Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Public Trust Has Joined Good Shop

The Public Trust has joined Good Shop!

Good Shop is a website where you can shop online and a percentage of your purchase will automatically be donated to the Public Trust! Your item won't cost you any more than normal and it's really easy to do.

You may either
1) Log into www.goodsearch.com (note, NOT goodshop.com), then click on the Good Shop button, and start shopping. When it comes times to place your purchase, simply select the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute as your charity, and that's it.

Or, even easier...

2) Install the goodsearch.com browser on your computer and select the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute as your charity. Then, anytime you shop from an online store that subscribes to Good Shop, part of your purchase will AUTOMATICALLY be donated to the Public Trust, you don't even have to go through Good Shop's website each time!

Is there an easier way to help raise money for a worthy cause? And it doesn't cost YOU anything! The holidays are in full-swing but you can shop online anytime of year, and when you do, please use Good Shop to help the Public Trust too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

India's Environmental Tribunal

India is going to be the third country in the world to have a separate judiciary for trying environmental cases. The other two countries with a similar judiciary are Australia and New Zealand. The National Green Tribunal will have twenty members. Ten members will be from the judiciary and ten will be environmental experts. The Tribunal will have four circuits in an effort to hear cases in as much geographical territory of India as possible. Previously, India had a capped penalty of $564 dollars for polluters throughout the country. The National Green Tribunal will be able to order polluters to pay higher amounts.

Some American environmentalists are skeptical of the benefit that the Tribunal will provide. India has had two similar tribunals and both have been widely criticized. In 1995, a hazardous waste tribunal was established, and in 1997, the Nation Environmental Appellate Authority, which the National Green Tribunal will be replacing. Business is growing rapidly in India, and the government is facing pressure to make sure that any environmental regulation will not slow the growth of this business.

India has 5,000 environmental cases currently on file that the National Green Tribunal will be responsible for hearing once it is up and running. One of these cases involves the government’s disposal of toxic waste in 2008 from a chemical spill disaster in 1984. Approximately 350 tons of waste was released from a chemical plant owned by Union Carbide, and 3,800 people were killed as a result. Residual gas from the spill killed an additional 15,000 people and left about 50,000 injured. There are allegations that the 2008 disposal of the waste was done in an improper and secretive manner. With such questionable governmental practices in India, one has to wonder if the National Green Tribunal will do its part to change the situation.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turtle Harvesting in Madagascar

A recent study has revealed that villages in the southwestern region of Madagascar are responsible for harvesting up to 16,000 of the world’s rarest turtles. The turtles being harvested are marine turtles. All species of marine turtles are on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, which is arguably the most well-known and comprehensive list of endangered species. The majority of the turtles caught in this region of Madagascar are green turtles, which are the most common of the marine turtles. However, a good percentage of the turtles being caught are the hawksbill, which are much more endangered than the green.

The government of Madagascar has banned the harvesting of marine turtles, but the ban is hardly enforced because of tradition and practical reasons. For example, the coastal villagers of Madagascar rely on turtle meat as a staple of their diet. A conservation group called Blue Ventures has established a partnership with this region of Madagascar in order to address this issue as well as other conservation issues. Blue Ventures claims that it is difficult to get the villagers to understand that the marine turtles are a resource that is being depleted rapidly. Eating the turtles is a historical practice for the villagers, and this practice even has a spiritual component to it.

However, there is a great deal of progress being made. Blue Ventures partnership with Madagascar has been considered so successful that the partnership won several awards from the United Nations. Other conservation efforts by Blue Ventures in the region have showed the villagers the importance of protecting the environment in other ways, and hopefully this awareness will apply to the marine turtle population as well.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Restoration of Iraqi Wetlands

Recently, on National Public Radio, a correspondent interviewed an ambitious Iraqi-American engineer. This engineer, Dr. Azzam Alwash, is the founder of a program called Nature Iraqi. One of Dr. Alwash’s ambitions is to restore a region in southern Iraq, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that was once home to thriving wetlands. Some biblical scholars believed that this area was the home of the Garden of Eden. To provide some idea of its scope, it was larger than the Florida Everglades.

Under the regime of Sadam Hussein, these wetlands were completely drained and destroyed after the people living in the surrounding areas took part in an uprising against Hussein in 1991. Several environmental groups have referred to Hussein’s endeavor to drain these wetlands as the worst human-engineered environmental disaster of the twentieth-century. After Hussein stopped the uprising, he decided to have Iraqi engineers construct six artificial rivers along the Tigris and Euphrates that diverted water away from the wetlands. After this happened, the region became a barren desert, and nearly all of the animal life in the region vanished.

Now, Dr. Alwash has become the head of the effort to restore this region to its former Garden of Eden glory. However, he claims that the people of Iraqi deserve just as much credit as he does in beginning the restoration process. When he traveled to the country in 2003, he noticed that ordinary citizens were digging holes in the embankments of the artificial rivers in order to get water flowing back to the wetland areas. As of now about thirty-five percent of the wetlands are restored, and there would have been a continuing upward trend if not for recent droughts during the past two years.

Dr. Alwash faces political difficulties in that the Iraqi as well as Turkish governments need water for things such as the irrigation of fields, but he is slowly reaching the agreements that he needs to provide enough water to these wetlands. Time will tell if Dr. Alwash will succeed.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

A Not So Green Greenland

Recent turmoil in Greenland has brought a wide array of environmental issues, such as offshore drilling and global climate change, to the surface of the political arena. Diana Wallis, the vice-president of the European Union, has been a frequent participant in the Artic Council, which is an intergovernmental forum for Artic governments and people. Wallis claims Greenland in particular is already feeling the effects of global climate change. The ice caps in the northern region have melted significantly, and Wallis wants the EU to take a stronger role in safeguarding the country against further detrimental effects.

What is rather interesting, however, is that Greenland’s deputy foreign minister, Inuuteq Holm Olsen, seems to stand in opposition to Wallis. It appears as if the melting of the ice caps has yielded an unexpected benefit to the country in the form of newly discovered oil reserves. A Scottish oil producing company known as Cairn Energy claims that there is proof of an active working petroleum system in the region due to the presence of both oil and natural gas.

Olsen believes that Wallis’s plan to safeguard the region will be at the expense of the economic development that the oil reserves might bring. With the recent Gulf oil spill, and the subsequent moratorium on drilling, Olsen is against formidable odds in pursuing these interests. In addition to a general political climate that stands in opposition to the drilling, members of Greenpeace recently scaled an oilrig owned by Cairn Energy. Greenpeace has lodged numerous complaints that an oil spill in this region would be disastrous to the local environment.

Olsen, Wallis, and environmental groups such as Greenpeace all have valid points on this issue, but is there a course of action that is objectively right for Greenland?

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, October 8, 2010

BP May No Longer Bask In the Robbins Dry Dock Rule

The BP oil spill has left many businessmen in coastal areas out of work for an extended period of time. These businessmen are seeking compensation for the loss in business they have incurred as a result of this disaster. However, federal maritime law presents them with a big problem. A rule known as the Robins Dry Dock Rule, named after the legal case that established it, may prevent some of these people from recovering.

Under this rule, a party cannot seek recovery for pure economic losses, which as an example, would be the loss in revenue of a fisherman for his or her inability to fish off the coast. The Robins Dry Dock Rule requires that this economic loss be accompanied by a physical damage to a person or his property. This would mean that the fisherman was not only unable to fish during the spill, but that the oil itself damaged property such as a dock or a ship. Because the BP oil rig was offshore, many of the businessmen affected by the disaster have not incurred any physical damage to their property in that manner. Under the Robins Dry Dock Rule, they would not be able to recover their damages.

However, the promise of recovery for these unfortunate businessmen might not be that bleak. Another law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, has established much broader criteria under which parties may recover. This act provides for recovery for purely economic loss to real or personal property that is owned or leased, or to natural resources. These means that fisherman with an interest in the natural resources of the ocean, namely fish, may be able to recover for their loss in revenue.

Although this seems like good news, the Oil Pollution Act has set up a great deal of red tape that might make these businessmen’s hopes of recovery slightly less feasible. In this instance, the party seeking to recover must present their claims directly to BP, and if the claim is denied or it is not settled within 90 days, then the party must seek recovery from a trust fund that was set up as a result of the spill. Time will tell whether BP will be cooperative on these suits, and whether this trust fund will be easily accessible.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, September 24, 2010

Crisis of Faith

Every year in India, and particularly in the city of Mumbai, Hindus participate in a festival, known as Ganesh Caturthi, to celebrate the god Lord Ganesh. This festival takes place in September and lasts eleven days. It is highly elaborate and consists of dancing, painting, singing folk songs, and most noticeably, constructing large statues of the god Ganesh.

These statues, strangely enough, present a particular problem to the environment of India. At the end of the eleven-day celebration, the statues are placed in the river to symbolize the farewell to Ganesh. Historically, these statues were made of mud, soil, clay, and sandalwood paste. These substances were easily biodegradable. However, in recent times, as this festival has been more elaborate, the statues began to be constructed from plaster of paris. This is not a naturally occurring substance and takes years to dissolve in a river. In addition, the statues are now painted using paints heavy in lead and mercury, which are also far from naturally occurring.

