The Canadian Prime Minister labels his Canadian critics American. Victims of an Indian disaster caused by a US firm may finally have a clean place to call home 28 years later. North Carolina lawmakers choose to legislate sea level changes with their heads in the sand. All that, and South Texas Spaceports, in this weeks’ Environmental Roundup for Texas, the Nation, and Beyond!
- A week after an unmanned capsule, launched by SpaceX, became the first privately owned spacecraft to reach the International Space Station, a Texas environmental group, Environment Texas launched a campaign to prevent SpaceX from building a launch pad on coastal land surrounded by wildlife refuges near Brownsville. According to Environment Texas Director, Luke Metzger, “launching big, loud, polluting rockets from the middle of a wildlife refuge will scare the heck out of every creature within miles and spray noxious chemicals all over the place. It's a terrible idea and SpaceX needs to find another place for their spaceport.” The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department noted that the proposed site has “potential for significant contamination of very senstive resources in the event of a catastrophic event (i.e., hurricane),” is “extremely susceptible to wildfires,” and that the spaceport could cause the “loss of the function and value of all wetlands” in the area. You can sign Environment Texas’ petition here.
- Private water wells are becoming the new status symbol for Austin’s elite residents. According to data from the Texas Water Development Board, Austinites have drilled 150 wells into the Edward’s Aquifer since 2006 and 46 last year alone. The wells cost $18,000 - $36,000 each and are generally used for unlimited lawn irrigation, not for consumption. They are not subject to city permits, since most of Travis County does not lie within a groundwater conservation district. Dick Aaron, General Manager of the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District which manages groundwater under Bell County, told the Austin American Statesman “The trend concerns me. This is the most precious resource we have, so drilling for the sole purpose of landscape (watering) is philosophically a challenge for a lot of us.” Private well owners, such as Attorney General Greg Abbott enjoy the lower water bills these wells provide, but Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber calls them “a bit of a black hole in our water management in Texas. We don’t have any way to have any idea … how much water’s being pumped out of aquifers in Travis County.”
- In other bad news for the Edward’s Aquifer, extremely high levels of tetrachloroethene, a solvent used in dry cleaning, were detected in wells in north San Antonio. It is not known where the pollution came from, but the only method of cleaning it is to wait for it to dilute within the aquifer. San Antonio and the Edwards Aquifer Authority have one of the largest aquifer protection programs in the US with 120,000 acres protected from development, and an additional 90,00 acres the city hopes to protect in three to four years.
- Scientists from Texas AgriLife Research have embarked on a three-year study to measure the effects of a large scale transition from intensive cotton farming in Texas to switchgrass and sorghum which would be used to power biomass power plants. According to the researchers, “the thought is that the second-generation biofuel feedstock systems will reduce the negative environmental effects associated with the conventional, intensively managed cropping systems currently in the region.” The largest biomass plant in the US is in Nacodoches, and sells its energy to Austin.
- While the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (a state agency), and federal authorities predict that sea levels will rise by 1 meter by 2100, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would mandate that all development and emergency planning be based on “historic sea level” changes which show a 1.7mm rise per year since 1900 and a 3.17mm rise since 1993. According to these calculations, the sea should only rise about 8-15 inches by 2100. What is at stake, of course, is millions of dollars in potential revenue from lands that could be developed if the state accepts the low water mark, or would be condemned as a flood zone in the higher estimate. Ignoring rising seas could hinder transportation and emergency planning, and could cause insurance rates to rise. The N.C. Coastal Federation said that relying on historical trends is like “being told to make investment decisions strictly on past performance, and not being able to consider market trends and research.”
- More than 400 organizations blacked out their websites Monday in response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s efforts to silence critics of the Keystone XL pipeline, of which he is a major backer. Harper’s Conservative government has written a new bill, set to pass later this month, that would strip the non-profit status of many environmental groups which oppose the pipeline. “Our government’s ... trying to push through pipelines at all costs. That new attitude is propelled by their surprise at Keystone’s failure,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, among the organizers of the “BlackoutSpeakout” action. The Harper administration counters that it is trying to prevent “foreign interference” in Canadian politics. I suppose the numerous Canadian groups opposing the pipeline including British Columbians, Indigenous Canadians, and major opposition parties are considered “un-Canadian” by Mr. Harper.
- On May 29th, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Indian government to clean up toxic waste left over from the 1984 Union Carbide plant disaster in Bhopal. In December 1984, a large amount of deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the plant and killed up to 20,000 people, severely wounded up to 500,000 more. It is, by far, the worst industrial accident in history. The Court’s statement said the government had “not taken any steps for the disposal of toxic waste because the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy are poor. There is a lack of seriousness in handling this problem.” The home affairs minister, P Chidambaram rejected the court’s assertion, noting that a German company has been contracted to dispose the waste, but a final incineration site has not been found.
- If you missed it, the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun occurred yesterday. It is the last time this phenomenon will happen until 2117. Here are some fantastic photos of the, literally, once in a lifetime event.