Army Corps. to take environmental goals in stride

army-corps-of-engineersThe Army Corps of Engineers – famous for creating gigantic “solutions” that have seriously negative environmetnal impacts – will soon be getting some new guidelines.

The White House is rewriting standards for federal water projects, expanding the 26-year-old rules that guide the Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to consider environmental and social goals as well as economic ones.

In a recent Federal Register notice, Christine Glunz, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said “The administration is considering expanding the scope of the principles and guidelines to cover all federal agencies that undertake water resource projects.”

Though not yet naming which other agencies would fall under the umbrella of new guidelines, it’s likely the list would include the U.S. EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Agriculture and Interior departments. Agencies that deal indirectly with water issues, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Transportation Department, could also be included.

Glunz said Terry Breyman, a corps official working at CEQ, will spearhead the effort.

Environmentalists are encouraged by the annoucement, but water industry groups aren’t happy.

“If they feel the scope of revising the principles and guidelines ought to be broadened, we would happily support that,” said Howard Marlowe, a lobbyist on coastal issues. “It’s just that’s not what the [2007] law says. We don’t think CEQ has the authority to hijack that process and make that decision on its own.”

As with any bureacratic machination, it’s best to take a “wait and see” attitude.

Project Kaisei seeks to solve the Plastic Vortex

the-plastic-vortex2-300x172Project Kaisei – a group of innovators, scientists, environmentalists, ocean lovers, sailors, and sports enthusiasts – have come together to find remedy to undo one of our most serious man-made environmental disasters – the ever-growing Plastic Vortex.

Their first mission –  to study ways to capture marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre and possible retrieval and processing techniques that could potentially be used to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel – is scheduled for this summer. They’ll begin with the largest area of the Vortex in the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone – northeast of Hawaii and the-plastic-vortex1approximately five days by boat from the San Francisco area. The team plans to collect plastic and other debris samples from the ocean to showcase new technologies that will be used for processing and recycling.

the-plastic-vortex1-150x104It’s estimated that over 60% of the plastic and other wastes (including rubber and aluminum) in the ocean come from land-based sources. And, from all accounts, this environmental nightmare is growing exponentially, posing an enormous threat to marine life.

Recognized by the United Nations Environment Program, Project Kaisei was recently selected as one of less than ten global Climate Heroes leading up to climate change talks in Copenhagen this December.

Army Corps. Mandates Cutting Thousands of Trees

Army Corps orders the fellling of thousands of trees near levees

Army Corps orders the felling of thousands of trees near levees

In an unprecedented move, the Army Corps of Engineers has ordered the cutting down of all trees within 15 feet of our nation’s levees, regardless if they’re a threat to the levees stability or not.

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Shell settles Nigerian death case out of court

Slain environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa

Slain environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa

After 13 long years, Royal Dutch Shell has agreed a $15.5m (£9.7m) out-of-court settlement in a case of complicity stemming from the death of 9 anti-oil activists, including author, television producer, and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who were hanged in 1995 by Nigeria’s then military rulers.

Members of the Ogoni ethnic group from the Niger Delta, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others had been campaigning for the rights of the local people and protesting emvironmental pollution caused by the oil industry.  They were executed after being convicted by a military tribunal over the 1994 murder of four local leaders.

Steadily denying wrongdoing, Shell says the payment is part of a “process of reconciliation”.

Judith Chomsky, of the US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and one of the lawyers who initiated the lawsuit, said the verdict sent a message that “corporations, like individuals, must abide by internationally recognised human rights standards”.

Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the Nigerian families, said $5m would go into a trust to benefit the people of Ogoniland – the area Ken Saro-Wiwa was seeking to protect. The rest would go to the plaintiffs and to pay the costs of litigation.

This is a historic settlement, a rewarding conclusion to this drawn-out case, and a real victory for human rights.

Germany Bans GMO Maize Despite EU Assurance of Safety

In a bold move, Germany’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner announced that German farmers would no longer be allowed to plant Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) maize. This is in spite of the EU’s ruling that the hi-tech grain is safe.

GMO maize, or Monsanto’s MON 810, will no longer be available for planting or sale in Germany, she said.

This positions Germany alongside France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg, other EU coalition countries.

“I  have come to the conclusion that there is a justifiable reason to believe that genetically modified maize of the type MON 810 presents a danger to the environment,” Aigner said.

Aigner said the decision was based on scientific and not political factors, stressing the decision was made on an individual basis, not as a fundamental ban on all Monsanto GMO products.

The EU Commission has warned it will review the German decision, noting it “will decide on the most appropriate follow-up toward this situation,” EU spokeperson Nathalie Charbonnea told reporters.

Monsanto spokesman Andreas Thierfelder called the decision unwarranted and said should the ban be confirmed, Monsanto would consider legal options to enable GMO seeds to be planted for this year’s harvest.

Various groups have welcomed this decision.

The south German state of Bavaria plans to become a GMO-free zone, said Bavarian state Environment Minister Markus Soeder.

BUND – the German environmentalist association – was also pleased. BUND chairman Hubert Weiger said “suspicions that genetic maize damages nature and animals are so widespread that a ban is absolutely necessary.”

Greenpeace urged Aigner to work inside the EU to stop further approvals of GMO maize.

The German farmers’ association DBV did not support or criticise the decision, saying  in a short statement it expected the decision was made according to scientific principles.

As with most aspects of Monsanto GMO crops, not all parties agree.

Chief executive of the association of German seed producers Ferdinand Schmitz called the decision arbitrary and would damage Germany as a location for research. He warned that banning seeds already approved as safe could generate legal action for compensation.As more countries voice concern over genetically modified food crops, a squaring off grows more likely. Who will triumph in this critical contest for food safety and human health remains to be seen.

SC Johnson Raises the Bar, Encouraging Environmentalists

Mos consumers have little to no idea what’s in the cleaning products they use.

SC Johnson – maker of Windex, Pine Sol, Shout and a variety other products – plans to disclose their complete ingredient list on their cleaning and air care products, something the industry has balked at doing.

The key industry hold-out for disclosure has been the fragrance industry, citing propietary confidentiality as the chief reason for their reluctance.

Eric Thompson Switaski of Women’s Voices for the Earth said “SC Johnson just raised the bar for the entire cleaning products industry.”

SC Johnson also announced it has told fragrance suppliers to discontinue use of phthalates, a controversial chemical. SCJ currently uses a phthalate called DEP in their cleaning and air freshener products. Environmental groupsincluding the NRDC applaud this change.

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Senator Puts "Hold" on Obama Science Nominations

As politicians are known to do, a key Senator has put a “hold” on the confirmation process of 2 of President Obama’s science nominations, spelling more delays of critical decisions on climate change policy.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat representing New Jersey, has reportedly put a hold on the confirmation of John Holden, Harvard University physicist in line to head the Washington Office of Science and Technology, and Jane Lubechenko, marine bilogist from Oregon State University slated to head the National Ocanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sources claiming anonymity who were unauthorized to discuss the matter said Memendez is using the hold as leverage for Senate attention on a Cuba-related matter, impeding any questioning of the nominees credentials.

This delay – frustrating to environmentalists and scientists who support the nominees – could end quickly if Senate leaders push for a floor vote requiring 60 votes.

This is yet another case of political posturing favoring a personal agenda, rather than taking care of the critical national business at hand.

Fascinating that elected officials – especially Democrats, who supposedly are eager to move the national agenda ahead – continue to allow themselves the liberty of bringing key issues to a standstill for their own pet projects.

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