Thursday, April 26, 2018

National Wildlife Federation, Tulane Issue Recommendations for a More Resilient New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- Today the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Tulane University ByWater Institute released recommendations on how the City of New Orleans can "actively build coastal resiliency across the metro region."
It's no secret that New Orleans has lost an area the size of Rhode Island, over 2,000 square miles in 80 years, due to coastal erosion. With climate change threatening to amp up extreme weather events, there's never been a more critical time to rally forces and buttress the Big Easy. To the extent that that's possible, of course.
The recommendations announced today derive from a planning session held earlier this year when 40 representatives of business and industry, state and local governments, academia, non-profit organizations and community-based groups met to discuss how NOLA can assist in making coastal Louisiana more physically, economically and socially resilient, according to an NWF release.
The report's executive summary states that, "According to the State of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, a future without action could mean a loss of roughly 2,250 square miles of land over the next 50 years."
The recommendations center around: coordinating with regional partners across city departments, communicating the rationale for immediate and sustained action and promoting equitable solutions that enable New Orleans and the region to thrive.
“The reality is that, while many residents may not think of New Orleans this way, our Crescent City is a coastal city,” said David Muth , director of NWF’s Gulf Restoration Program. “Healthy coastal wetlands all around New Orleans provide a critical buffer from storm surge and protection for our communities. Without them, our citizens are at increased risk from the impacts of extreme storms and sea level rise.”
Tulane President Mike Fitts said the report highlights the inextricable link between the future of New Orleans and future of Louisiana’s coast.
“As our home for 184 years, the health and sustainability of New Orleans as a coastal city is a top priority of Tulane University,” he said.
Muth said the recommendations provide steps forward in creating a path of forward-thinking resilience, accounting for coastal adaptation and restoration of wetlands: maintaining affordable insurance options for residents and businesses, supporting New Orleans communities inside and outside the levee system, creating an economic development plan for the water economy and engaging youth in issues related to coastal environments.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu weighed in: “Climate change is a threat that affects us all, and it is a real and present danger to our coastal communities. Here in Louisiana, we face a triple threat: subsidence, coastal erosion and sea level rise. If unchecked, New Orleans, like many coastal cities, will cease to exist. Time is of the essence in combatting this critical existential threat, and our coastal city is on the front line.”
The full report can be found here.
Photos by Laurie Wiegler: New Orleans' Napoleon House restaurant and bar and flying out of the Big Easy after the BP oil spill, Aug. 2010.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Eight years ago, the 87-day BP Gulf oil spill had just begun

This year I am not in the Gulf of Mexico or even in America. I'm in the UK, where BP gas stations are ubiquitous and where people don't seem to fathom the enormity of the great environmental disaster that ravaged Louisiana coastal communities, in particular.
It's been eight years today, April 20, since the tragic moment the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and with it, eleven fine men, rig workers from the region, perished. These men were: Jason Anderson, Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Kemp, Karl Kleppinger, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, and Adam Weise.
Audubon's David Yarnold released the following statement regarding the tragedy:
”Eight years ago 11 people died in the worst environmental tragedy the U.S. has ever seen. Restoration has just begun in earnest, and the passage of time won’t erase BP’s recklessness. In fact, we’re more concerned than ever about the rollback of laws and regulations that are helping to rebuild the Gulf.
Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, BP paid $100 million in fines for causing the deaths of one million birds. But we’re alarmed by efforts in Congress and the Department of the Interior to weaken that law, (which) would give BP or others a free pass for killing birds in future spills.
It’s ridiculous to try and make the case after 100 years that this law can’t coexist with best industry practices when we have a century of proof to the contrary.
Audubon will oppose these bird-killing moves—we will engage our 1.2 million members who represent America’s political spectrum. We will bring 113 years of commitment to bird protection to safeguard one of the most important bird conservation laws in America.”
Yarnold points out that over 87 days, 130 million gallons of oil were "dumped into the Gulf of Mexico killing a million birds and other marine life."
Besides the oil that flooded the Gulf, an equally toxic blight, Corexit, sickened those birds, wildlife, marine life (including endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles and dolphins) and notably, humans. Reports of sick children and families, particularly those who worked on the Vessels of Opportunity (cleanup crews run by BP and the U.S. Government) complained of chest pains, rashes, and more.
At meetings in the Gulf following the spill, images by noted photographers such as Mario Tama of Getty were published that show how this dispersant, banned in the very country that makes it (England), affected the workers. Red rashes all up the arms or legs; extreme weakening; breathing difficulties. These were just some of the physical effects the poor people of the Gulf of Mexico had to "prove" in order to get their compensation, and in many cases, some of them were too spent to fight for their rights.
Deepwater drilling continues. Men and women need to make a living. While stricter safety measures have been put in place by BP, how can that ever be enough? Despite environmentalists' and concerned citizens outcry, this appears to be a risk not only the company but the people of the Gulf appear willing to take. Now.
PHOTO: US Coast Guard, Wikimedia Commons Images.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

