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Tetrachloroethylene: Harder to Clean Up Than It Is to Say

Photo by Simon Law. Some rights reseved.

If you thought your clothes were filthy before you took them to the dry cleaner, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to let you in on a dirty little secret: the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, also known by the slightly pithier moniker perchloroethylene, has been considered by the EPA to be a possible or probable human carcinogen since the mid-1980s. Its toxicity at low levels, mobility in groundwater, and sufficient density for it to sink below the water table have proven it to be somewhat more difficult to clean up after than oil spills. But boy, does it get the stains out.

And the EPA is trying to do something about it: the agency announced this week that it has awarded $69,000 in grant money to the New York State Pollution Prevention Institution at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which will work to promote alternative cleaning methods, including “wet cleaning,” which employs water-based biodegradable detergents. The Institute will advise and provide assistance to two cleaners as they convert to wet cleaning, and will them disseminate information to similar businesses. The grant was facilitated by EPA Region 2’s Pollution Prevention Program, which is hosting the “Unleashing Green Chemistry and Engineering in Service of a Sustainable Future” conference later this month.

And way out west, the EPA has  awarded $313,ooo to the town of Loveland, Colorado in the form of a Brownfields Grant,  intended for the cleanup and restoration of the now-derelict property that was once the home of “Leslie the Cleaner”: an assessment carried out by the City of Loveland in 2009 found soil and groundwater contamination from toxic dry cleaning chemicals. The grant will be provided through the EPA-supported Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund of Colorado, with brownfields referring to industrial facilities defined as abandoned or idle, “where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” The EPA estimates that there are 450,000 or so such sites in the US at this time; Brownfields investments have, since the program’s inception, leveraged more than $16.3 billion in revitalization and redevelopment funds and created 70,000 new jobs, primarily in economically disadvantaged areas. You can learn more about the Brownfields Program here, and read what we’ve had to say about it in Green Mien here and here.

BP Oil Spill Continues to Impact Gulf Residents

Photo by Mark O'Neil. Some rights reserved.

Though much of the world seems to have moved on from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the struggle continues along the Gulf of Mexico. Last week, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) announced its final rules governing payment options and final payment methodology after receiving more than 1,440 comments from individuals and businesses. These comments range from pleas to move forward quickly to a 24-page comment from BP PLC itself, saying that Kenneth Feinberg’s allocation of the $20 billion damages fund has been overly generous.

In a recent press release, the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation announced that qualified workers will have a second opportunity to apply for financial assistance this spring, stating that “up to 9,000 people might qualify for awards ranging from $3,000-30,000.”

There is another mammalian population that seems to be suffering from the fallout of the spill that cannot even apply for restitution. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) announced this week that dead baby dolphins have been washing ashore at ten times the normal rate. Some 26 dolphins, many aborted before they reached maturity, have been found along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines in recent weeks.

Though experts have not officially linked the spike in death rates to the oil spill, this is the first birthing season for dolphins since the oil spill last year. As institute director Moby Solangi told reporters, “this is more than just a coincidence.”

Mortality rates in the Gulf Coast dolphin population tripled last year; with a gestation period of 11 to 12 months, the baby dolphins now being found were conceived at least two months before the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Meanwhile, in light of the continued unrest in Libya (the world’s 17th-largest oil producer) and the surrounding area, key House Republicans are urging the Obama Administration to move forward with the issuing of offshore oil-and-gas drilling permits. BP has announced this week that it will pay $7.2 billion for a stake in India’s rapidly expanding oil industry; the historic partnership with Reliance Industries Limited is slated to combine Reliance’s project management expertise “with BP’s world-class deepwater  exploration and development capabilities.”

Chevron Company Found Guilty in Historic Environmental Lawsuit

Photo by Peter π. Some rights reserved.

On Tuesday, Chevron Corporation was ordered by Ecuadorian courts to pay $9 billion in damages for massive environmental contamination of the Amazon rainforest. The lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Ecuadorian citizens, many of whom are representatives of multiple indigenous groups from northeastern Ecuador. The litigation was originally brought against Texaco Petroleum Company in a Manhattan court some 18 years ago, and was inherited by Chevron when it acquired Texaco in 2001.

Critics like Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network say that Texaco “dumped 18.5 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into streams and rivers, spilled some 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left behind more than 1000 waste pits that continue to leech toxins into surrounding soil and water. The pollution has caused a spike in cancer rates and decimated the cultures of various indigenous groups in the area.”

But Chevron denies these allegations. In the company’s most recent quarterly report, it states that Texaco Petroleum subsidiary Texpet carried out a $40 million remediation program, after which the Ecuadorian government granted “a full release from any and all environmental liability arising from the consortium operations.”  Disclosure of this litigation is qualified with the claim that “Chevron believes that this lawsuit lacks legal or factual merit.”

In a recent press release, Chevron states that much of the evidence provided in this suit “shows an elaborate criminal scheme involving fraud, extortion, collusion, forgery and witness tampering,” and is already taking steps to prevent enforcement of the ruling: the company was granted a temporary restraining order against the plaintiffs, barring them from taking enforcement action. Chevron has also filed a racketeering suit against the plaintiffs’ legal team.