This wouldn’t seem to be such a problem until one understands how many of these statues are placed into the river during this festival. In Mumbai alone, 190,000 were placed in the river, and some of these statues were ten feet tall. Studies of water quality in Mumbai and surrounding areas have revealed that the statues have increased the iron, mercury, and acid levels significantly. Because there are also many fishing communities in this area, this pollution has ramifications beyond the water itself.

In response, the environmental secretary of Mumbai has considered a ban on plaster of paris, but because the festival is so enormous, the law has been deemed impossible to implement. Efforts have been made to promote the buying and selling of “green” statues, which would be easily biodegradable in the river, but sales of these statues do not seem to be competitive with the environmentally disastrous models. One concern among the people is that the statues made of weaker materials will not hold up as they are dragged from the crowded streets to the river. The desire to celebrate decadently may defeat common sense in this case. Will there be a solution in sight?

-Evan Aronson, Legal Extern

Ash and Burn

Recently, the explosion of a natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California created a fire that killed four people and injured more than fifty. In addition to this tragedy, the fire may have some unforeseeable hazardous effects on both the air and water in the surrounding area.

Everyone knows that large fires have the potential to burn all in their path, such as trees, homes, and cars. When these things burn, however, they may also leave behind chemicals that are hazardous to the environment. Previous similar fires, in the cities of San Diego and San Bernadino, left behind metals from melted batteries and car parts, asbestos from roofing and insulation in homes, pesticides, herbicides, and other hazardous chemicals from burned tires, plastics, and light bulbs. After the San Diego fire, EPA officials failed to remove some of the ash containing these hazardous chemicals. During the rainy season, this ash found its way into the public water supply and was deemed harmful to human health.

In San Bruno, officials are learning from this mistake. They are trying to remove the harmful ash as quickly as possible, but they are sacrificing chemical testing in the process. The county staff has not ruled out the possibility of gases such as benzene, acetone, and butane, which are flammable and corrosive, finding their way into the air. In addition to the air, there is also the possibility that the metals, and the chemicals formed from the burning of items such as rubber and light bulbs, have found their way into the soil. These chemicals may then find their way into the regional aquifer, which is the source of water for not only San Bruno, but for surrounding cities as well.

With both the direct and indirect effects of this natural gas explosion being as great as they are, one cannot help but wonder if this industry will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny that the offshore oil drilling industry has received. The only silver lining to such disasters may be the reevaluation of the safety procedures of these industries, and a change for the better in the future.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping an Eye on Fracking

Recently, the EPA sent out letters to nine drilling companies asking for detailed information about the chemicals used in the process known as fracking. Fracking is the fracturing of underground rock in order to extract natural gas. The request for information is in response to a growing concern that the chemicals used in this process could be contaminating the water supply. In 2004, the EPA concluded that the fracking process was safe, but some believe this analysis was rushed and politically motivated.

For example, in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, people have been coming to public meetings with large samples of yellow, foul smelling water. The same is true for public meetings in Texas and Colorado. The public in these cases believed that natural gas fracking was the culprit of this yellow water, but is this the case? The natural gas companies are hoping that it is not. Industry spokesmen contend that none of the chemicals used in the fracking process actually reach the water table, which consists of the water we drink. Regulation of this industry, the spokesmen claim, could not come at a worse time. These spokesmen believe that the nation needs to develop sound alternatives to oil and coal, and that jobs in the industry will be destroyed by additional burdens.

The EPA is giving each of the companies that it is investigating seven days to respond to the request for information, and thirty days to actually provide the information. The EPA is considering legal action for non-compliance with these requests. The agency plans on publishing a new study on the fracking chemical issue by 2012.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Toast to the Champagne Industry

For those who believe in the phenomenon of global climate change, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is a major concern. Across the globe, lowering emissions of carbon dioxide has become a mission. While it might seem to some to be a mission meant only for radical environmentalists on the fringe of society, lowering carbon dioxide emissions has some practical benefits as well.

A good example can be found in the champagne industry. The bubbles one finds in one’s champagne are created by carbon, and the industry is responsible for releasing 200,000 metric tons of the gas into the environment every year by producing and shipping its product. Upon realization of this enormous output, a champagne company in France, Pommery, has decided to shrink the size of its bottle.

The new champagne bottle will lose only 2.3 ounces of material, but Pommery projects that this will cut the company’s carbon emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020. And for those not interested in cutting their carbon emissions, this smaller bottle is also simply good for business. Industry wide sales of champagne have been down by about 5 billion euros since 2007. Economists project that the savings in production costs generated by these smaller bottles will help the industry’s profits rise again after this three-year fall.

This example demonstrates that the aims of environmentalists and the aims of businesses are not always mutually exclusive. Many believe that environmentalists are out to harm business with oppressive restrictions on issues such as carbon emissions. But if reducing these emissions can save companies money and help them to become profitable again, then perhaps environmentalists are not so oppressive after all. Perhaps the two seemingly opposing sides can work together.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, August 27, 2010

Genetically Engineered Salmon

Many individuals that consider themselves to be environmentalists become enraged when they see the letters GM, which for those not familiar with the lexicon, stand for genetically modified. The US Federal Drug Administration is currently in the process of approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption. If the approval goes through, this salmon would be the first genetically modified animal to be produced for human consumption in United States history. There are an array of other GM animals that have been developed, and approval of this salmon may open the floodgates for these animals as well.

Despite the harsh critics of this salmon, who have called it a “frankenfish” and believe that it may be disastrous to human health and the environment, the debate about genetically modifying food is much more nuanced. For example, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada have developed what they call an Enviropig. Normal pigs excrete a great deal of phosphorus from the plants they eat, and this phosphorus finds its way into rivers and seas. The phosphorus is hazardous to the life within these waters and the quality of the water itself. The Enviropig, however, has been developed with a special enzyme that gives it the power to digest more phosphorus and thus excrete less.

This Enviropig, contrary to the conception held by some environmentalists, actually helps the environment in some ways rather than harming it. Similarly, the salmon that is awaiting approval can grow to market size in half the time of a natural salmon. This may mean that the production of these GM salmon is more efficient and would use up fewer resources. However, animal breeders have been breeding animals to produce more meat in this manner for many decades before talks of genetic modification have been on the table. This breeding has caused numerous health problems in these animals, and genetic modification may not be exempt from these repercussions.

Whatever one’s beliefs about genetic modification may be, this salmon has the potential to drastically change the face of food production in the future.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nuclear Power, a New Age?

Nuclear power has a checkered history. The Chernobyl incident in the Ukraine and the Three Mile Island incident in the United States have created a deep public mistrust of this form of power. In the United States, that public mistrust is responsible for a standstill in the building of nuclear reactors that has spanned three decades. Now the Obama administration has announced a guarantee of a loan of $8.3 billion dollars to build the first nuclear reactors since the beginning of this standstill.

This development begs the question of whether the United States’ longstanding apprehension regarding nuclear power has ended. Many believe that the dangers presented in Chernobyl or Three Mile Island are still present. These people see nuclear reactors as possessing the ability to cause cancer in individuals within the reactor’s radius, contaminate drinking water, and destroy the surrounding environment. Others believe that technology has come a long way since 1976, the date of the Three Mile Island incident, and that the country should give nuclear power another chance.

Without a doubt there are many benefits to this form of energy. Climate change has become a much more prevalent issue than it was three decades ago, and nuclear power has the potential to do a lot for this issue. Unlike power plants that use oil or coal, nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide is generally accepted as a gas that contributes to the phenomenon of climate change. And considering that the carbon dioxide released from power plants make up the majority of the carbon dioxide released around the world, an astronomically greater percentage than that released by transportation, nuclear power has much about which to boast.

Just as clearly there are downsides to nuclear power. Just one downside is the waste that is produced from these plants. This waste must be stored underground, in caverns across the United States. Obviously, there is not an infinite amount of space with which to store this waste, and storage will be a problem if the number of reactors increases. Nuclear power may not be a permanent solution, but it might help to reduce our dependence on oil and coal. This may make the transition to even better forms of power much easier, and this effect alone may be benefit enough.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Extern

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Floating Gardens Help, But the St. Johns River Needs More

Toxic algae blooms have become an all-too-familiar sight (and smell) along the St. Johns River. Experts agree that these blooms are in large part due to high nitrogen and phosphorous levels entering the river through fertilizer runoff and leaking septic tanks. The City of Jacksonville has taken a few measures in an attempt to alleviate this growing problem, namely building retention ponds and running an advertising campaign to warn citizens of the damage over-fertilization can cause. The Times-Union recently ran a story about a new weapon the city is employing to reduce pollution levels in the river. Much like using plants to clean up contaminated soil (see post below), the city’s latest tactic uses plants to remove pollutants from contaminated water. But is this a long-term solution?

Floating on buoyant pallets, specific “nutrient-eating” plants bob on the surface while their roots do the dirty work below. These plants, Redtop, Soft Rush, Canna, Pickerel, Bur-Marigold, and Arrowhead, have proven to be highly effective at absorbing nitrates and phosphates from water. Once the plants have soaked up as much as they can handle, they are replaced. Although they do not remove 100 percent of the contaminants in the water, floating gardens represent a highly cost-effective way to combat pollution in the river.

