Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Legislative Research in Connecticut Shows That By Declining to Put Money In the Clean Water Fund, Connecticut Legislature Threatens the Sound Cleanup

In the middle of September, after I published an op-ed piece in the Times weekend sections that blamed the Connecticut legislature for abandoning the cleanup of Long Island Sound, I got an e-mail from a fellow named Paul Frisman, a staffer with the Connecticut General Assembly's Office of Legislative Research, asking me a couple of not-hostile questions about my sources, which I happily answered.

Yesterday I found a report Frisman wrote on September 19, obviously in response to specific questions from legislators about the validity of my piece. The gist of my argument was this:

… just when efforts to save the Sound should be increasing, the Connecticut Legislature is doing the opposite. It is backing off its cleanup commitment by slashing money for sewage plant improvements. This is particularly distressing not just because of the ecological implications but because Connecticut had been the leader in the cleanup, surpassing both New York State and New York City.

Frisman’s research confirmed this:

According to William Hogan, of the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Bureau of Water Management, the average annual Clean Water Fund bond authorization was $ 47.9 million from 1987 to 2002. Hogan states that the legislature reduced this authorization by $18 million in 2003 and $60 million in 2004 …. According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, however, the legislature reduced the FY 03 authorization by $ 16.8 million….

The legislature did not authorize any Clean Water Fund bonding in FY 05; it has authorized $20 million in each of the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years. This $20 million annual funding level is significantly less than the $144 million and $120 million DEP requested for FY 06 and 07, respectively. Hogan said DEP based its requests on the number of treatment plants that had completed the design phase of their projects and were ready for construction.

That last point is an important one. The DEP essentially ordered the treatment plant operators to upgrade their facilities, and promised to help them out with money, but the department was forced to renege when the legislature failed to come up with the funds.

Frisman then addresses the question of what it all means:

Q. Has the reduction in funding caused DEP to reduce its goals for nitrogen reduction in Long Island Sound?

No. According to Hogan, the state can still reach its goal of reducing nitrogen discharges from municipal sewage treatment plans by 64% by 2014 if it approves additional funding.

Note the qualifier: if it approves additional funding. That of course is the crux of the issue. The legislature has not approved additional funding. If it had, we wouldn't be having this discussion and Frisman would not have been asked to look into the validity of issue.

Frisman then takes on the question of whether the funding cuts have already had an effect. The answer is yes.

Variables affecting nitrogen levels in the sound include weather and sewage treatment plant construction. According to the Management Plan report, nitrogen loads in 2005 increased by more than 6,000 pounds a day over 2004 in large part because several New York City plants were taken off-line for construction of nitrogen removal upgrades. According to the Nitrogen Credit Advisory Board's 2005 Annual Report, 2005 also was the first time that Connecticut failed to meet the permitted discharge levels. According to the board, the permit limit for 2005 was 13,434 pounds per day, but the state's sewage treatment facilities discharged an average of 14,930 pounds per day. This was 1,496 pounds per day over the limit. According to the board, the failure to meet the 2005 discharge limits was caused both by higher than average rainfall and the failure to receive funding needed to complete treatment plant projects “at the rate originally assumed.”

Note again the last point: the failure to meet the 2005 discharge limits was caused both by higher than average rainfall and the failure to receive funding needed to complete treatment plant projects “at the rate originally assumed.”

And then there’s his all-important final section:

The advisory board report states that there is a $ 410 million backlog of projects that need to be funded by 2009, when the plants must reach 75% of the reduction required in 2014. The report states that “the 2006-07 Clean Water Fund budget as approved by the General Assembly and governor is inadequate to support progress in meeting the requirements of the TMDL. ”

At the $ 20 million funding level, it said, “only one in five projects ready to proceed will be funded in FY 06 and only one in seven in FY 07. ”

“The ability to achieve further progress towards meeting a continually decreasing permit limit…becomes more difficult as projects are delayed or not built at all due to a lack of funding assistance,” the report said. But it states that this trend can be reversed if projects are funded and completed in future years.

