Guest Blogger: The Adirondacks and Acid Rain: Still a Problem

We sometimes forget that the mountains to our North are in constant danger from an invading enemy. This enemy has slowly but surely destroyed complex ecosystems in the Adirondack lakes, and has severely decreased the vegetation on mountain tops. And while public attention in the Northeast was focused on this issue in the 1970s and 1980s, it is sad to think that the attention has slowly subsided. The enemy which strikes silently, but indeed does kill is acid rain. Acid rain is a mixture of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide which mixes with the natural water molecules in the air. When normal rain falls, there is usually enough of a natural barrier where any acidity in the rain can be neutralized. However, in the most recent decades in the Adirondacks, “Precipitation [has been] more than 200 times more acidic than natural rain” (Student Case Studies 1). Naturally forming bases that counter the acidity simply can’t keep up with the amount of acid rain that is falling.

Acid rain does not just form naturally in high doses on a common basis, so it must come from somewhere. The nitrogen and sulfur dioxide is air pollution spewed out by factories and other industrial sites in the mid-west. This air pollution is carried on the natural wind belts, where it is dumped in the form of precipitation over the Adirondacks. This is the part of the acid rain debate that becomes complex. While it is easy to assume that less air pollution will mean less acid rain, that means industrial centers in places such as Illinois and Ohio will take an economic hit because regulations on production will cause those companies to lose money. And in this modern age of capitalism, we know how important money and profit is to everyone, so wouldn’t it be a shame if some of those companies lost some profit? It is an even bigger shame to
lose a natural wonder like the Adirondack Mountains, which at one point in the history of the earth, were taller than the Himalayan Mountains are now.

A solution to this problem is not easy to find. If all pollutants are cut substantially, people in the mid-west will be angry that their businesses and livelihoods are being threatened. This in turn gets the political side of the debate involved. Representatives from that part of America begin to attack representatives from the Northeast who are also hearing complaints from their constituents who want tighter rules to protect natural sites. It is interesting to learn that, “Utility companies that burn coal and produce the most acid rain also produce the cheapest electricity in the country” (Adirondack Council 23). So cheap and profitable electricity is fighting against lakes, trees, and dozens of different types of wildlife. Seems like a one sided fight, especially since the electricity is being backed by big businesses.
In 1992 in light of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA created an acid rain control program, “Designed to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by 50 percent nationwide” (Adirondack Council 23). Experts on the subject still argue that this is still not low enough, and this does not solve the problems with nitrogen based air pollution, which still causes acid rain. According to a report created by the Adirondack Council, there are only a few solutions which are plausible in the political world of the present. One is to give the EPA more authority in making cuts as it sees fit. The EPA argues that it does not have the authority to make any more cuts by itself. A drastic measure which would surely help the acid rain problem, but would most likely anger people in the mid-west would be to, “Reduce the cap another 50 percent. This would bring the total reduction in pollution down to 75 percent below 1990s levels” (Adirondack Council 23). Of course all attempted solutions will now come with a political debate, as well as scrutiny from all angles of observation.
I have come to believe that many people think the problem of acid rain has dissipated since the 1980s when it was a major public concern. This essay has proven that there are many problems still unsolved in the issue of acid rain. Poisonous rain still falls, so not enough has been done yet. As a profound believer in the protection of our national parks, and with the Adirondack Park being one of the biggest, acid rain destruction must be stopped.
Matthew Barron is a History and Political Science Double Major at Rider University, and is an avid hiker, camper, and enthusiast of the Adirondack Park.
Bibliography Adirondack Council, 1998. Acid Rain: A Continuing National Tragedy.
Student Case Studies, Environmental Geology, 1997. Acid Rain in the Adirondacks. Colgate University.

Hurricane Irene Outliers

Lawrence Solomon discusses a new article in Nature regarding a link between solar hot spots and climate change.

Editors at the WSJ argue for President Obama to delay new EPA rules on air pollution.

Paul Krugman employs a subtle attack at the relatively uniform position of many of the GOP’s presidential candidates, except Huntsman, on climate change.

Are the spoils of war detrimental to the environment?

How good, or bad, were the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) predictions of Hurricane Irene?

Toby Harnden felt the lead up to Hurricane Irene was too hyped.

Environmental Action Day

A student of mine just sent me a link to Environmental Action Day set for Monday June 20, 2011 beginning at 9am in Trenton, NJ. The event has been coordinated by a coalition of environmental advocacy groups in the state including Environment New Jersey, NJ Sierra Club, NJ Highlands Coalition and other concerned organizations. The agenda for the event includes focusing on the following issues:

  • Protecting the Delaware River from Gas Drilling (Fracking)
  • Defending existing climate change legislation (RGGI and the NJ Global Warming Response Act)
  • Protecting clean energy funds
  • Defeating Gov. Chris Christie’s environmental loophole rule (waiver rule)
  • Opposing Assembly member Burzichelli’s Bill to weaken environmental standards.