However, floating gardens cannot stem the relentless tide of contaminants that pour into the river on a daily basis. It is merely reactive. In the long run, the city needs a stiffer regulatory framework of prevention. No matter how many floating gardens the city installs, over-fertilized lawns and leaking septic tanks will continue to undermine any remedial measures. This is not to say that the right to care for one’s lawn should be taken out of a homeowner’s hands. But, unless the city does something to incentivize landowners to use less harmful fertilizers or have their septic tanks inspected, algae blooms, dead fish, and putrid smells will become the river’s trademark characteristics. Only when Jacksonville dramatically reduces the amount of pollution entering the river can it work toward cleaning out the filth that is already there.

-Legal Extern, Kyle Johnson

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Save Our Gulf

Many have seen the haunting photographs and news coverage. Every day pundits offer their perspective on what is now being called the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Even satellites high above our atmosphere have captured images of the murky swirl spreading toward the Gulf coast like spilled black ink. For most people, these images tell a tragic story unfolding in a place far away. For folks in the Gulf region, the catastrophe plays out daily before their own eyes. That doesn’t mean, however, they are taking the effects of the disaster lying down.

Save Our Gulf is a project started by the Waterkeeper Alliance to combat the horrible effects of the Gulf oil spill. The Alliance is comprised of almost 200 Riverkeepers, Baykeepers, Coastkeepers, Soundkeeprs, and Bayoukeepers throughout the country who advocate for and protect local waterways. Each Waterkeeper assumes countless duties in defense of its waterway, from educating young students to taking high profile polluters to court. For example, our local affiliate is the St. Johns Riverkeeper, led by Neil Armingeon and Jimmy Orth. In essence, the Waterkeeper Alliance acts as a network connecting and supporting Waterkeepers nationwide and their respective communities.

In addition to fundraising, the Save Our Gulf program has created an advisory committee made up of veteran Waterkeepers with oil spill experience to support the affected Gulf Coast Waterkeepers, providing information, guidance, and communications support. Crises of this magnitude require the coordination of thousands of people, and the committee is taking the necessary steps to ensure that help gets where it’s needed in the most efficient, effective way possible. Issues taken up by the committee include public access to information, volunteer management, training, and legal and technical support.

Anyone interested in making a donation or providing support in any way should visit www.saveourgulf.org. Additionally, the website provides information about the Waterkeeper Alliance, past projects, links to other organizations, and informative multimedia resources. Donations to the program go toward providing everything from cleanup supplies and gear to emergency office space and food for volunteers.

Those curious about the role of the St. Johns Riverkeeper in protecting our river can visit the organization’s website, www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org, for more information.

-Kyle Johnson, Legal Intern

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Want Cleaner Soil? Plant a Tree.

You may know that the leaves of plants act as natural air purifiers, taking in carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. You may not know that their roots can provide a similar function within contaminated soil. Through a process called phytoremediation, plants called hyperaccumulators naturally store (through bioaccumulation) or break down contaminants in soil, sediments, groundwater, and surface water. Plants with this ability can soak up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil, and other kinds of toxic wastes in an energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing process. They also prevent wind, rain, and groundwater from carrying the pollution elsewhere.

Phytoremediation has numerous advantages. First of all, it costs much less than traditional cleanup measures like soil replacement and groundwater pumping. Additionally, whereas these methods merely transport the problem to another location, phytoremediation allows the soil to be purified so that it may be used again. Furthermore, by allowing plants to do most of the work, remediation occurs without subjecting workers to the health hazards of toxic waste cleanup. Ultimately, it is much less disruptive to the environment than traditional methods at a much lower price. However, phytoremediation is not without its drawbacks.

The process is dependent on many different factors, such as depth of the roots and the concentration of the contaminant in the soil in relation to the tolerance of the plant absorbing it. Also, if the material is absorbed and held in the plant’s leaves, this could pose a danger to animals or humans who may harvest or eat the plant. It requires close monitoring. The biggest variable, however, may be time. As compared to some traditional measures of remediation, phytoremediation can take a long time. This depends on the type of plants used, number of plants used, the size and depth of the polluted area, and the type of soil among other factors. It often takes many years to clean up a site with phytoremediation.

Nevertheless, the disadvantages should not prevent phytoremediation from being considered a viable cleanup option. It can be a highly useful method, especially if time is not a factor. For instance, if land on which a lead paint factory once sat were targeted to build a park, phytoremediation would be an ideal solution if lead were found in the soil. Sunflowers have proven to be excellent hyperaccumulators, especially for lead. They are so effective that they were successfully used to clean up radioactive soil in Chernobyl after their nuclear disaster. Other potent hyperaccumulators include hydrangeas (aluminum), Blue Tongue (aluminum), water hyssop (lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium), and willow trees (cadmium, zinc, copper), among many others.

Although phytoremediation, by itself, may not always prove to be the most practicable option, it should at least be considered as a compliment to traditional methods of hazardous waste cleanup. Many remediation projects use plants after soil replacement to eliminate remaining trace contaminants in the soil. All that remains then of the once polluted land are plants and trees. Much in the same way plants purify our atmosphere, they can be equally useful in cleaning up the earth under our feet.

-Kyle Johnson, Legal Intern

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is Natural Gas a Bunch of Hot Air?

The Horizon Oil Rig Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a solemn reminder of mankind’s love-hate relationship with crude oil. It also begs the question – is there a better option on the horizon? Some folks in Pennsylvania say yes. Pennsylvania is home to the Marcellus Shale, a massive formation of marine sedimentary rock thought to contain vast amounts of untapped natural gas. Although it actually stretches well into New York, Ohio, and West Virginia, the section of rock situated in Pennsylvania is thought to contain the largest deposit of the resource. But before we go head over heels for natural gas, it is worth taking a closer look at its current uses and environmental impact, as well as considering the future of energy production in America.

Why natural gas? Natural gas is a source of electricity generation in utility turbines and power plants, emitting about 45% less greenhouse gas than coal. It is used in the home as well, in stoves and ovens, clothes dryers, and central heating. Natural gas is also used in fertilizer, municipal buses, and the manufacture of glass, steel, and plastics. Many companies around the world are also looking to build gas-powered aircraft.

Despite its claim as the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas still contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. It is composed mostly of methane, which traps about twenty times more radiation in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Although carbon dioxide is released in much larger quantities, natural gas emissions are expectedly to dramatically climb in the future, thanks in part to discoveries of large deposits like the Marcellus Shale.

Another problem with natural gas is that it is a fossil fuel, meaning that it is only a matter of time before it is used up and we have to look elsewhere for a fuel source. Before we get swept away by the economic potential of natural gas and the Marcellus Shale, now is a good time to ask – what kind of energy economy do we want? Ideally the production of energy on a grand scale would come from a renewable resource, i.e. wind or the sun. These are both clean, infinite sources of energy. Mass production of energy from these sources is not viable yet, but much of that has to do with a lack of research into solo-voltaic (solar electricity) and windpower technology.

Given the state of flux in the oil industry and mankind’s increasing awareness of the catastrophic effects of oil production, now is an opportune time for a Manhattan Project with respect to energy. The U.S. government spent vast amounts of research to build the atomic bomb and to get to the moon. We now need to attack energy production the same way.

-Kyle Johnson, Legal Intern

Chris Williams from GreenWater Labs Meets with the Public Trust

If you have lived in the St. John’s River area long enough, you have probably heard about algal blooms. The massive colonies of blue-green algae emit a foul odor and can often be seen on the surface of the river like swirls of paint. The problem with algal blooms, other than the stench, is that algae produce toxins. Because the health risks to humans are relatively unknown, more research is needed to determine what these health risks are and what causes spikes in algal populations. GreenWater Laboratories, a Palatka-based company, is taking up the challenge. GreenWater Laboratories, created in 2001, is the only private full-service laboratory in the United States that specializes in monitoring freshwater algal blooms and toxin production. The company provides its clients with testing, analyses, monitoring, and research capabilities.

Chris Williams, an aquatic toxicologist and president of GreenWater Laboratories, stopped by the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute office last week to discuss the problems associated with algal blooms. Williams said that the physical characteristics of the St. John’s, a slow-moving river in a hot, humid climate, make for an ideal habitat for blue-green algae. Combine that with a lack of state regulation requiring businesses and utility companies to test for algae in their discharge water, and the potential for algal-related problems becomes apparent.

Because the banks of the river are lined with private landowners, in addition to businesses and public utilities, pinpointing a manmade source of the bloom is a difficult task. Anything from fertilizer runoff to chemicals present in wastewater could potentially be responsible. Additionally, toxic compounds that have been discharged into the river in years past have now settled on the riverbed, waiting to be churned up and accelerate algal growth. One interesting note – Williams revealed that most blooms seem to start near the Shands Bridge area, although he conceded that he is not sure why.

Despite the problems mentioned above, here are a few things to consider. Not all algae produce toxins, and many forms of algae are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem. Blue-green algae do not tend to bioaccumulate, meaning that they don’t accumulate inside smaller organisms and work their way up the food chain.