The report notes that there were 29 facilities waiting to be funded as of May, 2006. According to DEP's funding priority list, 12 of these projects, with an estimated project cost of $ 107 million, would be partially funded. Work on the remaining 17 projects and the non-funded portion of three projects cannot proceed because of the limited funding. But the report says these projects must be built to meet the August 2009 discharge limit.

“Projects that are in design today will require two to three years to complete construction and achieve nitrogen removal operation,” the report says. “Given that the 2009 TMDL nitrogen reduction limit is less than four years away, it is imperative that the 17 projects be funded in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Coincidentally, I got an e-mail this morning from Terry Backer, who is both the Soundkeeper and a member of the General Assembly, representing Stratford. It was Terry who organized the boat ride last month that resulted in support for additional Clean Water Funding from three other Connecticut legislators. Here’s what Terry wrote:


Yesterday was the ground breaking for the upgrade of the Stratford Sewage Treatment Plant.

It’s a 62 million dollar project that will take 30 months to complete. It’s an 80% loan and 20% grant project. Among other improvements to process, it will be a real nitrogen reduction plant --however the crew there did a good job with the antiquated equipment they had.. not so of some of its neighbors.

You may recall that I testified at the DEP hearing regarding funding priorities last winter. The legislature's failure to adequately fund the Clean Water Fund came home to roost. Milford has two plants that discharge two miles upstream from where the Stratford plant discharges. Because of limited funding, DEP had to create a priority list based on where a town was in its planning, bidding process and performance Stratford with a much older plant than those in Milford edged them out by a point of two. Political pressure rose from the Milford side because delays cost big money in inflation. Jim Miron, the Mayor of Stratford, and I proposed to DEP that they fund all the plants since not all the money gets spent any given year. Also given that it’s the same receiving waters in the Housatonic river it was logical to try to make the improvements all at one time..That's what happened.

So here is where it leaves us, the project has been started but the out-year funding is not in place ..We got the ball rolling but we need to make sure the funding is there when the projects catch up to the spending. I'll keep working on it.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Bonehead TV General Manager in Maine Bans Global Warming Coverage

Two local TV stations in Bangor, Maine, are under orders from their general manager to stop covering global warming. The guy's name is Michael Palmer, and here's what he said:

... when “Bar Harbor is underwater, then we can do global warming stories.”

“Until then,” he added. “No more.”

My wife saw the story and e-mailed me the link, with a short note: "What a bonehead." Hard to argue with that assessment.

Closing the Curtain in Mamaroneck Harbor

I had the dubious honor of covering the story when Mamaroneck and Westchester County first made the decision, in 1984 or ’85, to close the beaches on Mamaroneck Harbor every time in rained a half-inch or more. The rainwater carried so much bacteria into the harbor that it made it unsafe to swim.

Mamaroneck isn’t the only place to have that problem, of course, and various efforts are underway to solve it. The so-called Smart Sponge in Norwalk is one example; the separation of combined sewers throughout the area is another.

In Mamaroneck, they installed a large, permeable curtain designed to let water into the beach area but keep bacteria out. It seems to be working, as the Journal News reports.

Wind Power in Denmark

Newsday sent a reporter to Denmark to take a long look at wind power and to try to relate what he learned to LIPA’s proposal for a wind energy project off Jones Beach. I found the article to be interesting but, if you’re trying to form an opinion about wind power, not terribly helpful.

Most troublesome for me was the reporter’s explanation of a study that showed that because the wind doesn’t blow steadily, wind power needs to be augmented by other power and that in Europe that other power comes from fossil fuels. But if, as alternative energy proponents have argued, wind power is one of several kinds of renewable energy employed, eventually solar or tidal power might be able to replace the fossil fuel power being used now to fill in the wind gaps. And in any case, the problems he highlights seem to my uneducated and biased eye as the kind of problems that will get solved as a young industry matures.

