The Environment in Focus | WYPR

The Environment in Focus

Ecowatch

Earlier this year, I was in southeast Texas, taking pictures of an oil refinery for a report about air pollution and the harm it causes to lower-income communities like Port Arthur, Texas.

As I stood on a public roadway, a private security guard pulled up behind my car and demanded to know who I was and what I was doing.  I showed him my driver’s license and patiently explained the environmental journalism project I was researching. He reported me to the FBI as a potential terrorist.

My wife was startled when an FBI agent showed up at our house in Baltimore to investigate. I provided the agent with a detailed, written description of the report about air pollution I was working on. That seemed to satisfy the FBI, although it sent a chill down my spine.

I told my story to Alleen Brown, a reporter with The Intercept who has been investigating the increasing coordination between oil and gas companies, their private security firms, law enforcement – and efforts to smear and intimidate environmentalists.

“Yeah, actually that story doesn’t surprise me at all,” Brown said.

Tom Pelton

Most consumers know the ‘buy local’ and 'organic' labels for produce. But not everyone knows that just because something is grown locally and organically does not mean it is good for the Chesapeake Bay.

After all, factory-farmed chicken from Maryland’s Eastern Shore is local, but organic manure from this industry and Pennsylvania dairy farms are major sources of water pollution.  People who want to pick food that is healthy for both the bay and their bodies should consider supporting visionary farmers who are also dedicated to clean water.  That would include farmers like Brett Grohsgal, 56, who has been running the Even’ Star Organic Farm in southern Maryland for almost 20 years.

Instead of growing vast fields of a monoculture – like corn or soybeans –  Grohsgal allows half of his 100 acres in St. Mary’s County to remain forested.  And he aggressively rotates 70 different crops -- including cucumber, sweet potatoes and flowers -- from plot to plot on much of his remaining land. To protect the health of the two streams that flow through his property, he planted rows of black locust trees and loblolly pines to act as natural water filters.

Grohsgal is part of the new "Fair Farms" movement in Maryland.  Fair Farms is an alliance of 90 farmers, environmental organizations and farmers that supports growers who are not only organic, but also using practices like forested buffers along streams, which many conventional farmers do not use.

Tom Pelton

In the early 19th century there was a Baltimore tavern owner and merchant named Joseph Hart. He had his own, unconventional way of looking at the world – and he did not trust banks.

He was also somewhat strange and secretive. And so all of the money that he earned from his tavern, he snuck offshore in a boat and buried on a tiny, marshy island east of Essex, at the mouth of the Back River in the Chesapeake Bay.

As legend had it, the tavern owner – in his legitimate business dealings or otherwise – also somehow came into possession of a barrel full of gold pieces.  And so he also buried that on what became known as Hart Island.


WBAL-TV

Last week, in the far south Baltimore neighborhood of Curtis Bay, an accident at a chemical factory released a huge cloud of chlorosulfonic acid – a gas that can burn the lungs and even be fatal.

Longshoreman Kasimir Kowalski was working nearby.  “A truck of chemicals inadvertently pulled off with the line still hooked up, and ripped the line and the chemicals came out and hit the ground and that’s why you got the flume,” he said.

The Baltimore Fire Department issued a “shelter in place” warning. City officials told 18,000 households within a mile radius of the Solvay Inc. USA chemical plant at 3440 Fairfield Road in Baltimore to remain indoors, close their windows, and try to avoid contact with the toxic yellow cloud drifting over the city.

No serious injuries were reported. But several Curtis Bay residents were angry about the lack of effective safety procedures and good public information about the numerous chemical and industrial plants that surround their homes.

 


@RepGoodlatte/Twitter

From the 1980s until 2010, the health of the Chesapeake Bay did not improve – and it even worsened in some areas, with the waters becoming murkier with algae – despite three state-led, voluntary bay cleanup agreements.

After the failure of the third agreement in 2010, President Obama’s administration changed directions and asserted more federal leadership. EPA for the first time imposed numeric pollution limits on each of the bay region states and threatened penalties against states that did not meet the goals of what was called the bay pollution “diet.”