However, a recent wave of redfish deaths in the St. John’s River has raised suspicions. Although officials do not know exactly what is causing the rash of redfish deaths in the last few weeks, they suspect algae to be the cause. Williams admitted that this could be an algae-related problem. This situation is worth monitoring throughout the summer, as health officials still are unsure as to how algal toxins affect human health. Neil Armingeon, from the St. Johns Riverkeeper, has encouraged boaters and others on the river to report fish kills if they see them.

-Kyle Johnson, Legal Intern

Friday, May 28, 2010

Role of Criminal Penalties in Enforcing Violations of Environmental Law

Faulty car airbags, combustible printer parts, and metallic debris in canned foods exemplify the unfortunate offspring of mass-production. A defect in an everyday product is usually easy to spot, either because it causes injury or deviates from the consumer’s expected use of it. Companies are held strictly liable for such defects, meaning that even though they did not intend harm and took every necessary precaution, they still have to compensate consumers of defective products. Consequently, most companies take extraordinary measures to avoid manufacturing and design defects in their products. In short, the process regulates itself.

Unlike defective products, a company’s environmental violations are more difficult to spot: the problem is not as obvious (pollution of a stream vs. an exploding toaster), much of a business’s operations can be hidden from governmental regulators, and the effects (health, economic, etc.) of the violation may only be felt years later. And even then it is difficult to link the adverse effect to a delinquent company. Therefore, the most effective way to remediate environmental violations is to deter a potential culprit from disregarding the regulation by imposing steep civil and, in instances of negligence, criminal penalties. For example, both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act contain provisions allowing criminal penalties for negligent violations of the statutes that can be extended to “any responsible corporate officer.” This clause, known as the responsible corporate officer doctrine, allows high-level corporate officers to be criminally charged, even without actual knowledge of the violations.

Congress has chosen to include provisions for criminal penalties in its environmental regulations for a few reasons. For certain violations, there is a cap on the amount of damages for civil claims. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 put a $75 million limit on the amount that can be paid for private economic and public natural-resource claims, even though the extent of damage from a violation may exceed this amount. By imposing criminal violations, however, Congress can compel the violating companies to contribute more to help with cleaning up the pollution and compensating those affected. Additionally, many of the largest companies are also the largest polluters, partly because they can afford to be. A $75 million slap on the wrist is unlikely to effectively deter a company like Chevron, whose annual revenue exceeds $200 billion, from cutting corners in its environmental operations. On the other hand, expose that same company (assuming they are found to be in violation of environmental law) to the potential of criminal penalties, and the regulation, now fitted with sharper teeth, can be much more effective.

The basic idea is that by stiffening the backbone of environmental law, regulators can obligate companies and their officers to regulate themselves, forcing them to approach environmental compliance with the same vigor they devote to the development of their own products.

-Kyle Johnson

Farming Potential in Urban Areas

Imagine waking up in a downtown apartment to the busy sounds of morning with a hankering for fresh fruit. The last thing you want to do is fight rush hour traffic to get to the grocery store, so you throw on a robe and march up to the roof where your garden is in full bloom. After picking some ripe strawberries you head back downstairs to add them to a bowl of Cheerios and start the day. Sound far-fetched? Actually, rooftop gardening has been around for millennia, with roots dating back to ancient Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. Today, as the density of urban centers increases, available space for gardening is becoming increasingly scarce. To help reduce the size of a city’s ecological footprint (a measure of human demand on Earth’s ecosystems), as well as provide aesthetic and architectural benefits, many urban planners believe that urban agriculture can be an effective tool.

There are two kinds of rooftop gardening: green roofs and rooftop gardens. Whereas rooftop gardens act much like backyard gardens, with walkways and furniture, green roofs are almost entirely covered with vegetation. Perhaps most importantly, “green roofs” can potentially lead to substantial energy savings by reducing the need for air conditioning. According to a study at the University of Cardiff in the UK, green roofs and walls can reduce local temperatures by up to 11.3°C, depending on the city. How, you might ask? Hot surfaces, such as concrete, metal, and asphalt, which make up most urban structures, warm the surrounding air and create “urban heat islands.” Because green surfaces absorb less heat from the sun, these surfaces, and consequently, the surrounding air, are cooled. In addition, plants, through a process known as evapotranspiration, cool the air by evaporating water. Thus, green roofs act as a kind of insulation.

Rooftop gardens, on the other hand, provide a local source of food, which lessens reliance on trucking in food from distant farms. If every apartment building in a downtown area had its own garden, imagine the potential for energy conservation and community development, not to mention a cheap source of fresh food. Many have recreational areas, furniture, hammocks and even trees, adding organic aesthetic beauty to an otherwise inorganic environment. Rooftop gardens also help urban denizens maintain a connection to nature that can be difficult to maintain when surrounded by miles of concrete and asphalt.

Many cities now have their own urban agriculture organizations, dedicated to furthering the goals of sustainability and providing resources for residents interested in starting their own urban garden. Some helpful starting points for anyone interested in urban gardening include the Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) Foundation, cityfarmer.org, and urbangardenmagazine.com.

-Kyle Johnson

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Fest a Success!

On April 16, the Public Trust put on the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Fest at the Vineyard Church at the old Atlantic Theatres on Atlantic Blvd. The event was sponsored by Patagonia, Sierra Nevada, Folio Weekly, and many others. As a result of the film festival, the Public Trust now has over 60 members and is now in a better position to help educate the local community about environmental issues and problems we are facing.

One of the main goals of the festival was to inspire the community to act to protect our precious natural resources, and by that measure, it succeeded in spades. The short film “Change the World in Five Minutes” featured Australian school kids showing what they—and by extension we—could do in just five minutes per day to help make the world a better place, from turning off lights to growing food in local gardens. The film “Planting Hope” told the inspiring story of a woman in Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long efforts to plant trees in seriously deforested areas. Not only were her efforts helping to restore the local environment, they were also empowering the local communities and revitalizing their economies and standard of living.

Perhaps the film with the most particular relevance to Florida’s long coastline was the film “Sheltered Sea,” which described the successful process by which California has established protected marine areas in order to protect that state’s ocean biodiversity—and by extension, its fisheries and the economic benefits they provide. What was interesting was that the organizers had made efforts to even get the fishermen on board with the program, when such interests are usually viewed as inapposite to environmental protection efforts.

The main event of the night, though was the movie “Fuel,” which gave an entertaining overview of the problems associated with our national addiction to fossil fuels, through the eyes of the personal experience of the filmmaker, an adamant supporter of biofuel solutions. While it was a lot to take in, on both an intellectual and emotional level, the film lived up to its independent film awards and accolades. The information was presented in an easily comprehensible way, and showed both the human and economic costs of our oil dependency, from the initial extraction process to end-consumption. While some parts of the film were depressing, and even infuriating, the emotional rollercoaster was worth sitting through to the very end, when the viewer was taken on the filmmaker’s inspiring vision of what the world could be, what the cities of the future could look like—if we take it upon ourselves to act to make it a reality.

Overall, those who missed this year’s film festival truly missed out—both in terms of the films shown and because of the many raffle items that the Public Trust was giving away as part of its fundraiser and membership drive. Certainly, those who missed the event may rent “Fuel” from your local movie store—and you certainly should, as it is one of those films that all Americans should see as a matter of their civic duty toward protecting their environment—but also consider penciling in time for Public Trust’s next film festival and fundraiser. You certainly won’t regret it.

By Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Climate Science Gets a Boost...From Space!

Climate science is about to get a boost in efforts to measure global changes from space monitoring, both from NASA and the European Union’s space program. While thinking of NASA, one may usually think of going to the moon or the famed Hubble telescope looking across eons of time into our universe’s distant past. However, NASA and other space exploration efforts have a lot of potential to contribute to science—particularly climate science—by turning its attention back downward, toward Earth.

That is why the Obama administration has proposed a new NASA budget that includes a $2.4 billion increase over the next five years for NASA’s Earth Science Division. This represents a 60% increase and a major turnaround after the division was left to languish during the first part of this decade without enough resources to replace aging satellites that perform essential Earth-monitoring tasks, like polar ice, ocean temperatures, and atmospheric chemistry. Such measurements are extremely important in assessing the state and pace of climate change, and much of the new money will be focused on reinvigorating projects that determine just how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing.

One problem for climate scientists is that little is known about what happens to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, once it gets into the atmosphere, and determining the carbon exchanges between the atmosphere and ocean and the atmosphere and land require a variety of precise measurements. So, a major chunk of the new funding will be to replace the Orbital Carbon Observatory that crashed into the ocean last year not long after being launched. As the name suggests, the new satellite would measure atmospheric carbon levels over time.

Additionally, NASA hopes to replace the GRACE satellites, a pair of twin satellites that have been making detailed measurements of Earth’s gravitational field since 2002. While gravitational fields are certainly important to physicists, the GRACE satellites have produced many more practical applications than anyone initially expected, such as using gravitational fields to measure the amount of and change in ground water over time. This is essential in predicting areas of potential water scarcity, as well as providing a more complete picture of Earth’s water cycle, beyond just what is observed as rainfall by weather satellites.