In the history of environmental damage cases, this judgment is second only to the $20 billion BP Gulf spill settlement; it is also the first time a foreign court has held an American corporation accountable for its environmental impact abroad. Chevron will appeal the decision; the Ecuadorian judge who issued the verdict says that Chevron has 15 days to issue a public apology after which the fine will be doubled.


Global Warming Heats Up in California

Photo by Kevin Dooley. Some rights reserved.

California, not unlike the rest of the union, is ramping up for an election that could dramatically influence the politics of the state.  Proposition 23, though perhaps overshadowed by other items on the ballot (like Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana, or the gubernatorial race that will determine who is qualified to succeed the Governator), is more likely to dramatically influence policy on a global level.

The proposition would suspend a global warming law passed in 2008 that requires greenhouse-gas emissions in the Golden State to be reduced by about 25% from current emissions.  That bill, which drew attention from around the world, “was seen to be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s regime and the centerpiece of his legacy,” writes Daniel B. Wood of the Christian Science Monitor.

Prop 23 is backed by Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro, who claim that overturning the law would protect California’s economy during tough financial times.  The League of Conservation Voters, however, has contributed $1.2 million to the campaign to reject the proposition, calling it “the single most important race in the country.”

EPA is King of the Mountain, For Now

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week its recommendations to revoke the permit for a significant mountaintop removal mining project that was to be undertaken in Logan County, West Virginia. The project, proposed by Arch Coal and approved in 2007 under the Bush Administration, is anticipated to be highly disruptive to the surrounding environment.

Photo by The Sierra Club. Some rights reserved.

According to the EPA, the practice of mountaintop mining itself has long been controversial, given that it “involves removing the top of a mountain in order to recover coal seams contained within the mountain.” Direct topographical damage is inflicted with explosives to break up the bedrock of the mountain, with heavy machinery brought in to remove “spoil” (“excess rock, soil, and debris”); it is estimated that this particular project, the Spruce No. 1 Mine, would bury major streams under some 110 million cubic yards of excess spoil, and will disturb at least 2,278 acres.

Arch Coal, however, plans to protest the EPA’s announcement. As quoted in The New York Times, spokeswoman Kim Link called the recommendation “unlawful,” saying that were it to be upheld, “every business in the nation would be put on notice that any lawfully issued permit—Clean Water Act 404 or otherwise—can be revoked at any time according to the whims of the federal government.”

West Virginia Democratic Governor and Senate candidate Jo Manchin responded even more strongly. Last week, he announced that the state of West Virginia was suing the EPA over mining regulation; and a recent campaign ad shows him exercising his Second Amendment rights by shooting cap and trade legislation with a bolt action hunting rifle. This is not surprising, really, from the leadership that last year declared bituminous coal to be West Virginia’s state rock.

The EPA maintains that Arch Coal has not done enough to propose preventative and rehabilitative measures for the wildlife and environment that would be harmed by the Spruce No. 1 mining operation. Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club applaud the Agency for standing up to Big Coal.

The Leaf Blows In

Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. Some rights reserved.

Excitement is rising around the Nissan Leaf, America’s first major commercial electric car.  An article in yesterday’s New York Times states that so far, 20,000 people have reserved a Leaf at their local dealerships; the vehicle will be available as early as December here in Washington, along with Oregon, California, Arizona, and Tennessee.  The limited release is targeted toward regions where the Leaf is expected to make a splash; in major cities in Tennessee, electric cars will be allotted their own parking places, allowed in freeway HOV lanes, and offered free public charging stations for convenient “refueling.”

A Zero Emissions Vehicle, the Leaf is 100% electric.  It’s advertised as being able to drive at up to 90 miles per hour, and travel up to 100 miles per charge, which takes place every time you plug in your charging dock or, in a pinch, hook up to a standard wall outlet.

And the perks don’t end there.  The Tennessee government is offering a $2500 cash rebate for those who purchase the vehicle, in addition to federal tax credits and free home-charging units from the Department of Energy.  So even if you fall outside the demographic that Nissan anticipates will be most enthusiastic about this new technology— “affluent, college-educated consumers in their mid-40s who are both environmentally sensitive and willing to take a chance” —you may find that the price is right.

And it is the price, not the technology, that makes the Leaf break out from the pack.  Tesla’s Roadster, an all-electric car that gets 245 miles per charge and goes from zero to sixty in 3.7 seconds, also boasts a prohibitive price tag of over $100,000.  Nissan’s Leaf, on the other hand, is $32,780—and that’s before the subsidies kick in.

The Huffington Post points out that in fact, the electric car has been around almost as long as the automotive industry itself.  The Anderson Carriage Company of Detroit was making the Detroit Electric back in 1907, which they sold for $2650, almost four times the price of the Model T.  Because these electric cars could start without turning a hand crank, it seems the Detroit Electric was quite popular with the ladies.

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