If you can’t make the lobbying in the morning, there will also be a rally at noon on the steps of the state capital building. If you’re in Trenton tomorrow, try to make it out and support the cause!

For more information or to register for the event, contact Doug O’Malley at 609/ 392-5151, ex. 311 — domalley@environmentnewjersey.org
Matt Elliott at (609) 392-5151, ex. 310 – melliott@environmentnewjersey.org

Environmental Action Day

Sponsored By
Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, CWA Local 1036, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environment New Jersey, Food & Water Watch, New Jersey Audubon Society, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Environmental Federation, New Jersey Environmental Lobby, NJ Highlands Coalition, NJ Sierra Club, NY / NJ Baykeeper, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Teamsters Local 877, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Work Environment Council

Monday, June 20th
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Committee Room 16, 4th Fl., State House Annex
12 p.m. Rally on the State House Steps

Guest Blogger: It isn’t easy being green…

And it certainly hasn’t generated any green to date.   We keep hearing about investments in green technology and all of the “green jobs” that will be created, but I don’t see any progress on either front, especially here in Pennsylvania.  What I do see is the Pennsylvania legislature hiding behind the issue of the environment as they raise corporate and energy taxes.   Our esteemed leaders in Harrisburg seem to be ignoring the lessons to be learned by New Jersey’s eight year experiment in passing the costs of government fiscal irresponsibility on to private businesses and corporations:  their cash cows are moving out of state in search of greener pastures.
Suspicious of state Representative Steven Santasiero’s call for a new severance tax on the natural gas already being drilled on state land, I did a little research.   The severance tax is linked to the legislator’s opposition to a proposal to expand the amount of state land to be offered for lease for gas drilling in 2011.[1] Obviously, the state earns revenue from the leasing of their land and expanding the program would generate additional revenues.  Taking the expansion off the table would leave an even wider gap in an already unbalanced budget, and my esteemed representative proposes to fill that gap with an additional tax on gas drilling.
So how much does the commonwealth currently earn on land leases for gas and oil drilling? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) website, the commonwealth receives at least $2,000 per acre plus an 18% royalty on the resources harvested there.[2] Now Mr. Santasiero’s wants to tax these corporations – Gulf/Chevron, Cabot Oil & Gas, Texaco, Inc., Berea Oil  Gas, Amoco Production Company, Delta Drilling Company, Consolidated Gas Supply – even more on top of the lease amount and the royalties they already pay.  How many times can you go to the same source for more money?
Eventually it won’t make sense for these employers of a large number of Pennsylvanians to do business with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  At that point we will no longer receive lease payments, royalties, or the additional tax proposed by Mr. Santasiero, creating an even wider gap in the fiscal budget and putting more Pennsylvanian’s out of work.
Just three years ago under the State Forest Resource Management Plan 2007 Update, the DCNR recommend a lifting of the “ban” on shallow gas- leasing, along with a revised oil and gas lease.[3] Now Mr. Santasiero wants to stop that plan dead in its tracks by introducing the additional burden of a severance tax on all current and future successful gas drilling.
If you haven’t noticed, Mr. Santasiero, we have enough problems to solve without creating additional barriers to business in the Commonwealth.  You would better serve your constituents by focusing on the development of long term solutions to our fiscal and energy issues – even creating green technology and green jobs if that’s a viable way out – without sacrificing successful programs already in place.
With a burgeoning shortfall and upcoming national and state elections in November 2010, our political hopefuls will say and do just about anything to get elected.  They’ll continue linking the economy with environment in their campaign messages – and a real solution may actually exist in that linking – but don’t be fooled by their vague references to green technology, green jobs, punishing polluters, etc.  They’re going to make decisions about our forests, our natural resources, our economy, our jobs – they have to be able to balance it all or they shouldn’t get the job! 

In addition to being a recent graduate of political science at Rider University, Lisa Hibbs serves as a volunteer for the Bucks County Republican Committee.

[1] Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus Representative Steven J. Santasiero, “Santasiero Urges Governor to Call Off Additional Land Lease for Gas Drilling,” Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus, http://www.pahouse.com/PR/031020410.asp (accessed March 1, 2010). [2] Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bid Notification, “Notice to Bidders: Oil and Gas Lease Sale,” Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/Forestry/gaslease.aspx (accessed March 1, 2010). [3] Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry, “State Forest Resource Management Plan (SFRMP) 2007 Update Executive Summary,” Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/Forestry/gaslease.aspx (accessed March 1, 2010).