In addition to NASA, the EU is finally moving ahead with the long-awaited and long-delayed CryoSat 2 mission, which will launch a sophisticated satellite into orbit to precisely measure the thickness of global ice caps. The satellite will be able to measure the thickness of ice on land or floating in the sea to within one centimeter (or 0.39 inches). Thus, through repeated observations, scientists believe that this will allow them to monitor even small changes over brief periods of time. They also expect to be able to distinguish between ice melting due to warming and ice melts attributable to other reasons, such as shifting ocean currents. Thus, scientists hope that this will help them pin down the actual effects of global warming on the Earth’s ice more accurately.

Legal Intern, Jeremey Dobbins

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bejewled Cityscape Could Power the Urban Future

Probably the first thing that comes into an American’s mind these days when the image of a “city” is invoked is a skyline of buildings and skyscrapers, edifices of steel and glass stretching upwards. But when some environmentally minded Americans look at it, they see a lot of wasted energy. What if, instead, much of this glass exterior could be converted to solar cells? Suddenly, a skyscraper full of businesses and people going to and fro doubles as a self-contained power station, located in the middle of downtown.

Scientists at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology have been working on a multi-faceted grid of clear pyramids that would replace office windows. Applied building-wide, the scientists say that buildings would begin to look like they had been draped in giant, jeweled curtains, due to the multifaceted lens on each panel that would be used to focus the suns light on a central solar cell.

The three biggest energy drains for today’s building are related to heating, cooling, and lighting. This new solar cell addresses all three issues. Unlike the regular flat-paneled solar cell, this type of solar cell using concentrated sunlight is more efficient at providing the power to light the building. And the water heated up in the process of cooling the system could then be used to provide heat and hot water to the workers and residents in building’s interior. Additionally, the pyramid-panels would rotate throughout the day to maximize the solar power generation.

What’s more, the cells adapt to the local climate conditions. The pyramid pattern both collects every scrap of sunlight to keep the residents in places like New York or Seattle warm and toasty inside, but at the same time the pyramid pattern also disperses and diffuses the sunlight that reaches the building’s interior. Thus, residents of hot, sunny places like Phoenix, Arizona, will find it easier to stay cool. What’s more, businesses who have an eastern or western window exposure will no longer have to worry about the fighting the sun’s glare coming through the blinds in the early morning or late afternoon, as the sunlight diffusion would leave offices in a more constant, natural light throughout the day. Workers in these buildings would still have a view, although it would be slightly obstructed where the pyramid patterns are placed. The one big downside of the system is that unlike regular solar cells, which require little to no maintenance, this more-complicated system would require more to operate and maintain.

The solar cell project has already completed the development stage, and a prototype of the new solar cell has been installed on the fa├žade of the Syracuse, New York, headquarters for the Center of Excellence for Environmental and Energy Systems. Syracuse, known for having long, snowy, and gray winters, may not seem the best place for testing a project that relies on sunlight to operate. However, project scientists intentionally chose the site because of its less-than-optimal climate conditions to show the wide applicability of the technology, even in places not known for an abundance of annual sunlight.

Pending the outcome of results at the prototype site, the solar panels are already described in documents for a future high-profile construction at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Project marketers also expect others to begin looking at integrating the solar cell system into their emerging architectural designs.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Energy Efficiency Incentives for Florida Businesses

Currently, the federal government offers several tax incentives for improving the energy efficiency of commercial offices. First, businesses can take advantage of a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for the purchase price (not including installation costs) of solar panels, wind turbines, or fuel cells. However, the fuel cells credit is capped at $1,500 per half kilowatt of capacity. An additional 10% tax credit is available for the purchase of combined heating and power systems or geothermal heat pumps. An itemized invoice showing the purchases utilized for the tax credit is required in order to claim the tax benefit, along with the filing of IRS Form 3468 with the applicable tax return. Depending on their situations, businesses should also consider whether it is more advantageous to claim the 30% purchase tax credit or to write off the entire purchase as a business expense.

In addition to the tax benefit, the federal government also provides for accelerated depreciation, usually on a five-year schedule, for all of the technologies that qualify for the ITC, allowing for faster recovery of energy investments. IRS Form 4562 must be filed along with the applicable years’ tax returns in order to take advantage of the accelerated depreciation schedule. The IRS also provides a more general guide for taking advantage of property depreciation.

Beyond specific purchases, the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides a tax deduction for efforts to make commercial buildings more energy efficient. Businesses in qualifying buildings that are able to certify a 50% reduction in its heating/cooling energy usage may also qualify for an additional $1.80 per square foot tax deduction. Qualifying buildings are those within the scope of ASHRAE standard 90.1-2001, which basically requires that the building’s heating system have an output capacity of greater than or equal to 3.4 Btu/h-ft2 or has a cooling system output capacity of greater than or equal to 5 Btu/h-ft2. The building also must not be residential and must be connected to electric power. This $1.80 per square foot deduction can also be divided and broken down into three categories of partial tax deductions of $.60 per square foot, which is available for certified energy savings of 1) 10% in the building envelope, 2) 20% from lighting improvements, and 3) 20% from heating and cooling improvements. An additional credit of $.30 per square foot is available for “dual switch” lighting systems (which can switch off half the lights and still have uniform lighting) that reduce lighting power by at least 25% from values cited in ASHRAE standard 90.1-2001. This “lighting system” credit increases proportionally to $.60 per square foot as reductions exceed the 25% baseline and approach 40%.

Qualifying for the tax credit only requires certification by a qualified individual (usually licensed engineers or contractors who are unrelated (as defined by the IRS) to the person or organization receiving the tax benefit) that the various energy savings requirements have been met. Certification is completed using computer software, but does require an on-site field inspection of the building after it is placed into service following the upgrades in order to verify the efficiency savings. Although the certification does not have to be filed along with the tax return in which the deduction is claimed, the certification should be kept by the taxpayer as part of the supporting documents and records. No special form is required to claim the deduction after certification is obtained. Rather, the taxpayer should include the amount of the deduction in the “Other deductions” line of the applicable tax return, along with a statement listing the types and amounts of these deductions. For more information on the requirements for meeting this tax credit, see IRS Notice 2008-40.

The State of Florida has a standing exemption for sales and use taxes on all solar system purchases. The state has in the past also provided rebates for solar panel installation, but funding for the program is currently exhausted pending possible new appropriations for the program in 2011. When operative, the rebate program provided a $4 per watt rebate up to $20,000 for residences and $100,000 for businesses. To qualify, the system must be installed by a state-licensed contractor, comply with all building codes, and the application for the rebate must be made within 120 days of purchase. Rebate applications can be filled out and submitted online at the Florida Energy and Climate Commission’s website.

Unfortunately, Beach Power, the local utility, does not offer rebates to businesses or new residences. Rather, their rebate program is targeted entirely at existing residences, which can qualify for a small rebate for such things as HVAC upgrades, water heaters, and solar filming for windows. However, local area power customers, both residential and commercial, who fall under the jurisdiction of Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) may also qualify for a rebate on the costs of installing a solar water heating system in their homes or businesses. Commercial customers who make the installation could recoup 15% (non-local installers) to 30% (local installers) of their investment, up to a maximum of $5,000 per installation ($2,500 for non-local installers). More information about solar water heaters and JEA’s the rebate can be found on the JEA’s website.

For a listing of all various energy efficiency incentives that may be applicable in your area to your home or office, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at http://www.dsireusa.org.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Thursday, March 18, 2010

California Air Resources Board Withdraws Controversial Clearcutting Protocol

The California Air Resources Board (ARB), which administers California’s climate change efforts under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, recently decided to withdraw a controversial “forest project protocol” that would have allowed landowners, including timber companies, to earn carbon credits under California’s cap-and-trade regime for clear-cutting and other potentially harmful forestry practices. California’s statewide program is among the first in the nation, and it serves as a model for other states, regions, and the federal government as they consider similar climate change efforts and legislation. Importantly, California is expected to become part of the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade effort by several Western states and Canadian provinces. Thus, this change to the California model program that restricts the issuance of carbon credits could lead to environmental benefits in the West and across the nation as other similar programs come online.

The withdrawal of the controversial policy came in response to a formal letter sent by the Center for Biological Diversity (“the Center”) in November that accused the ARB’s carbon-crediting policy of violating the California Environmental Quality Act due to the ARB’s failure to consider the foreseeable environmental consequences of adopting the clear-cutting forestry crediting policy, as the law requires. In this case, according to the Center, the foreseeable environmental consequences were to incentivize clear-cutting and other environmentally destructive logging practices that do nothing to address climate change but do hurt the forest’s ability to continue to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

Environmentally, clear-cutting has several negative impacts, both on forests and on the broader surrounding ecology. Clear-cutting can lead to soil run-off, diminishing water quality. The practice also causes a greater disturbance to the local ecosystem than more sustainable forestry practices by destroying essential habitat, fragmenting the habitat that remains, and ultimately culminating in a loss local of biodiversity. Additionally, replanting to restore the forest and to recapture the carbon lost in the process of cutting will take years and even decades to accomplish—time that we may not have left to address climate change before atmospheric CO2 concentrations reach critical and even catastrophic levels.

By rescinding the policy, the ARB will effectively change the incentive structures around the state’s climate change cap-and-trade program. Since clear-cutting forestry programs will no longer be able to receive credits under the law, the effect is to incentivize better forestry practices overall, which in turn leads to healthier forests and greater CO2 sequestration—and, consequently, greater climate change mitigation—by those forests over time. While this one change alone, even if followed by every other cap-and-trade program, will not in itself halt climate change, it does increase the integrity of the program and the covered forests’ effectiveness at CO2 mitigation over time. So, while this policy change is not a silver bullet, it is a positive step in the right direction.

By Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Federalism Limits Clean Water Act Restoration

Recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, most notably its 2006 decision in Rapanos v. United States, have placed enforcement of the Clean Water Act—and, consequently, the cleanliness of the nation’s drinking water—in jeopardy. Even worse, Rapanos had a split decision with two pluralities on the court endorsing two different standards for what ‘waters’ fall within the United States’ jurisdiction.

The results have been predictable (and many were predicted by the court’s dissenters): Polluters use new ambiguities in jurisdiction to slow the process down or make it too costly for the EPA to prosecute. Different federal district courts and circuit courts reach different results on similar jurisdictional facts. Some polluters even decide for themselves that they are no longer under the EPA’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction and stop filing the paperwork they had previously been required to file. Polluters now have an incentive to move to areas where the Clean Water Act doesn’t reach, increasing pollution levels locally and overall.

Some in congress have naturally responded to this abominable and deteriorating situation with efforts to change the Clean Water Act, to bring clarity and restore its former jurisdiction. To the extent they can clarify the Act, they should certainly be encouraged in the effort. Unfortunately, though, they may not be able to get very far in addressing the real problem here, as the limitations imposed on the Clean Water Act were imposed by the Supreme Court based on federalism concerns. The Clean Water Act itself was already presumed to cover every drop of the nation’s waters that federal power could constitutionally reach. In other words, the Act was already believed to cover and reach the outer limits of permissible federal jurisdiction. The very core of the decision in Rapanos was to try to demarcate just exactly what those jurisdictional limits on the federal regulatory power were. On the one side of the jurisdictional line was waters within the federal power to regulate under the Commerce Clause; on the other side, the waters would be within the jurisdiction of the individual states to regulate, if they so chose, but outside of federal jurisdiction.

Thus, congressional efforts to restore the Clean Water Act to its former clarity and broader jurisdiction would presumably be going further than the constitution would allow the federal government to go under the existing legal precedent established by Rapanos. So, when such a new law is challenged—as it certainly would be, assuming it ever gets passed—there would already be reason to believe that it would be struck down by the federal courts, assuming no change in the Supreme Court’s personnel or thinking on federal environmental jurisdictional questions and the reach of the Commerce Clause.

While congress may well be able to tweak around the edges of the Clean Water Act and provide some clarity, the core of the problem here is one of constitutional law, and a statute alone will not be able to untie that Gordian knot. Fixing that sort of problem requires a constitutional amendment or a change in Supreme Court precedent. Perhaps given the jurisdictional disaster left in the wake of Rapanos, the court will revisit the issue in upcoming cases—and, hopefully leave us with more clarity than before. Regardless, such jurisdictional limitations evidently cause a serious impairment to our nation’s ability to address environmental problems as holistically as possible (the best way for dealing with environmental problems)—and our environment and the health of our people will suffer for it. Thus, a constitutional amendment giving the federal government a broader, explicit environmental jurisdiction should not be out of consideration by those in congress who are serious about making sure our environment is preserved for future, healthy generations.

By Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solar Power for Sale

According to an article written by Erin Schneider, of E Magazine.com, it appears that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Steven Cohen (D-TN) are sponsoring a bill that will help place solar panels on 10 million houses over the next 10 years. The bill is properly named, “10 Million Solar Panels and 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act of 2010.” The main question yet to be answered is, “Can this be done?”

Solar power is not a new concept. Commercial industries have been using solar power for years to help reduce the high cost of energy usage, keeping their electricity bills low. Solar power in the residential setting barely exists. There are a small number of homes sporting solar panels on their roofs and normally these homes are owned by individuals with more money to spend greener technology. Solar panels simply cost too much for the average middle class citizens. One kilowatt of energy, the average amount of energy a home uses in a day, is produced for every 100 sq/ft of “activated” solar panel. According to the Solar Power Authority, the average home could be sustained by a 100 sq/ft solar panel display if the sun was out 24 hours a day with perfect clear visibility. Of course the sun doesn’t stay out 24 hours a day, and even when the sun is out it is not perfectly clear every day. Rather, the Solar Power Authority predicts that on average, a typical solar panel display, in order to power an average home, would need to be between 500 and 800 sq/ft, depending on the area’s amount of annual sunshine. The current price for a complete installation of a solar power display/array runs about $7 to $9 per potential watt. So, at the lowest end, a 500 sq/ft array, which is the low average needed to power one house, and has the potential to produce 5 kWh of energy, would cost $35,000 dollars to install. $35,000 is considered by many to be just too much money to devote to help better his or her environment. This system does have the potential to reduce the user’s power bill to zero or below, but with the monthly power bill averaging $73 per month it would take a long time to cover the initial start up cost.

So why are members of congress pushing to pass a bill that will seemingly cost Americans between $35,000 and $56,000 dollars, whether it takes 500sq/ft of solar panels to power your home or 800sq/ft of solar panels to power your home? Right now the main reason prices are so high to install solar paneling on one’s home is simply due to the fact that there are too few producers of residential solar panels. When there are fewer companies the price stays high because of the lack of competition. The new bill will create a higher demand, the largest on Earth, in hopes of having the effect of drawing either more residential solar panel businesses or causing solar panel companies that produce mainly to commercial industries to gear their efforts toward residential buyers as well. Hopefully with an increased number of manufactures in the marketplace the price or purchasing and installing solar panels will decrease. The bill will also help offset the high costs of purchasing and installing solar panels by adding in rebates to users.

This would be a huge step toward a cleaner environment. If successful 10 million homes will be using clean solar power and not need dirtier forms of energy, such as coal, to power everyday necessities. Also, if successful, this bill could open a market for cheaper solar paneling causing more and more Americans, along with citizens around the world, to choose solar power over coal power.

Joshua S. Wyatt, Legal Intern

Pond Scum Could Soon Fuel Military

The Pentagon recently announced that their recent effort at developing an algae-based fuel is ahead of schedule and proceeding apace. Pentagon researchers estimate that they are mere months away from developing a fuel that would be cost competitive with fossil fuels currently in use.

This new program is in keeping with the Pentagon’s goal of achieving a zero carbon footprint within a decade. The Air Force, for example, already has plans to make its jet fleet alternative-fuel ready by 2011, aiming to have all aircraft capable of functioning on a 50/50 blend of synthetic and fossil fuels. When first announced, such a zero carbon footprint goal for the military sector, which relies heavily on hardware and the fuel required to run it, seemed decidedly optimistic. However, this new fuel source promises to make these supposedly pie-in-the-sky goals much more realistic to achieve.

Anyone else making claims about cost-competitive fuel made from algae would likely be taken lightly—if not dismissed out of hand as an environmentalist’s sci-fi fantasy. But when the claimant is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same research arm of the military that gave us satellite navigation and the internet, such “wild-eyed” claims suddenly start looking less like flights of eco-fantasy and more like credible and meaningful advances in green fuel technology.

The reported advance comes after DARPA invested nearly $25 million into the algae fuel research program last year, contracting with Science Applications International Corp to assist DARPA in developing algae-based fuel for use by the military. As a result of their efforts, researchers have already cracked how to extract oil from algal ponds for less than $2 per gallon, and the project is now on track to begin large-scale refining of this oil into jet fuel at a cost of less than $3 per gallon. For comparison, the current average price of regular motor gasoline nationwide currently hovers around $2.60 per gallon, and the price of consumer jet fuel at airports ranges between $4 and $5 per gallon, depending on the region. Thus, DARPA’s new jet fuel source holds the promise of ultimately being greener, cleaner and cheaper than existing fuels and fuel sources.

Just as satellites and the internet outstripped their military origins in application, so too is this advance likely to have a broad array of impacts outside the military. For example, one of the advantages of the algae-to-fuel process is that algal pools can be “fed” by waste water runoff or by soaking up CO2 emissions from existing power plants. And, one of the problems with electric vehicles is that they don’t generally have sufficient horsepower to displace gas-fueled 18-wheelers or other heavy machinery that perform jobs requiring serious horsepower to complete. So, algae-based fuel that can provide horsepower sufficient to keep military jets in the air is also likely to be able to help make other sectors of the economy greener and more eco-friendly over the long-term. Thus, DARPA’s latest efforts at finding a way to cost-effectively mass produce this fuel could prove to be something of a game changer, turning a promising technology into a market-ready one with a broad array of potential uses and applications across the economy.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Frosty the Snowman Accused of Debunking Climate Change

This past week’s series of severe snowstorms, which dumped large and even record amounts of snow across the country, has prompted another unfortunate round of chuckling by deniers of climate change. In part, this is the result of framing the issue as one of “global warming,” which, while true, obscures some of the less “warm” aspects of the issue. And it provides an opening for political opponents of addressing the climate crisis to latch onto any cold weather of any significance and use it as “evidence” that the scientists and all their numbers, data, and conclusions regarding climate change are demonstrably and observably wrong. How could the world be warming, they ask, when huge blankets of snow are falling from the sky?