Here’s the main story and the sidebar, both worth looking at.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The State of Local Environmental Journalism

I’ve whined here in the past about the pathetic state of environmental news reporting at the papers in the Long Island Sound area, but even I was surprised at how bad things are at the New Haven Register. Twenty-two newsroom positions have been eliminated since the start of the year, and the metro desk is now down to one editor and seven reporters. The Yale Daily News contrasts this with the Lansing State Journal, which covers an area of similar size in Michigan: it has an editor, two assistant editors, a deputy editor and 15 reporters.

There’s reasonably good New Haven-area coverage in the online-only New Haven Independent, which a veteran journalist named Paul Bass started a year or so ago in response to the frustrations of working in the mainstream media. It’s a worthy and admirable effort, but it’s still small and doesn’t carry much environmental news either.

The Connecticut Post, on the other hand, has recently modernized the look of its news website to feature three important news areas. “Local News” and “Police Log” are the first two. The third is “Pet News.” I only wish I were joking.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Alternative Power: Go Slow, But Do It Quickly

If your goal is to produce electric power through an alternative means like wind or tides, you have to be able to get that power to consumers. On Long Island, the only way to do that is through the Long Island Power Authority, and LIPA says it’s in no particular hurry to start selling electricity generated by the several tidal power projects in the planning stages. From Newsday:

LIPA chairman Richard Kessel said last week the utility had launched a broad analysis of tidal power and its potential for the region. The study will look at potential sites for optimal placement, economic and environmental impacts, community and business reaction and the effectiveness of various turbine technologies….

“Before people start talking about building 200 of these, we want to do a demonstration project, we want to work with the communities, the counties, the fishermen, and assess the viability of the technology for Long Island," Kessel said.

Two hundred is obviously an exaggeration but it’s also obvious that tidal power’s potential is attractive to a number of companies (here’s Newsday’s summary of current proposals). In fact one of them, Verdant Power, will begin installing turbines in the East River on November 13.

It goes without saying that if tidal power and wind power can replace the use of fossil fuels, even somewhat, we should support it. Kessel wants to go slow. Fine, but go slow quickly. If you want to know more about how quickly, read Bill McKibben’s recent New York Review of Books piece, which a blog called TomDispatch got permission to publish, here.

Referring to NASA climatologist James Hanson and to James Lovelock, the scientist who came up with the Gaia theory of the Earth, McKibben writes:

Hansen is not quite as gloomy as Lovelock. Although he recently stated that the Earth is very close to the hottest it has been in a million years, he said that we still have until 2015 to reverse the flow of carbon into the atmosphere before we cross a threshold and create a "different planet." When Hansen gave this warning last December we had ten years to change course, but soon we'll have only nine years, and since nothing has happened in the intervening time to suggest that we're gearing up for an all-out effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the divergence between Hansen and Lovelock may be academic. (Somehow it's small comfort to be rooting for the guy who says you've got a decade.)

Go slow, but hurry up about it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Connecticut Legislators Should Go Back Into Session and Take Up the Clean Water Fund

James “A Sewage Treatment Plant Is Not A Sexy Issue” Amman, the speaker of the Connecticut House, is thinking about calling legislators back into session after Election Day to vote on an energy bill. The Oyster Shell Alliance and the enviros who care about Long Island Sound ought to urge him to take up the cause of the Clean Water Fund too.

Amman lives in Milford but he doesn’t seem to care much about clean water. He also sees himself as invulnerable. Maybe he is but that doesn’t mean he can’t be influenced.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Melting the Ice in Switzerland

One of the longest most harrowing drives I’ve ever made was from eastern Switzerland, near St. Moritz, to western Switzerland, near the border of France. You have to drive up and over a couple of passes (perhaps more, I forget) to cross the Alps, including the Furka, which is very long, very busy, and very winding. We nicknamed it the Mother Furka because it was such a pain.