Guest Blogger: Dredging the Delaware detrimental to local environment – and economy

There is no question that the Delaware River is not the busy shipping channel it once was, but is an extensive dredging project with a 9-figure price tag really the best way to revitalize it? Punctuated by the closing of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1995, the Delaware has experienced a decades-long decline in traffic. For almost 20 years, the battle over dredging the river has raged on.
Following a ruling by a federal judge last month, the Army Corps of Engineers was ready last week to begin the project. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and several environmental groups have expressed concerns over the environmental and economic impact of the dredging. Work has been delayed while the appeals court hears a case from five environmental groups seeking to block the project, and this court should strongly consider overturning the ruling made in January.
The environmental impact of this project is unquestionable. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to dispose of the dredged-up soil in South Jersey, but the last time these sediments were tested for quality was over a decade ago. Without up-to-date data, the Army Corps should be finding it difficult to provide a reasonable estimate of the effects the dredging project would have on the ecology of South Jersey. Instead, they propose to more forward as is, already seeking approval for remaining sections of the river. As Christie noted, “It is irresponsible for the Army Corps to push this dredging project forward.” The Army Corps of Engineers and local governments should be taking time to more carefully assess the environmental impact this project will have on the Delaware River Valley.
The emphasis on this renewed push to begin the dredging has much to do with the current economy – proponents assert that deepening the river will attract larger shipping companies, whose ships have deeper drafts, thus bringing much-needed jobs to the region. I do not disagree with this point. However, it seems like the costs and benefits have not been properly analyzed. The project is currently expected to cost about 300 million dollars. With the number of organizations, governments and interests involved, it is likely that this figure will become larger as the project wears on. The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are virtually drowning under their budget woes, freezing spending in some areas and issuing large budget cuts in others. The federal government will be unlikely to provide much aid, with the national debt growing exponentially and the current administration fixated on healthcare reform. It is unreasonable to say the potential economic gains will outweigh the great monetary cost of this project at this time.
In the long run, deepening the Delaware River will likely attract more companies, and jobs to the region. Similar projects have been undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers in other shipping lanes around the country, including North Jersey / New York a few years ago. However, as Governor Christie noted, it seems as though this particular project is not being treated with the same environmental caution as in New York. Done properly, dredging the Delaware can certainly bring economic benefits to the region without harming the environment. Proper caution cannot be exercised without recent, reliable data, one thing that seems to be missing from the planning of this project. I am not saying that environmental and marine science groups need to spend another decade analyzing sediment samples, migratory fish patterns, etc. But this project should not proceed until there is a clear picture of what harm will come to local environments and what economic benefits will come to the region. Old data are unreliable for forecasting environmental impact. Creation of jobs is far from guaranteed. The facilities for naval transport in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Camden have all deteriorated after years of sitting vacant or being underused. Large companies like Hanjin and Maersk will not want to spend the funds needed to rehabilitate docking facilities.
The Army Corps of Engineers and local planning councils have a good idea in dredging the Delaware, but hasty initiation and haphazard planning will undoubtedly lead to a project that does not achieve the goals it was designed for, while harming the local environment in the process. Proponents of deepening the channel should continue to assert the economic benefits of the plan, while coming up with a better way of disposing of the waste.

 

James Onofrio is a senior at Council Rock High School North who does not approve of the current plan to deepen the Delaware River

Guest Blogger: Taking Action Against the Nation’s Dependency on Landfills By:

