Friday, April 30, 2010
by Jodi Wallace
As we all know, mining can create a variety of serious environmental degradation issues. The one I want to discuss is called acid mine drainage (AMD). The science behind AMD is actually pretty in-depth and there are still a lot of ongoing studies regarding its cause and treatment, but basically, AMD occurs when sulfur-bearing minerals are exposed to water and air, allowing for the formation of sulfuric acid. Heavy metals leached from the rocks can combine with the acid and dissolve, creating highly toxic runoff. While small amounts of this runoff can occur naturally, mining (both strip and subsurface) exposes more minerals to more air and water and therefore produces sulfuric acid runoff at a much higher rate when compared to the natural rate of discharge. The process of AMD can result from both new mines as well as mines that have been abandoned for over 100 years. The environmental impact of AMD is enormous when this runoff drains into nearby rivers and streams (EPA). According to the EPA, there are about 500,000 abandoned mines in the U.S. and about 40% of the U.S. western watersheds are polluted with metals from these mines. Altogether, the cost of cleaning up these abandoned mines is estimated to cost about $30 billion dollars, and some call it today’s greatest environmental issue. Waters polluted from AMD can harm the aquatic life in the rivers, our drinking water, outdoor recreation, and can also lead to corroding wastewater pipes and other infrastructure (Limerick, et. al).
There are two major issues with AMD clean up. The first is a lack of enforcement in current mining operations, and the second (oddly enough) is the Clean Water Act.
Let’s start with enforcement. The only true, cost-effective way to solve AMD is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The best regulation in place to prevent this sort of environmental degradation – and save taxpayers millions and billions of dollars in water treatment – is SMCRA (the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977). SMCRA basically assigns stringent standards to mining operators and makes them accountable for the environmental degradation they inflict, including water pollution. However, SMCRA isn’t always enforced; anyone can drive up I-70 and see the effects mining has had in the Rocky Mountains. SMCRA is most obviously ignored in the Appalachian region, where Mountain Top Removal (MTR) is particularly destructive and harmful to the environment, as well as to the local communities. MTR companies are incredibly behind in their reclamation efforts - most haven’t even tried to reclaim the land they’ve destroyed - and they owe millions (possibly billions) of dollars, but have no incentive to pay so long as the OSM continues to fail to enforce the regulations.
AMD is most difficult to treat in abandoned mines, not only because a number of historic mines in the western states are not mapped, but also because there are no parties to hold responsible for the cleanup. The Clean Water Act (CWA), while beneficial for nearly every other water pollutant, actually makes AMD clean up more difficult. An organization that tries to treat a mine for AMD effectively becomes permanently responsible for the mine under the CWA. This means that anyone – nonprofit, government agency, local community, corporation, etc. - that tries to treat a mine also becomes responsible for any damage or pollution the mine has created or will create in the future. The organization, by taking liability, must ensure that the water quality meets the standards required by the CWA, which, in the case of AMD, can be extremely costly and may require continued treatment for decades. Simply put, the people who want to clean up the damage either have to clean it up completely or not at all; there’s no variability in the CWA that allows for a partial clean-up effort.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
In the past week, two major stories have come to the forefront regarding offshore energy.
The first was the explosion of an oil rig off the coast near New Orleans. The blast presumably killed 11 workers and is currently leaking over 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day1. By the time the leak is fixed, the total amount of oil spilt into the Gulf is expected to exceed the 11 million gallons of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
The second was the approval of 130 windmills to be built five miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts2. This wind farm would produce enough clean energy to power up to 200,000 homes2.
Opponents of the wind project say that it will kill some birds and the turbines may be visible from beach front properties tarnishing their view. However, offshore oil drilling has already resulted in the loss of human life, as well as incalculable harm to birds and marine life. Additionally, the quickly spreading oil is threatening to completely destroy the Gulf Coast fishing industry. At this point, climate change seems almost irrelevant in the comparison of the two.
Still, the Obama administration has stood behind both forms of energy, approving increased offshore drilling in addition to the Cape Cod wind project. It's time that the government quits trying to cater to everyone and chooses the correct side. Proposed wind and oil projects are both privately funded so there is no upfront cost to the American people. However, wind promises zero emissions while only harming a few birds and potentially coming into view of some rich people. Meanwhile, oil drilling means certain release of greenhouse gases while potentially killing more workers and a historic record of environmental catastrophe from spills. You don't need a detailed cost-benefit analysis to see that the choice is clear. WIND BABY WIND!.
Within recent years, the technology has been developed to grow meat in vitro. This means that regular muscle and fat cells can be forced, through a complicated process, to proliferate and divide creating meat (1). Two distinct methods are available for creating this in vitro meat. The first creates loose muscle cells ideal for minced meat, while the second would create a form of meat that would look similar to a conventional variety. Some researchers believe that this in vitro meat is ready for consumer production, and even believe that they can alter the properties of the meat to one day be more healthy than the conventional variety (2). Researchers believe that they have the technology to reduce the saturated fat content, as well as adding Omega 3 fatty acids. The process would also potentially expose the meat to less bacterial sources, as it wouldn’t need to be grown on an animal. In vitro meat is currently expensive, but is projected to be the same price as conventional meat and only twice the price of conventional chicken.
My question is simple. Do the vast benefits of this new technology outweigh other negative factors? What do you think?
o Possibly more healthy
o Cheaper as the technology expands
o No animal welfare concerns
o Hormonal Risks (similar growth hormones are used with in vitro meats as are used with conventional practices)
o Meat may not be as appealing visually
o Costly research must be done
o Huge amounts of jobs would have to be reallocated to accept this new market
1) Siegelbaum, D.J. (2008-04-23). "In Search of a Test-Tube Hamburger"
2) Macintyre, Ben (2007-01-20). "Test-tube meat science's next leap"
The discussion sparked my interest in researching wind energy because of the disadvantages of natural gas and coal. The article I read about wind energy is by the U.S department of Energy. Wind has many advantages such as it is one of the .." lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today", at a price of 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. It also takes up little space and energy companies pay the land owners for the use of land.
The article states that by 2030 , payments for wind turbines would produce more than $600 million dollars for landowners. In addition it would generate local tax revenues.
One disadvantage is that it is not necessarily going to be windy when the community needs energy. Since wind energy cannot be stored it is only a efficent source in windy areas. The biggest disadvantage is where there is space for wind power plants there is little demand for energy such as rural areas and farm land. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/wind_ad.html