The one good thing though is that you get a terrific view of the Rhone Glacier, the source of the Rhone River. Back then (that is, 1992), it was enormous. It’s not so enormous any longer:

The glacier, whose soft contours and dirty gray surface make it resemble some huge sea creature, a whale perhaps, is rapidly shrinking, in the mild autumn weather, by 12 to 15 feet a day.

Chalk up another one to global warming.

Revkin and Safina Fish For Fluke Off Montauk

Andy Revkin took a break from covering global warming to go fishing off Montauk with Carl Safina (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it), and wrote up a Q&A with him in today’s Times.

It’s short but packed with good insights:

Q. What most discourages you related to the trends you see in the oceans?

A. That it’s so easy to see what we need to do, it’s so easy to see how things can be so much better and yet it’s taking so much time to come around to it.

Q. What are some of those improvements?

A. We need to just set fishing quotas and adhere to them, and make them realistic, and listen to what the scientists say about how many fish can come out of the ocean. And if we do that, we will get more of what we want.

… Q. And what’s one of the most encouraging things you’ve seen?

A. That fish are recoverable. Many of the fish that we have here were much less abundant 15 years ago than they are now. We did get some good regulations passed, and the fish began recovering right away. They know what to do. If you just don’t kill them as fast, they start coming back. So the most encouraging thing is that it works, but a lot of that could be much more widespread throughout the country and the rest of the world.

You Can Now Use E-Mail to Get Documents Covered Under the Freedom of Information Law in New York

The so-called sunshine laws, which in theory open up the workings of government agencies to the light of day (also known as public scrutiny and accountability), are violated all the time, particularly at the local level, often out of ignorance and laziness but sometimes because the people we elect are more comfortable if we don’t know what they’re doing.

But in New York State, one of those laws – the Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL – just got easier for the public to use. People can now request documents from government agencies via e-mail, and can receive their replies via e-mail.

Governments generate and keep a tremendous amount of basic, unfiltered information on environmental issues and problems in their communities, and the rule is that if the information exists either on paper or in an electronic file, it’s available to the public. There are some exceptions, but not many (and not as many as local governments would like you to think there are).

I haven’t heard if a similar e-mail provision to the Freedom of Information Law is in the works in Connecticut, but it should be. Details of New York’s e-mail regulations are here, and a news story is here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Joe Lieberman, Friend of Broadwater?

Was a vote for the federal energy bill earlier this year a vote for the Broadwater liquefied natural gas terminal? Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has joined Ned Lamont and Bobby Kennedy Jr. in saying, yes, it was. Blumenthal said it and tried to stay out of the Lamont Joe Lieberman Senate race, but Kennedy and Lamont assert that the vote shows the Joe is a friend of Broadwater.

The Lieberman campaign’s spokeswoman, Tammy Sun, continues to say that the energy bill gives the states the final say on energy projects. It should be noted that she is absolutely the only one to say that.

Everyone else says the bill clearly sends appeal of state decisions to the federal government and the federal courts.

Just as I think there are reasons above and beyond the Foley scandal that Republicans should lose control of Congress next month, there are reasons above and beyond Broadwater and the energy bill that Lieberman should lose next month. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter to me why they lose, as long as they do.

A New Analysis Evaluates Narragansett Bay, and the Result Isn't All That Good

Save the Bay, based in Providence, has evaluated the health of Narragansett Bay and, on a scale of 1 to 10, rated it a miserable 4.3 (miserable being my interpretation). Since 2000, the last time Save the Bay conducted a similar exercise, dissolved oxygen, the stock of bottom-feeding fish and shellfish and crustaceans, and the amount of marmful bacteria have all gotten worse.

Unfortunately Rhode Island’s politicians seem to be emulating Connecticut’s in their willful disregard for the environmental conditions. The Providence Journal reports:

In 2004, a law was passed for a 50-percent reduction of nitrogen dumping from sewer treatment plants by 2008.

Financing for the new initiatives has been uneven. In 2004, there was no initial money to finance efforts but voters approved a $20.7-million bond proposed by Carcieri. Progress stalled again in 2005 and last year when the legislature made cuts to bond proposals that would have paid for water-quality monitoring programs.