Thus, this month’s snow storms, according to climate change deniers, prove that there is no such beast as ‘global warming.’ The flaw in this argument, however, is easily recognized: While it may be snowing here in the USA, it is certainly quite hot right now in South America—or anywhere south of the equator this time of year—since they are currently experiencing summer (and likely a hotter one) for their hemisphere. Simply because it is cold and snowing here does not mean that the global climate as a whole has taken a similar turn. Just because it may occasionally rain in the desert doesn’t change the fact that the overall climate in a desert area is a dry one. The desert has not suddenly become an aquarian paradise after one good thunderstorm. Nor does one snowstorm change the fact that the overall global climate is warming or the fact that the past decade is the warmest on record.

Understood another way, climate change due to “global warming” at a very basic level means that the average temperature for the entire earth is increasingly warmer. In practice, what this means is that there is more heat energy in the global system that has to work itself out. Just as warmer water temperatures act as fuel that increases the strength of hurricanes, warmer water and air temperatures lead to increased water evaporation globally. All that water vapor, in turn, has to go somewhere, meaning that the resulting precipitation—rain or snow—will be more violent and come in greater amounts than before. Thus, as climate change advances, where there is rain, it will become rainier and wetter; where there is snow, it will become snowier; and where it is dry, it will become even dryer.

Thus, if any conclusion at all regarding climate change should have been drawn from watching these record setting weather events, it should have been the exact opposite one from that promoted by the climate change deniers: These extreme snow storms with record amounts of snow fit generally with the pattern expected by scientists as climate change proceeds. So, rather than be used as fodder by climate change deniers to prove that global warming is a hoax, serious observers and policymakers should have observed these isolated weather events and, if anything, become even more serious about addressing the climate crisis predicted by climate researchers. So, while these severe snowstorms do not in and of themselves alone prove climate change is happening, what these storms certainly do not show—by any stretch of the rational, non-politicized imagination—is that climate change is not occurring, as the evidence in this case points entirely in the opposite direction.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Thursday, February 11, 2010

USFWS Denies ESA Protection to Pika

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently posted on its website its decision denying listing the pika, a relative of rabbits that resembles a mouse, as protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Had it done so, the pika would have been the first species in the continental United States listed as a result of global warming.

The pika is an alpine species that lives on high, Rocky Mountain slopes in the western U.S.. Exposure to temperatures above 78 degrees can be lethal for the cold-natured species. So, as global warming increases, the lower mountain altitudes get warmer—and less habitable—for the pika, which must continue to move up-slope to survive. The pika’s situation is not unlike species trapped on an island with the water slowly rising to envelop it. This results in fragmented populations, since pika on one mountain or area may be cut off from other groups. This in turn results in less biodiversity within the pika population and increases the chances that the pika will go extinct when faced with future environmental stresses. The problems peculiar to this species prompted petitions to and increased pressure on the USFWS by environmental groups to list the pika under the ESA.

However, FWS rejected the proposed listing, determining that while some pika populations were declining others were not. FWS also noted that the pika population is widespread enough over a range of habitat that increased warming would not threaten the longterm survival of the species. FWS estimates that temperatures will increase by about 5.4 degrees over the next century, leading to increased declines in the foreseeable future for pika populations in lower altitudes while survival rates in populations in higher altitudes are expected to be somewhat better. Still, those higher-altitude populations are expected to survive under FWS’s analysis.

Environmental groups who petitioned the listing were naturally disappointed with the result and have called it a political decision that ignores the law and the dire circumstances facing the pika. However, others praise the decision for not using the ESA as a surrogate means for addressing the causes and effects of global warming.

To an extent, this fight over listing the pika echoes proposals to list the polar bear, whose habitat is similarly threatened by climate change and whose listing has been similarly fought on the basis that the ESA should not be used as a backdoor means of addressing global warming impacts. The polar bear, however, was ultimately deemed “threatened” and granted protected status in late 2008--along with new regulations that prevent the listing from blocking projects that contribute to global warming. The new Obama administration and his appointment, Ken Salazar, have so far refused to rescind the rule, which is now being challenged in court.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Refugees of Nature

Twelve out the last fourteen years the Earth’s temperature has hit record highs. There is a debate over the cause of the temperature increase. On one side, some scientists believe that humans are to blame for the increase in temperature. Some scientists on the other side simply believe the change deals with the Earth’s natural cycles, in which the Earth goes through periodic temperature increases and decreases. One side could be right, the other side could be wrong, or they both may be wrong; however, right now the Earth’s temperature is above normal, and massive effects are being felt all over the world. Over this time frame of increased temperatures, the Earth’s population has seen a rise in natural disasters. Hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters are wreaking havoc on the population. The problem only starts with the disaster itself; the aftermath poses many more potential problems.

After every major disaster, whether it is natural or manmade, there is a population displacement of that area’s citizens. According to an Environmental Justice Foundation study, 20 million people were displaced in 2008. The majority came from Asian nations, following cyclone Nargis, in which 800,000 people had to be evacuated and could not return home because the area was completely destroyed. A similar situation happened following hurricane Katrina; the city of New Orleans was devastated, and many residents were displaced and relocated to surrounding states. Natural disasters are a normal occurrence. They happen every year and affect millions of people. After any major natural disaster there will be a displaced population, but there is an additional problem in the frequency of the major natural disasters. With the increase of the Earth’s overall temperature, the sheer numbers of catastrophic hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and floods have increased steadily every year, and they are getting worse.

Cyclones in the Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic are getting stronger, droughts are lasting longer, floods are affecting larger populations, and heat waves are killing everything from plants to people. The effects of global warming, weather cyclical or manmade, are being felt now. It is true that most predictions talk about the increased temperature’s effect on our children and their children, but they are already being felt by those living today. It is projected that between now and the year 2050, 150 million people will have lost their homes due to natural disasters, caused primarily from climate change.

Obviously climate change is an important topic in Washington, D.C.. Climate change is a great political tool to help sell your party’s beliefs and win votes. But, climate change should be on the minds of every person. 150 million displaced individuals have to re-establish themselves somewhere, the victims of Katrina settled all over the southeastern United States affecting every aspect of life from school and jobs, to food consumption and traffic congestion. With increased population sizes from the addition of the displaced mass a weaker or smaller job market for the established residents follows. Also, with a higher population comes more pollution, which in turn exacerbates climate change leading to more potential problems, whether health related or climate related. Global Warming is causing problems now, problems that may only get worse with time unless major changes occur.

Joshua Wyatt, Legal Intern

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Environmental Cost of the Recession

The United States economy, according to all the experts, is suffering from a horrible recession. The stock market is down, and many Americans are still out of work. Many people think that the recession is a blessing in disguise in regards to a cleaner environment. With gas prices continuing to fluctuate and bank accounts continuing to decline many more people are using public transportation or carpooling, leaving their cars in the garage helping decrease pollution. This is a true but there are also two major environmental problems resulting from the recession, cheaper food and deforestation.
With less money comes fewer opportunities to purchase higher priced foods. People think that eating at home more is a remedy to almost every problem. Lower pollution because they are not driving and fewer family problems because of shared meals; but, the major “benefit” can be found with the cheapness of store bought food in comparison with restaurant food. Americans are now buying cheaper foods in order to fit their budgets. But following an article from E Magazine.com, the cheaper the food the less shelf life the food has leading to more garbage a normal family deposits. Cheaper foods, on average, have a shorter shelf life. Families buy the cheaper food to save a little more money in this economically unstable time. Shorter shelf lives, however, lead to more garbage, because when the food goes bad families throw it away and buy more that eventually goes bad, a continuous cycle about which I am afraid nothing really can be done. With less money Americans need cheaper food in order to eat, plain and simple. The only real solution, though probably not practical, would be for individuals to demand better quality from their cheap food manufactures. But the other main environmental issue steaming from the recession can be fixed.
Along with cheap food, Americans are buying cheap furniture and cheap do-it-yourself building materials. With this increase in demand for these cheap materials comes an increase in the need for a supply of the materials, Economics 101. The major component in cheap furniture and do it yourself kits is wood. A need for more wood equals more wood that needs to be cut down. This is nothing new, Americans have needed wood for furniture, homes, and building materials since our founding, but today shops are building cheaper furniture with less durability than their more expensive competitors. Cheaper furniture then leads to an even higher increase in demand because the cheap furniture breaks easier and may not last as long. Thus, deforestation is the result from the high demand of wood. In Europe forests are being destroyed illegally in order to keep up with the high demand for wood. The world’s forests are like filters, taking in the bad air and pollution, and giving back clean, fresh air. There is a very easy solution, stop buying products using illegal wood supplies, and start buying products from wood suppliers that have renewable means for producing wood.
So, in a not so direct way, the recession is causing more environmental problems that no one really sees. Cheap, the word that many people love to hear now a days, is also a concept that is leading to more and more environmental problems, whether it is cheap food spoiled and filling up our landfills, or our need for cheap easily breakable furniture that needs replacing from month to month, containing wood from illegal manufactures. There is no real solution, only a need for a wakeup call. Cheaper food and furniture may seem like the best option in today’s economy, but it is leading to a poorer environment. Knowledge about the environmental side of the recession is necessary for change.

