found in out water systems.

Kansas has a large beef industry in the southwest part of the state. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) require these farms to use proper waste management. The department says, “Any facility with an animal unit capacity of 1,000 or more must obtain a Livestock Waste Management Permit.” Any smaller facility in question is also subject to register with the KDHE.

These livestock facilities, also referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), must abide by the regulations, to stay in business. But the regulations don’t always take into account what happens in the event of a waste lagoon’s structural failure, or excessive flooding that causes waste runoff.

The pollution doesn’t stop with animal production. The herbicides and pesticides being used on crops are also contaminating our fresh water supply. According to A Tale of Two Tomatoes by Section Z, “Most Americans have traces of half a dozen pesticides in their urine.” As plants and insects become resistant to these chemicals, farmers have to dump ever larger amounts to fight them off.

We have a finite source of drinkable water on this planet. The fresh glacier water is melting and the underground aquifers are drying up. The only water that will remain is the acid rain from the sky and the chemicals in the rivers and lakes. Hopefully our better judgment will prevent us from ever reaching this point.

-Matt Bristow

photo courtesy of: worldmapper.org