The Journal has a breakdown of the report, here, and the full report itself is here.

A Plan to Restore Stamford's Mill River

Stamford’s plans to restore the Mill River and the public lands that border it is nothing if not ambitious. Among many, many other things, the project would open up access to Long Island Sound for kayakers via a new 160-foot-long dock, create new areas to fish, and remove a dam that would restore the river’s natural flow and perhaps allow fish to spawn again. The Stamford Advocate’s story is here.

Full plans are being unveiled this week, and the city is looking for private donations to make it a reality. There’s plenty of money in Stamford, especially in the northern part of town, through which the Mill River flows before it reaches the heart of the city. Let’s hope they can tap into it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dead Zones, Worldwide: More Now Than Ever Before

Long Island Sound has had its summertime dead zone, in the western end of the Sound, for at least two decades. It was certainly not the first estuary or coastal area to develop such a phenomenon, but it wasn’t the last either. Two years ago the United Nations Environment Program counted 146 worldwide; there are now about 200.

Gristmill had it today, and here’s an AP story about it.

The UNEP press release is here. It says:

the full list of new or newly-registered sites would be available in early 2007

by which I infer that some of the 64 new locations might have been dead zones for a while and have just recently been documented while others are in fact new since 2004. From the press release:

De-oxygenated zones are areas where algal blooms, triggered by nutrients from sources including fertilizer run off, sewage, animal wastes and atmospheric deposition from the burning of fossil fuels, can remove oxygen from the water.

The low levels of oxygen in the water make it difficult for fish, oysters and other marine creatures to survive as well as important habitats such as sea grass beds.

Experts claim that the number and size of deoxygenated areas is on the rise with the total number detected rising every decade since the 1970s. They are warning that these areas are fast becoming major threats to fish stocks and thus to the people who depend upon fisheries for food and livelihoods.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Improved Public Access to the Sound and Maybe a Chance to Hear Some Unusual Bird Songs

A section of Cove Island Park in Stamford that for years had been used as a dump has been restored and officially reopened yesterday as a bird sanctuary. Here’s what the Stamford Advocate reported:

With Long Island Sound at one end and ponds, rocks and trees scattered throughout the area, the site also offers a soothing atmosphere, Director of Operations Tim Curtin said.

"It's a place to appreciate wildlife as well as to reflect," he said. "It's passive recreation."

Few municipalities have dedicated such sanctuaries, which help birds with their long and perilous journeys, said Patrick Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut.

Among the local birders who supported it were Michael Moccio and Patrick Dugan. Dugan is known among birders in the area for an incredible talent: he can whistle bird songs – not awkwardly or approximately, but exactly. Someone told me about this gift and so, once when I was in the field with him, I asked him to whistle the song of a winter wren. Every time I’ve heard a winter wren sing, I’ve had to almost laugh at its incredible length and complexity. Peterson describes the song as “a rapid succession of high tinkling warbles and trills, prolonged, often ending on a very high light trill,” and which Sibley describes as “long and complex: a remarkable continuous series of very high tinkling trills and thin buzzes.” So this was my equivalent of a trick question.

Patrick nailed it.

There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s movie “Sweet and Lowdown,” the movie in which Sean Penn plays a guitarist obsessed with Django Reinhardt, where a collection of odd folks try out for a talent contest. Patrick told us he showed up at the audition, made the first cut, and went to a day or two of filming on location in Ossining, but that his scene was ultimately left out of the movie. His bird songs were too good – he didn’t sound like an amateur. If you go to Cove Island and encounter a fellow with an expensive pair of binoculars hanging from his neck, as him to do his winter wren.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Maritime Center and SpongeBob

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when, after reading about a new website for the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, I went to the site and saw, first thing, a picture of SpongeBob Square Pants. I know they want kids to show up, but could they be a bit less frivolous?