In a society that is defined by its constant innovations, a single second wasted is one more second that could have been spent on progress. The strain of such a fast paced culture has taken a toll on the mindsets of the population. Specifically, one of these mindsets relates to the necessity of convenience in our everyday lives. Yet, these seemingly small conveniences, in the form of plastic bags at the local grocery store or paper cups and cardboard cup holders at Starbucks, pose large inconveniences to the environment by excess accumulation in our nation’s landfills. Landfills have become a pressing issue, and I firmly believe that reluctance to change one’s lifestyle is the main concern to address in order to remediate the situation
The problem with landfills is that they require vast amounts of land. Finding new sites that are not in the backyards of citizen’s homes and don’t require deforestation is an arduous task. An increase in the amount of trash produced only intensifies demand of having to find new sites to construct landfills. Estimates show that a 120 foot deep by 44 square mile landfill will be needed to house America’s garbage production for the next thousand years. For a better idea of the size of this, the landfill would need to be the size of roughly three Oklahoma cities. We should keep in mind, however, that the rate of waste production is increasing and therefore, the size of the landfill needed will directly correlate. In addition, a landfill can receive as much as 2000 tons of garbage per day and the average production of waste per person is approximately 4.5 pounds per day (Landfills 2010). Another problem with landfills is that leaking can occur and chemicals find their way into our surface water, causing human health defects as well as taking a toll on our aquatic ecosystems.
I have already established why landfills are a problem for our nation; however making people aware of the issue is only half the battle. Trying to convince people to live a more sustainable lifestyle in order to prevent the harmful effects of excess waste production and landfills has proven to have little success due to the fact that people are set in their ways and unwilling to give up conveniences that make life easier. Just a few weeks ago I was eating lunch in my school dining hall with some friends when I noticed one of my friends was drinking from a paper cup when there were plenty of reusable cups readily available for his use. When I inquired as to why he was using a paper cup, he responded with the fact that he didn’t like to use cups that everyone else in the school has used before him. This same friend also insisted on bringing his own salad dressing in a plastic container everyday to the dining hall simply because he didn’t like the ones that were already provided. Similarly, people insist on producing more trash to put into our landfills simply because it provides a convenience for themselves.
There are many opposed to this concept of reducing waste production. One argument, in response to a ban on plastic bags, is based in economic reasoning and can be applied to things other than plastic bags. The concern is that if the nation becomes more sustainable, there may be a loss of many jobs for those that work in industries producing disposable plastic and paper products. Another reason is that you cannot take away a citizen’s rights to use a particular item (Debate 2010).
These points are good counter-arguments to reducing waste and are certainly valid; however, it is necessary to find a common ground so that we can maintain environmental and economic stability simultaneously. Incentives can be established that include a reduced price on things such as coffee or groceries if the customer uses reusable coffee mugs or tote bags and tax cuts if a person’s garbage is under a certain weight. It is also true that a decrease in demand for plastic and paper products may result in a decrease in jobs, but the loss in jobs could be replaced by “greener” jobs such as producing reusable materials or turning what may seem like garbage into something useful. We cannot force people to change their habits or use particular products, but by providing education on the issue as well as incentives may make reducing waste a more tempting option for individuals to choose using their own free will. Nina Joffe is a sophomore environmental science student at Rider University and is currently partaking in undergraduate research to investigate salamander and algae symbionts that reside on Rider campus.
Nina Joffe is a student at Rider University.

 

Bibliography
Debate: Should Plastic Bags Be Banned?
http://debatewise.org/‌debates/‌1011-should-plastic-bags-be-banned(accessed February 28, 2010).
Landfills. http://www.iun.edu/‌~environw/‌landfills.html (accessed February 28, 2010).

Guest Blogger: Is lawn maintenance really needed?

The American dream is to own a house with a large lawn that looks like that it came out of a picture in a magazine. We water the lawn religiously, so the grass will look bright and lush green and we use fertilizers to accomplish this bright green dream. Is all of this work and money being spent on the lawn really worth it?
Homeowners spend around $25 billion on lawn care services and $5.25 billion spend on fossil-fuel-derived fertilizer for their lawns according to Purdue University. Like most of us, we think that the more is better. In this situation this is not the case. Most homeowners do not even know how much of the chemicals they should be putting down on their lawns. For example, more than 50 percent of nitrogen from fertilizer leaches from lawns into groundwater as a result of over application. I would have to say that most homeowners do not even known why or what they are even putting on their lawns.
Here are some of the many reasons for not applying these chemicals in the first place. The two main ingredients of fertilizer are phosphorus and nitrogen and both of these applied in a high concentration can have a negative effects. The run-off of phosphorus and nitrogen can get into the groundwater and can also cause an enormous amount of damage to streams and rivers. Phosphorus can create algae bloom in lakes. This algae depletes the oxygen for which fish and other aquatic species depend on for their exststance. Nitrogen can easily break down and contaminate groundwater supplies. Nitrogen affects more parts of the planet’s life-support systems than almost any other element, according James Galloway of the University of Virginia.
Water, which is a precious source, is wasted on lawns. How many of us have seen sprinklers turned on during a rain storm? During the summer lawns die back and turn brown. This is a natural occurrence of nature. In the United States we use roughly around 270 billion gallons of water a week for lawns. That’s a billion with a “B”. Dr. Patricia Mosto of Rider University stated that we will run out of water by 2030. This is only 20 years away. Think about it, why waste water on a lawn that is just going through its natural cycle?
There are a few things that we can do so that we are not so wasteful and be kinder to the environment. First, people who do have lawns should have their soil tested, so if they do want to put down fertilizers on their lawns they will know how much and of what kind. Second, if you do have to water your lawn, there is an inexpensive gadget that will turn off the sprinkler when it starts to rain. Both methods will save you money and help the environment.
I like lawns just as anybody else does, but I just cannot see the waste, the time and the money being spent. Just go along with nature and enjoy what nature provided.
A second year student at Rider University. Glenn Hermely is going for his Sociology Degree with a minor in political science.