EPA Approves Emergency Fuel Waiver for Florida

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday approved a request from Florida Governor Rick Scott for an emergency fuel waiver to ensure enough diesel fuel across the state for ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Irma, EPA announced in a release.
The Agency has waived the highway diesel fuel red dye requirements to allow the use of 15 parts per million sulfur non-road diesel fuel for on-highway vehicles in Florida, effective through October 6, 2017. Diesel fuel distributed under this waiver may not be introduced into terminal storage tanks from which diesel is dispensed into trucks for distribution to retail outlets after that date.
In the U.S., the EPA mandates use of a red dye to identify high-sulfur fuels for off-road use. Detection of red-dyed fuel in the fuel system of cars and other vehicles brings significant penalties.
The waiver authority was exercised under the Clean Air Act and granted by Pruitt, along with the U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
EPA said in its release that they and the Department of Energy "evaluated the situation and determined that granting a short-term waiver was consistent with the public interest."
The EPA and the DOE are "actively" monitoring the fuel supply situation as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
More information: www.epa.gov/enforcement/fuel-waivers.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images

Thursday, August 31, 2017

EPA and Tex. Commission on Environmental Quality Release Statement on Harvey Floodwater Hazards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released the following statement today, in regards to the water quality of flood-impacted areas from Hurricane Harvey:
EPA and TCEQ are aware that releases of wastewater from sanitary sewers occur during major flood events. The agencies actively work to monitor those facilities that have reported spills, as well as conducting outreach and providing technical guidance to all other wastewater facilities in flood-impacted areas.
“Floodwaters may contain many hazards, including bacteria and other disease agents. Precautions should be taken by anyone involved in cleanup activities or any others who may be exposed to flood waters. These precautions include heeding all warnings from local and state authorities regarding boil water notices, swimming advisories, or other safety advisories. In addition to the drowning hazards of wading, swimming, or driving in swift floodwaters, these waters can carry large objects that are not always readily visible that can cause injuries to those in the water. Other potential hazards include downed power lines and possible injuries inflicted by animals displaced by the floodwaters.
“Federal and state mobile command is currently about 200 people, who are working elbow-to-elbow, starting in Corpus Christi and moving east with primary responsibility of the health and safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. As we continue to respond to this natural disaster and its devastating effects on the people of Texas, the biggest threat to public health at this time is ensuring they have access to safe drinking water and ensuring waste water systems are being monitored, tested for safety and managed appropriately.”
U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West, Wikimedia Commons Images.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Harmful algal blooms in Gulf of Mexico heighten environmental concern post BP spill

Harmful algal blooms can suck the oxygen out of the water column and mean certain death for fish, marine animals and birds, and cause toxic effects for people and local economies.
NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services is providing routine HAB forecasts to help members of the public make informed decisions when a bloom is temporarily affecting their area. The forecasts also aid people responsible for responding to bloom impacts, according to NOAA's website.
Gulf of Mexico HAB Forecast - CO-OPS issues forecasts twice a week for the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico after confirmation of a HAB of the red tide species, Karenia brevis, and once weekly during the inactive bloom season. Red tide is the name for algal bloom when it is caused by a few species of dinoflagellates, a kind of aggressive plankton, and the bloom takes on a reddish color.
A bloom of some dinoflagellates can result in a discoloration of the water column (red tide), which can cause shellfish poisoning if humans consume contaminated shellfish. Some dinoflagellates also exhibit bioluminescence—primarily emitting blue-green light.
Currently, areas of the Gulf such as Padre Island in South Texas have experienced red tide, which can affect breathing quality for beach combers and kill marine life in the area.
As seen in this photo, algal blooms can contribute to what is called a dead zone, an area of hypoxia. Some dead zones occur naturally, but more and more this lack of oxygen stems from human causes - chemical runoff, for example, and the contribution to oxygen-depleting algal bloom.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons Images, NOAA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGulf_dead_zone.jpg.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Time to comment on priorities for restoring the Gulf, says RESTORE Council