Islander East Pipeline

If you follow the Islander East pipeline case (and in general, people in Connecticut want to stop the pipeline, while Long Islanders think it's a good idea), the New York Law Journal has a good summary of last week's federal court decision and much more information than the daily papers provided. It's here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Striped Bass Are Overly Abundant But Two Fishermen Are Busted For Catching Too Many

When two men from the New Haven area were arrested on Friday for catching more striped bass than they were allowed, and for catching striped bass that were smaller than the legal size limit, the charges were based on regulations enacted three decades ago to counteract a big drop in the number of striped bass on the East Coast.

The New Haven Register covered the arrests and cited Connecticut DEP spokesman Dennis Schain:

Schain said overfishing and attempts to sell striped bass without a license are an ongoing problem in the state. The DEP stopped commercial fishing of striped bass in the 1970s because of depleted stock. …

Schain said the limits exist to preserve and protect the stock. By taking undersized fish out of the water, it threatens the population, he said.

The truth is, the striped bass stock may no longer need the protection it’s getting and, in fact, other fish probably need protection from striped bass. Here’s what the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission says about striped bass:

Early records recount their abundance as being so great at one time they were used to fertilize fields. Regulations for striped bass have been in place since European settlement of North America. More recently, the Atlantic striped bass management program has enjoyed successes like no other. In a little more than 15 years, the resource has rebuilt from a historic low of about 20 million pounds to an historic high of 160 million pounds. This rebuilding did not occur without hardships. Both commercial and recreational fishermen alike have endured severe harvest restrictions and closures in some cases with the hope of seeing greater benefits in the near future. Fortunately, those sacrifices have paid off and the stock is no longer overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Striped bass are so abundant now that they are considered to be partly to blame for the population collapse of alewives and blueback herring, two fish that spawn in Connecticut Rivers

The DEP does not expect river herring populations to recover immediately. "We believe that the fishery closure may reduce the threat of further population declines and that it may enable river herring populations to recover more quickly in years when striped bass are less abundant," explained Parker. The local abundance of striped bass cannot be controlled since they are highly migratory and harvest is constrained by a coast-wide management plan.

One of the men arrested, a charter boat captain named T.J. Carlson, admirably took full responsibility:

“There’s no mistaking I was totally in the wrong with it. I’m not happy with myself over it," said Carlson, a part-time charter boat captain ….

What he could have added (but didn’t) is: I’m also not happy that I’m being charged with a crime based on regulations that protect a fish that probably doesn’t need as much protection it’s getting. If our fishing regulations were up-to-date and based on the needs of the ecosystem, there might have been no crime at all.

(By the way, there are four other new posts here since Friday, so keep scrolling and keep reading).

Jamesport's New State Park

The new Jamesport State Park and Preserve on eastern Long Island has a mile of beach fronting on Long Island Sound. The state bought the land a few years ago from KeySpan, whose predecessor, LILCO, had wanted to put a nuclear power plant there (coincidentally there’s a meeting tonight at Glen Island, in New Rochelle, to talk about the future of Davids Island, on which Con Ed had wanted to put a nuke plant and which is now being looked at as a possible park). State officials and others will announce their plans for the Jamesport park today.

Unfortunately there was a small oil spill late Saturday night on the Sound not far from Jamesport that left globs of heavy heating oil the size of quarters spread along two to three miles of shorefront.

Many Hands Make Lighthouse Work in Greenwich

The Stepping Stones lighthouse, off Kings Point, is for sale. In Greenwich, the town is trying to find the money to restore and open the Great Captain’s Island lighthouse. Of course, it being in Greenwich, where outsiders aren’t welcome on shorefront property, it would be open only to Greenwich residents.

Sewage Problems in Old Saybrook

The refusal on the part of some Old Saybrook homeowners to accept what the state DEP calls overwhelmingly evidence that their septic systems are polluting Long Island Sound means that some homeowners there can’t convert their summer houses to year-round residences.

