Dec. 30, 2010 by Yee Huang

An Environmentally Disastrous Year

a(broad) perspective

In 2010, natural (and unnatural) environmental disasters around the world killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions more, and caused significant air and water pollution as well as human health catastrophes. Insurance giant Swiss Re estimated that these disasters caused an estimated $222 billion in losses. Disasters are overwhelming to begin with, but for countries with limited infrastructure and capacity to respond, these disasters also show that the human rights consequences of an environmental disaster can be severe. Despite the different countries in which these disasters originated, they illustrate a common need for better disaster response and enforcement of laws and regulations to protect the environment.

  • Pakistani Floods. In July, unprecedented monsoon rains led to severe flooding, at one point leaving one-fifth of the country underwater and affecting an estimated 20 million people in the Indus River basin. The floods overwhelmed the country’s infrastructure and led to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, claiming an estimated nearly 2000 lives, including some of the most vulnerable victims, children.
  • Russian Wildfires. In August, more than 800 wildfires ignited the Russian countryside, amidst the worst heat wave in 130 years. The fires and smoke led to severe air pollution, elevating …

Dec. 29, 2010 by Yee Huang

Today EPA released the final Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is a cap or limit on the total amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that can enter the Bay from the District of Columbia and the six Bay Watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Bay TMDL culminates years of cooperation between EPA and these Bay jurisdictions in working toward a new plan to restore the Bay, a vital economic, recreational, and aesthetic resource for this region. This TMDL is the largest and most complex of all such pollutant limits to date, and truly marks the beginning of a new era for Chesapeake Bay restoration. We've seen many plans on paper over the years for Chesapeake restoration, but this one is a much bigger step with a stronger outlook.

Part of today’s release includes EPA’s evaluation …

Dec. 28, 2010 by Yee Huang

Tomorrow, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue its final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay, setting a pollution cap for the Bay that is comprised of 92 individual caps for each of the tributary segments that flow into the Bay.  The Bay TMDL represents another important milestone in the long-running effort to clean up the Bay, the largest estuary in North America, and return it to health.  Part of EPA’s release will include its response to the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) submitted to EPA this fall by the six watershed states and the District of Columbia, which all contribute to nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Bay.  The WIPs set forth the states’ planning to date to implement the pollution-control efforts that the TMDL will demand.

Since the states submitted their plans, a panel of CPR Member Scholars has been evaluating them …

Dec. 28, 2010 by Yee Huang

The 111th Congress saw two attempts to provide legislative impetus to restore the Chesapeake Bay.  Now that the lame duck session has ended, the results are in:

  • The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Protection Act, S. 1816.  Introduced in October 2009 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would have reiterated EPA’s authority to establish a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  This TMDL, which EPA is promulgating on schedule as required by consent decrees and an Executive Order by President Obama, establishes a pollutant diet by looking holistically at all the sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the entire Bay watershed.  In July 2010, as a result of a compromise with Republican Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with significant changes—namely, establishing as the overarching goal the achievement of water quality standards, as …

Dec. 3, 2010 by Yee Huang

Maryland submitted its final Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan for Chesapeake Bay restoration this afternoon.

It's the strongest blueprint of any of the states, and if implemented and funded sufficiently would allow Maryland to achieve its needed share of pollutant reductions. Maryland has pledged to implement, by 2017, the pollutant controls necessary to achieve 70% of its needed reductions, and to an accelerated timeline by implementing all necessary pollutant controls by 2020.

The plan has the most promise of any of the state plans of meeting its targets because it identifies specific strategies for reducing pollution, provides detailed cost estimates for implementing the plan, and provides strategies for pursuing the necessary funding. Now that Maryland has identified how much funding is needed for its pollution reduction strategies, the challenge will be acquiring that funding and maintaining the political will to implement the plan.

Maryland's plan …

Dec. 2, 2010 by Yee Huang

a(broad) perspective

In 1974, atmospheric scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing the alarming depletion of the protective ozone layer that shields all life on Earth from the harmful ultra-violet radiation from the sun. These CFCs were present as propellants in aerosol cans and also used as refrigerants. The global scientific consensus and the severity of ozone depletion motivated the international community to establish the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol), one of the most successful international environmental treaties to date. The Protocol established specific targets for the reduction and eventual elimination of ozone-depleting substances. The Protocol’s success comes from the scientific expertise on ozone-depleting substances and universal participation. Developed countries also provide significant technical and financial assistance to developing countries, which encourages and enables them to reduce their dependence on these compounds.

EPA estimates that in the United States …

Nov. 30, 2010 by Yee Huang

Yesterday was the deadline for Bay states and the District of Columbia to submit their final Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP). These WIPs are roadmaps that describe how Bay jurisdictions will meet their pollutant reduction obligations under the Bay TMDL. Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia submitted their plans by the deadline, while Maryland expects to submit in the coming days. New York, which has taken a position essentially in opposition to the Bay TMDL, has not said when it plans to submit its WIP. 

As the plans are made public, CPR will evaluate the plans based on metrics that we developed, and publish a report card. In the meantime, we’ll provide a look at some of the highlights and lowlights in the plans. Today, Virginia:

  • Significant improvement, but still lacking specific funding commitments. Virginia’s final WIP is a significant …

Nov. 4, 2010 by Yee Huang

Today CPR President Rena Steinzor and I submitted comments to EPA and each Chesapeake Bay Watershed jurisdiction regarding their draft Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans. The states, we find, need to improve their plans significantly.

After more than 20 years of haplessly stumbling toward restoration, often in fits and starts, EPA and the Bay jurisdictions—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—have finally agreed on a final destination: the Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load). Achieving the pollutant allocations in the Bay TMDL will make the Bay once again healthy enough to sustain oyster and blue crab populations and the local economies that depend on them, provide nursery habitat in its grasses, and allow safe recreation for the millions of people who live and work in the Bay Watershed. Establishing the destination goes hand-in-hand with determining the route, which is …

Oct. 28, 2010 by Yee Huang

On November 7, the National Geographic Channel is premiering Great Migrations, a seven-episode series that chronicles the movements of animals on every continent, from the magnificent monarch butterfly migration from Mexico to northern Canada to the impressive wildebeest migration across the plains of the Serengeti.

A report by the United Nations concluded that climate change will impact population sizes, species distribution, the timing of reproduction and migration events, and the increased vulnerability to disease and predation. Compounding these effects are additional human-induced changes to the natural environment, including habitat degradation and destruction, water and air pollution, and the spread of invasive species. Of all the organisms on the planet, migratory species are among the most affected by climate change, which has the potential to affect each step of their life cycle.  A Kenyan newspaper recently reported that this year’s wildebeest migration was abruptly shortened, possibly due …

Oct. 14, 2010 by Yee Huang

The EPA Region 5 recently published a refreshingly blunt report on the state of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permitting in Illinois, and the assessment is disturbing. EPA concluded that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program for CAFOs “does not meet minimum thresholds for an adequate program.” Ouch.

As in many other states around the country, agriculture in Illinois is one of the state’s leading economic drivers and one of the leading sources of water pollution. The state has the fourth largest concentration of large-scale hog confinements in the United States, producing 4.5 million hogs each year. This massive hog production, highly concentrated in CAFOs, comes at a significant environmental cost. According to the state’s 2004 Water Quality Report, more than 85% of Illinois’ public lake acreage is impaired, largely attributable to agriculture. Moreover, the agriculture …

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