Despite opposition from the farm lobby and real estate developers, the new system worked.  According to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, from 2011 to 2016, the overall health of the bay surged, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution fell, dissolved oxygen levels improved, the water became clearer, and the extent of underwater grasses in the bay doubled.

On September 7, however, U.S. Representative Robert Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and ally of the farm lobby, sponsored a bill designed to end the new system.

 


The Daily Oklahoman

With hurricanes and floods recently swamping Florida, Texas, India and Bangladesh, and wildfires raging across California and the U.S. west, climate change is at the forefront of public policy discussions around the world.

An American agency with a central role in studying climate change is NASA, with its satellites providing critical data about temperatures and weather conditions. President Donald Trump has nominated as the next Administrator of NASA Congressman Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma, Navy aviator and booster of the idea of privatizing space exploration. 

Bridenstine is strongly supported by the commercial space flight industry. But his confirmation is being opposed by many scientists, environmentalists and others who object to his denial of the scientific consensus that global warming is real.

CNBC

With Texas officials predicting more than $100 billion in cleanup costs from Hurricane Harvey, and Florida now threatened with flooding from Hurricane Irma, Sandra Knight couldn’t help thinking about flooding right here in Maryland.

Knight is a former deputy administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who is now a research engineer at the University of Maryland’s Center for Disaster Resilience. She said that with climate change driving up sea levels, cities like Baltimore and Annapolis in recent years have been experiencing far more frequent floods – and should prepare for even higher storm surges in the near future.

“Some of the statistics from NOAA tell us that, since the 1950s or 1960s, Annapolis and Baltimore have had their rates of sunny day flooding increase over 900 percent,” Knight said. “That tells us we’re very vulnerable.”

 


Marinas.com

As sea levels have risen because of climate change, and the geology beneath the Chesapeake region has settled naturally over the last two centuries, more than 500 islands – large and small – have vanished beneath the waves.

Some of these bay islands held hideaways for pirates, hunting lodges for the rich, brothels for watermen, the sites of illegal boxing matches and gambling dens, even an unusual enterprise to breed and skin black cats to sell their fur to China. This last scheme failed when the bay froze and the cats, wisely, ran off across the ice, according to William Cronin’s book, The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake.  Others – such as Sharp’s Island and Holland Island -- were simply the homes of farmers and fishermen, or mosquito-infested scabs of marsh grass.

On a recent afternoon, I set off in a kayak to find a tiny island that – strangely enough – has been heading in the opposite direction: rising from the bay, and  growing over the years.

 


Tom Pelton

In the Guilford neighborhood of North Baltimore, what had been a scenic man-made lake – a drinking water reservoir, high atop a hill, surrounded by a walking path -- has been transformed into a muddy construction site.

The Guilford Reservoir has been drained, and the tall grassy dams surrounding it are being bulldozed.  Cranes, backhoes and teams of workers are replacing the open drinking water storage pond with underground water storage tanks.

It is part of a $400 million project by the Baltimore Department of Public Works to rebuild five post-treatment, above-ground drinking water storage reservoirs – including Druid Lake and Lake Ashburton – to comply with new EPA drinking water safety regulations.  

Tom Pelton

On January 1, 2016, Baltimore missed a deadline from the U.S. Department of Justice to halt its chronic and illegal releases of raw sewage into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

After negotiating with federal officials and the Maryland Department of the Environment, city officials last week released a revised consent decree that would give Baltimore another 14 years to fix the problem. 

Repairing and replacing all of the city’s leaky sewer pipes will eventually cost local ratepayers a total of $2 billion.

Speaking at a construction site, Jeffrey Raymond, chief of communications for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, said the city plans to stop the vast majority of sewage overflows within three years. The city will spend $430 million removing a sewer line obstruction at the entrance to the Back River Wastewater Treatment plant that has been causing a 10-mile sewage backup under the city, Raymond said. 


Pages