The town’s First Selectmen says summer-only people will be able to live in Old Saybrook all year if town residents agree to a new municipal sewage treatment system. The downside, according to the town, is that the year-round population of Old Saybrook could increase by 50 percent. The Hartford Courant, which wrote about it back in August, covers it again, here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Michael Pollan Argues That Food Safety is Another Reason to Buy Your Food Locally

If a seemingly innocuous vegetable like spinach makes 200 people around the country sick because it’s contaminated with a deadly strain of E coli, is it better to change the way we produce and distribute food or to employ technology to disinfect food?

In today’s Times Magazine, Michael Pollan argues persuasively for the former. The foundations of his argument are statistics that are eye-opening and insights that, while not new, are worth reiterating. He writes:

… the way we farm and the way we process our food, both of which have been industrialized and centralized over the last few decades, are endangering our health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that our food supply now sickens 76 million Americans every year, putting more than 300,000 of them in the hospital, and killing 5,000. The lethal strain of E. coli known as 0157:H7, responsible for this latest outbreak of food poisoning, was unknown before 1982; it is believed to have evolved in the gut of feedlot cattle. These are animals that stand around in their manure all day long, eating a diet of grain that happens to turn a cow’s rumen into an ideal habitat for E. coli 0157:H7. (The bug can’t survive long in cattle living on grass.) Industrial animal agriculture produces more than a billion tons of manure every year, manure that, besides being full of nasty microbes like E. coli 0157:H7 (not to mention high concentrations of the pharmaceuticals animals must receive so they can tolerate the feedlot lifestyle), often ends up in places it shouldn’t be, rather than in pastures, where it would not only be harmless but also actually do some good. To think of animal manure as pollution rather than fertility is a relatively new (and industrial) idea.

Wendell Berry once wrote that when we took animals off farms and put them onto feedlots, we had, in effect, taken an old solution — the one where crops feed animals and animals’ waste feeds crops — and neatly divided it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm, and a pollution problem on the feedlot. Rather than return to that elegant solution, however, industrial agriculture came up with a technological fix for the first problem — chemical fertilizers on the farm. As yet, there is no good fix for the second problem, unless you count irradiation and Haccp plans and overcooking your burgers and, now, staying away from spinach. All of these solutions treat E. coli 0157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture.

Pollan’s solution is to rely on localized, decentralized food as much as possible. If you buy your meat and vegetables from local producers, you know exactly what you’re getting and where it came from, and you know who is responsible if something goes wrong. A decentralized food supply also means there is less of a chance of something big going wrong – and by big, he includes deliberate contamination by terrorists.

He also points out that when our food supply became industrialized, the government’s response was to regulate. Those regulations are now threatening to put small meat producers out of business.

Essentially it’s the “Small is Beautiful” argument that E.F. Schumacher made years ago. It’s also an issue that consumers can influence simply by their spending decisions. Buy locally produced vegetables, meat, and dairy products. The benefits are many.

Coincidentally, the Times business section today has a column arguing for the one specific solution – irradiation – that Pollan says would be the wrong response. That column is here. Read both, but Pollan is right.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is Lieberman a Broadwater Enabler? Lamont and Kennedy Say Yes

Long Island Sound and its future has finally entered the political arena. Ned Lamont, with the help of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., accused Joe Lieberman yesterday of undermining opposition to the Broadwater liquefied natural gas proposal by voting for the federal energy act last year.

The feeling in both Connecticut and New York is that if the decision to approve or deny Broadwater’s application were left to the states, denial would be guaranteed. But the energy bill gives that authority to the federal government. Here’s how the Stamford Advocate explained it:

The current bill gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to its text, "exclusive authority to approve or deny an application for the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of an LNG terminal."

So if you think the Broadwater proposal is a bad idea, which Lieberman has said he does, how could you have voted for the federal energy bill? Lieberman was the only Democratic senator from the northeast to do so.