Josh Wyatt, Legal Intern

Friday, January 29, 2010

Indoor Air Pollution

What is cleaner, the air in your house or the air outside? Unless you live next door to a coal burning plant that is emitting tons of smoke every day, a normal person would tend to believe that the air inside their own home is cleaner than the air outside. According to scientific studies they would be wrong. Studies have proven that in most cases indoor air is drastically less clean than outside air. Why? According to an article in E, The Environmental Magazine, indoor air pollutants are consumed everyday by the general population, and it doesn’t matter where you live. Whether in an urban center or a rural setting, indoor pollutants can be found. Indoor pollutants come from a variety of different sources including carpets, furniture, cleaning solutions, paint strippers, tobacco smoke, solvents in inks, and even air fresheners. Most are relatively harmless, only causing minor respiratory irritation, including shortness of breath and allergies. Some, however, can cause real problems. Pollutants like benzene from tobacco smoke and formaldehyde from paint strippers are proven carcinogens, and lead to a variety of cancers. But the horror does stop there. Most indoor pollutants are like stealth bombers, you cannot see them until after the devastation has occurred. Some, such as air fresheners and cleaning solutions, are meant to have a pleasant smell in order to mask odor, but they still can cause health problems.
How can we put an end to these indoor pollutants? For years people have been buying expensive electric air filters that clean the indoor air, expensive air filters that draw in and mix outdoor air with indoor air, and even simple filters that can be installed over air vents to filter out pollutants. The only real problem with these types of air filters is that they all run off of electricity which causes more pollution whether it is indoor or outdoor. It is a pick your poison scenario, would you rather die from indoor toxins from everyday products, or would you rather die from outdoor pollution caused by the power plants that provide electricity for your indoor air filters?
While this is a perhaps extreme characterization of the situation, there is nevertheless an electricity free method of purifying indoor air and removing indoor pollutants. The simple answer deals with house hold plants. According to research by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, there are a number of plants an individual can by that will filter out harmful indoor pollutants much like electric air filters. Plants such as the rubber plant and Bamboo Palm can filter out many pollutants and leave indoor air “very clean.” The process has something to do with soil in such plants as the rubber plant. Plants, much like humans, need air to breath. For example once the rubber plant “breaths in” the harmful pollutants, its soil biodegrades each of the chemicals and almost pure air is the byproduct. Also, a number of soil microbes found in each of these purifying plants help to clear the air of the pollutants.
So what does this mean to the everyday citizen? Imagine the same scenario but dealing with drinking water. Would a person drink a brown glass of water, filled with germs, bacteria, and dirt, or would a person rather drink a clean glass of water free from toxins? This answer may sound simple, and with water most dangers are very visible. Indoor air pollution, on the other hand, is not so apparent. Indoor air pollution is a stealth killer. Just because you cannot see the pollutants in the air does not mean they are not there, and some are deadly. Buying and placing cheap and low maintenance house hold plants can help purify indoor air, without causing the added outdoor pollution electric air purifiers eventually make. Plants can help prevent outdoor pollution, and help purify indoor pollution. So the next time you want to freshen the air of your home or office, consider buying a plant, your area will be cleaner and more beautiful.

Josh Wyatt, Legal Intern

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Have We Forgotten About Global Warming?

New polls show that the American people’s concern with global warming has cooled off. According to the poll funded by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, we are significantly less worried. Under 50 percent say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” – a 13 percent decrease from a poll taken in October 2008. The percentage of Americans who think global warming is occurring fell from 71 to 57 percent, and the percentage that believe climate change is caused primarily by human activities fell from 57 to 47 percent. The percentage of people who think that Americans are currently harmed by global warming, dropped from 34 to 25 percent.

A new poll by the Pew Center for the People & The Press, found that over 80 percent of adults list jobs and the economy as top priorities for the White House and Congress in 2010. Global warming ranked at the bottom of issues polled – 28 percent said it should be a top priority, while 36 percent called it an “important but lower priority.” “Such a low ranking is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11% consider global warming a top priority, compared with 43% of Democrats and 25% of independents,” a summary of the Pew poll released Monday states. The economy is a top priority for 83 percent of the 1,504 people polled earlier this month, followed by jobs at 81 percent and terrorism at 80 percent. Forty-nine percent said dealing with the nation’s energy problems is a top priority, while 44 percent listed protecting the environment in that category.

At the same time as the American people’s concern of global warming decreases, the global temperature and the melting of Antarctica increases. Glaciers in Antarctica are melting faster and across a much wider area than previously thought, a development that threatens to raise sea levels worldwide and force millions of people to flee low-lying areas, scientists say. By the end of the century, the accelerated melting could cause sea levels to climb by 3 to 5 feet — levels substantially higher than predicted by a major scientific group just two years ago.

Victoria Lindbak, Intern

Sowing The Wind

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) this month reported that federal stimulus spending under the federal Recovery Act has helped turn what was expected to be a 50% decline in growth in the wind power sector into a 39% increase over the course of 2009, particularly in the latter half of the year. As a result of Recovery Act incentives, the U.S. wind sector has added about 10,000 Megawatts (MW) of additional capacity bringing the total to over 35,000 MW nationally. This represents 38 new wind power facilities being brought online, announced, or expanded. Amazingly, nearly 4,000 MW of this 10,000 MW growth in the wind sector occurred during the last quarter of 2009. While this increase only helps wind power turbines close in on accounting for about two percent of the nation’s power supply, this is up from almost nothing a just a few years ago. Since 2002, the nation’s supply of wind-generated energy has jumped sevenfold.

Although growth during the last year was phenomenal for construction, operations, and management jobs in the wind power sector, the manufacturing sector did not see as much gain. In part, this was a result of already-high inventories that must be depleted before demand for their wind power products will increase and stabilize. However, the AWEA also blames the lack of a long-term energy policy and market signals for the decline in total investment in the wind manufacturing sector compared to 2008. Over the course of 2009, one-third fewer manufacturing plants came online or were announced or expanded as a result.

By far, the largest increase in wind power came in the state of Texas, which was already the nation’s wind-power leader with 7118 MW at the beginning of the year. However, during 2009, the state added another 2292 MW of wind capacity, for a total of 9410 MW for Texas alone, which by itself accounts for nearly 2/7 of all U.S. wind sector capacity. At the end of 2009, Texas was followed by Iowa, with 3670 MW of wind power capacity, and California, with 2,794 MW of capacity. Overall, 36 states now have at least some utility-scale wind installations, and 14 states have developed over 1000 MW of capacity thus far. Florida is one of the 14 remaining states, primarily concentrated in the southeastern U.S., that have yet to develop any wind power installations or capacity, despite the recent availability of substantial federal investment monies and increased attention to the issue.

The AWEA projects that America’s wind power fleet will result in positive environmental impacts for both the nation’s air and water. Wind power is projected to avoid about 62 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually, which is the equivalent of taking 10.5 million cars off the road. In addition, wind power is expected to save another 20 billion gallons of water annually that would be otherwise used for steam or cooling conventional power plants.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Friday, January 22, 2010

Global Warming's Effect on Hurricanes

What exactly makes a hurricane? Hurricanes start off as storm systems rolling off the coast of Africa barreling toward North America, and form over the warm waters around the equator. As the storm center moves over the open ocean a Low Pressure is formed and water is sucked up into the core of the storm. The warmer the water, the more energy the storm will gather and the stronger it becomes. There are only a few natural ways to stop a hurricane. Cold and Warm fronts have the ability to push the storm away from the continent, wind sheer over certain parts of the ocean can tear it apart, and any movement over land will weaken the storm. But, warmer waters equal stronger hurricanes which are harder to stop.
What exactly is Global Warming? Global warming is a very controversial issue in today’s economic world, political world, and sociological world. In a nutshell, the burning of fossil fuels, the release of methane gas, and the release of CFCs are causing our atmosphere to erode, allowing more radiation from the sun to penetrate, and thus heating up the planet. The area around the equator gets more sun than anywhere else on the planet, so more radiation from the sun penetrates warming up the waters. Many people think global warming is a farce, a scare tactic used to sway political voters into voting one way over another. If you are a believer or a skeptic one fact remains blatantly obvious, hurricanes over the past few years have been stronger than ever recorded.
So what is the connection? As stated earlier, hurricanes gain their energy by sucking up warm water along their trip across the ocean. The warmer the water is the stronger the hurricane becomes. With global warming, the area receiving the most sun radiation, thus heating faster and hotter, is the area around the equator in which the hurricanes travel. Hurricanes traveling over this newly heated water are becoming stronger and harder to be redirected by either wind shear or slowed down by land masses. One example of a super powerful hurricane is Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Originally a category 5, the strongest of the hurricanes, Katrina was one of the fast growing hurricanes on record. Seemly over night this storm turned into a monster. One opinion of this growth tends to blame global warming. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico are getting warmer, is it because of new radiation breaking through the holes in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gas, or is there a cycle to the planets heatin? Katrina moved directly over these waters possibly affected by global warming and became stronger. Sadly enough this will happen again.
What can we do to stop it? The only true way to stop global warming and maybe weaken potential hurricanes is to fight for a cleaner environment. All the damage done to the oceans is probably irreversible, but there is a chance to slow down the progression. Are stronger hurricanes related to global warming? Maybe, more scientific research is needed.