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Posts Tagged ‘EPA

News: There’s plastic in lots of ocean waters…but there’s less of it than expected…and impact on fish and birds is hard to gauge

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NOAA photo of marine debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

This image from NOAA is too often used to mischaracterize what marine debris looks like in the open ocean. Not a shot of the open waters of the Pacific, this is instead a shot of Hanauma Bay, Hawaii, where materials from land have been concentrated by winds and currents to form what is admittedly an awful mess. We need to shape our communications to lead the reader to think “how cen we keep this mess from leaving the land and ending up n the water?” rather that “gee, that’s interesting…I had no idea there was that much junk in the Pacific” if we’re going to tackle the marine debris problem.

Today Associated Press released an article today that begins “Plastic junk is floating widely on the world’s oceans, but there’s less of it than expected, a study says.” But the headline is far less balanced:“Study: Plastic debris widespread on ocean surface”

The fact that plastic materials can be found in lots of places is sadly the emphasis of many of the articles on marine debris, and the stranger and more remote the place, seemingly the better.

An important line indicating what we need to support is buried at the very end of the article:

“The impact on fish and birds is hard to gauge because scientists don’t understand things like how much plastic animals encounter and how they might be harmed if they swallow it”

Research on the impacts of plastic materials, which are varied in size and chemical composition, lags far behind the work on simple detection. We know, and for some time have known, that plastics, large and small, are found in many, many parts of the world’s oceans. What we need to spend time on (and time means money) is the impact of what we’re finding. Without a better understanding of the impacts a maximized plan to attack the most harmful sources first and with greatest effort is more or less guesswork. And so far we’re not doing well focusing on those things that we do know are harming marine life. There’s not a complete absence of research – for example the Italians are doing some interesting work on impacts to whales in the Med from ingested plastic – but this field is research in still in its infancy.

When it’s easier to get funding and political support to go on a cruise to tow a plankton net that to tackle marine debris that we know harms wildlife (derelict nets and certain tire reefs, for example), or to get robust funding for the research to tackle the impacts we poorly understand, there’s a good chance that we’re not tackling this rationally.

Similarly, when the media focus remains on distant blue waters, which make for interesting photos and stories I agree, and less on the less charismatic solid waste disposal problems on land (proper disposal and handling of wastes, stormwater management, etc.) we’re inclined to look for solutions from NOAA, who has little authority or ability to stop the plastic from entering the oceans. We should look to the U.S. EPA which regulates solid waste, or the multitudes of states and localities who set policies and manage local waste disposal, recycling and stormwater which might be able to actually reduce the flows of plastic into rivers, lakes and oceans, rather than looking solely to NOAA which the U.S. Congress has given neither the funding nor the legal tools to tackle the problem in proportion to its scale.

It is time to move on from “hey look, I found plastic in a far off place!” to “why in the world don’t we have robust recycling programs in all populated parts of the U.S.?” and other issues that surround tacking the problem of waste across the board.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
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bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com
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Written by Will Nuckols

June 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

EPA’s budget winners and losers identified by Administrator Lisa Jackson

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At today’s press conference Lisa Jackson, EPA’s top official, provided a snapshot of some of the cuts and the budget increases within EPA’s proposed FY2012 budget, released by the White House this morning.

Lisa Jackson, EPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson lead today's press teleconference on the release of the President's budget request for EPA programs in FY2012.

With an overall proposed cut of $1.4 billion from the EPA budget for FY2012, to no one’s surprise there are programs taking fairly big hits. With reductions in aid to severely cash strapped states ($950M reduction in the state revolving fund, which is slightly offset by an increase of $85M in State and Tribal assistance) the rippling effect is likely quite significant. How groups like the National Governor’s Association and the National Association of Counties (known by many as NACO) will react to the pass through of EPA funds being severely curtailed will be an early indication of the pushback to the dysfunction in government at all levels that could result from significant cuts during a time of a slow economy.

Also on the losers list are the Great Lakes, with a $125M cut to a program that was heralded as a successful federal-state partnership. But if you like your water a bit saltier and you live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed things are a little less gloomy – the EPA plans to keep up the pressure on the states VA, MD, PA and the District of Columbia to enact long overdue changes and finally clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  EPA will even back this up with an actual increase in federal funding with $17.4M of new funding flowing to the Chesapeake Bay in 2012.

The Administration’s budget sets out to protect other Administration priorities, such as control of greenhouse gas emissions from major sources.  The President is asking for “moderate increases” in programs that move forward the implementation of EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rules that were issued in January.

Other environmental programs have no hidden upside.  Funding for the EPA Superfund program is cut, with a realization that cleanup at these environmental disaster hotspots will occur “at a slower rate” that historic funding levels have allowed.  For those that have lived alongside these toxic disaster areas, many of which have been very slow to be cleaned up, slower than slow is hard to wrap your head around.

The press conference ended with a series of questions centering around the implication to EPA if the Republican Continuing Resolution bill for the remainder of 2011 is enacted (the federal government is currently only funded through early March). No direct responses were given but it was clear that EPA will work to oppose funding proposals which will undermine their ability to protect the American people. The next two weeks on Capital Hill will be the battleground on where FY2011 spending is fought, and the outcome of that battle may prove to be a more heated battle than the FY2012 budget proposal by the President because of the pending shutdown of the government in just a few weeks.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

 

Written by Will Nuckols

February 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Can’t we make improvements on electronics recycling AND also make a dent in the problem of plastics?