The BP oil spill that began on April 20, 2010 and lasted 87 days, gushed 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Further tarnishing the ecosystem occurred following generous air drops of the dispersant Corexit around the area of Barataria Bay and in other affected regions, called "zones". Birds, turtles, dolphins, and people were sickened by the horrific spill and the dispersant effects. Coral in the Gulf is still suffering, an additional pummeling besides the blight of climate change.
Now it's time for people in the Gulf, those most affected by this disaster, to voice their pain and share their experiences.
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council has announced the availability of the Draft 2017 Funded Priorities List: Comprehensive Commitment and Planning Support in accordance with the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf States Act (RESTORE Act).
"In the draft CPS FPL, the Council proposes to provide its members with funding to enhance collaboration, coordination, public engagement and use of best available science needed to make efficient use of Gulf restoration funds resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These awards will support the Council’s commitment to a coordinated approach to ecosystem restoration, as called for in the Comprehensive Plan Update 2016: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. The draft CPS FPL is now available for public and Tribal review and comment at www.restorethegulf.gov," they wrote in a press release issued July 13.
To ensure consideration, the Council must receive written comments on the 2017 Draft Funded Priorities List: Comprehensive Commitment and Planning Support by 11:59pm MT August 14, 2017.
Further, the second of two informational webinars will be conducted July 25 (the first was on July 13). You may register for the webinar in advance. Once registered, a link to access the webinar will be sent to the email address you provide: July 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm Central Time [Webinar Registration Link]: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6303399390784342017
Please Note: all questions and comments typed will be considered as a public comment and will be part of the public record. This includes your name, e-mail, and any other information you provide.
Attendees will not have the ability to ask questions orally. When answering these questions, Council staff will not identify the participant asking the question(s). Council staff will provide written responses to all questions as part of the response to public comments.
HOW TO COMMENT: You may submit public comments via the following methods: Electronic Website Submission: www.restorethegulf.gov Email: frcomments@restorethegulf.gov Mail/Commercial Delivery to: Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Attention: Draft FPL Comments Hale Boggs Federal Building 500 Poydras Street, Suite 1117 New Orleans, LA 70130
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Please send questions by email to RestoreCouncil@restorethegulf.gov, or contact Keala J. Hughes at (504) 717-7235.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Images - Washing an oiled gannet, a victim of the BP oil spill, May 1, 2010

Thursday, June 8, 2017

World Oceans Day: The Florida Aquarium Rescues and Releases Rehabilitated Sea Turtles

In honor of World Oceans Day, The Florida Aquarium and its Center for Conservation team released eight rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles on the Canaveral National Seashore in New Smyrna, Florida today.
The endangered sea turtles, who saw their numbers decimated following the 2010 BP oil spill, were rescued and flown from New England in December to The Florida Aquarium. According to a press release issued today, the Aquarium says the turtles were "cold-stunned from a harsh cold-snap weather event that hit the northeast United States."
The eight turtles were part of a group of 12 the Aquarium received and has been rehabilitating, with the remaining four currently continuing to undergo rehabilitation at their facility in Tampa. The Aquarium’s veterinary team expects a full recovery for the remaining sea turtles and is optimistic they will also be ready for release soon, according to the press release.
Cold-stunning happens to sea turtles because they are cold blooded and cannot regulate their body temperature. They quickly become hypothermic and can wash ashore or become stranded at sea during extreme, sudden cold-weather events.
When the sea turtles arrived in Tampa, they underwent treatment for skin and shell wounds, similar to frostbite in humans. Several of the animals were treated with antibiotics to help remedy pneumonia. After five months of care, all eight of these animals were eating well, swimming normally and gaining weight, signaling that the medical care and rehabilitation efforts had been successful and they were ready to return to the Atlantic Ocean.
On World Oceans Day, it's important to remember that these are the fortunate turtles. By 2014, at least 500 dead Kemp's ridley sea turtles were found in the vicinity of the spill sight annually. As of 2017, the exact numbers are hardly known as much of the research is both still being done, and yet to be shared with the public.
Yet, highlighting the positive, Aquarium Associate Veterinarian Dr. Ari Fustukjian, who played a key part in rehabilitating the animals, said: “It’s always a great day when we can get rescued sea turtles back out to the ocean. Rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals is a huge part of The Florida Aquarium’s mission, and is a critical component to protect and restore our oceans. What better day to send them back to the big blue than on World Oceans Day?”
Small photo: A typical New England coastline, West Haven, Conn., Laurie Wiegler; Large photo: a Kemp's ridley sea turtle, rescued by The Florida Aquarium and set free on World Oceans Day. Photo used with permission from TFA.