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Earlier this week on November 15, 2010 President Obama signed a proclamation for AMERICA RECYCLES DAY 2010.  While the proclamation contains nods to recycling in a general sense by referencing “participating in curbside recycling and community composting programs, and expanding their use of recyclable and recycled materials,” the focus is on recycling of electronics and reducing electronic waste.  As an environmentalist I applaud the President’s call to address electronic waste, as many of the compounds in consumer and industrial devices contain numerous hazardous materials, and the recapture of those materials as we recycle will return valuable materials to the manufacturing stream, saving precious natural resources and energy along the way.

plastics pollute the Anacostia River in Washington DC

Improperly disposed of plastics pollute the Anacostia River in our nation's capital, Washington D.C. Recycling in the U.S. still has a long way to go.

But I remain saddened to see that we continue to lack national standards for the recycling of consumer products, particularly consumer plastics. While I am in a general sense an environmentalist, I am in particular an advocate for the protection of our oceans and coasts, which means I am an advocate for the proper reuse of plastics as recyclables, as their improper disposal is having a large impact on our rivers, coasts and oceans. 

While I understand that in this political climate mandatory national recycling standards are not viable, the establishment and promotion of national standards as voluntary guidelines for recycling does seems plausible, or at a minimum, logical.  

Would industry push back against such voluntary recycling standards?  Unlikely, as in several manufacturing sectors the problem is a lack of a volume of recycled materials.  Do you live in a community that only accepts certain types of plastics, leaving you to look at the bottom of each container and determine whether to put into the trash or the recycling bin?  Those items you are tossing in the trashcan because they don’t have the right recycling number on them aren’t actually unusable material – they too could be recycled – there just isn’t enough volume of these materials for plastic recyclers to build a viable processes to recapture and resell those plastics.  There remains a lack of supply so no market has formed. People aren’t creating a supply because there isn’t a market in most locations. Government could step in and break this cycle.

So how about it? A coordinated effort to call for a national set of standards which could be voluntarily adopted by counties and municipalities? We could end up with cleaner communities, less materials making their way to the ocean through careless handling and disposal of plastics, and we might just cut down on the consumption of raw product and energy in the process.

Let’s not trade off headway in electronics recycling at the cost of much needed headway on the control and recycling of plastics. We’re a bright, industrious nation. We should be able to do both.

And if you are feeling a bit skeptical about the validity of the possibility of having voluntary national standards, it’s noteworthy that just yesterday EPA released new Draft Voluntary Guidelines for Selecting Safe School Locations. So it’s clear that voluntary national standards are possible. The question that remains is will we do them for plastics recycling.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

November 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Navy hosts a great environmental forum, and enviro NGOs tag along to absorb the current enviro policy in today’s Navy

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On Wednesday March 31st the Navy hosted an environmental forum in Alexandria, VA, bringing together Navy environment and installations leadership from the DC area and around the U.S. to share information about current Navy environmental practices and policies – and in a welcome move toward the open government and transparency goals of the Obama Administration, they invited the NGO environmental community to be a part of the meeting.

Our military continues to be ahead of much of the nation on environmental policy. They know that climate change is happening, and they are already working to simultaneously mitigate emissions, reduce energy consumption, tightly control the release of any toxic materials, and find ways to adapt to the changing planet.

One aspect of the data presented could have been better: When the topic of climate change and rising seas arose some of the invited NGOs made presentations at the meeting using the same poor map products that show sea levels rising and whole communities, even large parts of states, inundated by seawater.  As with so many presentations designed to move people to action on climate change, maps were shown indicating that in the future huge portions of Florida, and other areas, were awash with rising seas.  The problem is that these are simple tricks of mapping, where one moves the water elevation from the current waters edge to a point higher on an elevation map.   What those maps don’t show is any reasonable prediction of the future given that people aren’t going to just throw up their hands and let the water come in anywhere it can.  We don’t act that way now and there is no evidence to say that we will uniformly change our behavior in the future.

What these groups are failing  use are a series of government-funded maps developed over several years that looked at the east coast of the United States. EPA worked with states and county planners and made educated professional estimates of where will communities work to hold back the sea, where will they likely abandon coastal lands, and which lands currently look like  a toss-up.

EPA spent years and an estimated two million dollars to develop maps of the east coast of the U.S. which show exactly what military installations managers and environmentalists need to know: what will the east coast of the U.S. look like when existing policies, practices and sea level rise come together at the shoreline.

So why aren’t people aware of the EPA study and the maps that contain the likely look of the U.S. east coast shoreline after seas continue to rise?  And why aren’t there maps of the Gulf of Mexico, the California-Washington State coastline, Alaska, Hawaii or the territories showing the same information for those communities? I’ll put for the likely answer to those questions in a subsequent posting, or at least provide a few facts and let you draw your own conclusions.

For now, kudos to the Navy for a great open and informative meeting on their plans to protected the environment and adapt to the changing climate that they readily admit is already underway.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

April 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

At today’s Senate EPW hearing on the EPA budget, Inhofe goes off of the deep end.

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I would like to say something more eloquent than this about Senator Inhofe’s opening remarks at the EPA budget hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but at this moment of shock I am only left with the following:

Is he nuts, or does he just have his head in the sand?  Denying that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real won’t stop it. Finding flaws in some of the climate change studies won’t refute the rest of the overwhelming evidence.  And this generation’s greedy use of climate emitting gases that steals the hope for a healthy planet from future generations is nothing but irresponsible.

And don’t get me started on how Senators citing snow on the ground in DC is not evidence that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real.  Are these elected officials really that simple, or more realistically are they just hoping that the public is that easily misinformed?

Written by Will Nuckols

February 23, 2010 at 9:38 am