Lieberman’s camp points out, correctly, that he has championed virtually all the important Long Island Sound cleanup legislation. They also point out that there were good reasons to vote for the energy bill despite the fact that it gives LNG siting decisions to FERC. Here’s what the Advocate reported:

[Lieberman spokeswoman Tammy] Sun said the bill resulted in a 63 percent reduction in potential utility rate increases; promoted fuel cell technology, which helps the environment and boosts Connecticut companies like Proton and United Technologies; and helped hold oil companies liable for contaminating clean drinking water.

But the Advocated also asserted this:

The senator's support of the energy bill, which environmentalists also criticized as providing a windfall in tax breaks to energy companies, dogged him throughout a primary campaign that focused on his support of Bush and his Republican agenda.

This is a good issue for Connecticut environmentalists to focus on, I think. Lieberman clearly supports the Long Island Sound cleanup, for which he deserves credit. On the other hand, it’s an easy issue to champion, one which every elected official supports and which it’s impossible to imagine Lamont not supporting. So if the Long Island Sound cleanup is important, you’ll get the same with Lamont as you’ve gotten with Lieberman.

On the other hand, if you think that President Bush is wrong about most issues and is barely competent to be president, and if you think as Lamont does that Lieberman is closely allied with Bush and will continue to support his policies, than the energy bill vote is simply another argument in your favor. This happens to be where I stand, although my eligibility to vote in the election ended six years ago when I moved out of Connecticut.

Lieberman says he’ll do whatever he can to stop Broadwater, including introducing specific legislation. It’s not clear to me why he hasn’t done so already.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not as if Lieberman’s vote on the energy bill would have changed anything. If he had voted no, it would have passed 73 to 27.

But in some cases votes are all we have to base our decisions on.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Harnessing Long Island Sound's Tides to Create Electricity

A company called Natural Currents Energy Services wants to use a 136-square-mile area of Long Island Sound, near Orient Point, for a tidal energy project, and another firm, Verdant Power, is hoping to put in similar projects near Fishers Island and Plum Gut. Verdant also has a proposal for the East River.

Both companies are seeking permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to Newsday (although I couldn’t turn anything up in a quick online check this morning).

Underwater turbines supposedly turn slowly enough so that they’re not a danger to fish, which distinguishes them from wind turbines, which whip around at speeds that can chop up birds. Newsday quotes an executive of one of the companies as saying the turbines would be 30-feet underwater and thus not a hazard to navigation. My recollection is that the currents in the area of the Race and Plum Gut are about six knots.

11:35 a.m. update ... Bryan Brown did the research for me and found the FERC docket numbers: FERC Docket # P-12738 for Verdant, Docket # P-12738 for Natural Currents. See his comment to this post for more.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

“Evaluation of Caffeine’s Utility as a Tracer of Sewage in Long Island Sound” and Other Topics at the Long Island Sound Conference

If you feel the need to come to terms with a lot (and I mean a lot) of the current academic science research about Long Island Sound, attend the Long Island Sound Biennial Research Conference. Over two and a half days, at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, there will be 47 consecutive 15-minute presentations (with coffee breaks, lunch, dinner and two night’s sleep thrown in) as well as 25 poster displays.

I counted them up on the agenda and then wondered who would be able to sit through and absorb them all. The answer, of course, is scientists and students. The conference is clearly not organized for the lay person (or for the stamina-challenged).

In the first hour of the first day, for example, there are presentations on “An Overview of Process Studies of the Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observing System, LISICOS” and “Benthic Foraminifera: Ecosystem Monitors of Eutrophication in Long Island Sound” and “Mechanism(s) of Eutrophication-Related 15N Enrichment in Long Island Sound” and “Evaluation of Caffeine’s Utility as a Tracer of Sewage in Long Island Sound,” after which you’ll probably need more coffee.

The event runs from the first thing Thursday morning, October 26, until noon on Saturday, October 28.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Islander East Schism

Both sides of Long Island Sound – Connecticut and Long Island – detest the Broadwater LNG proposal, but that doesn’t mean they see eye-to-eye on all energy proposals.

Connecticut people, including Connecticut Fund for the Environment and residents of the Thimble Islands area, think the Islander East pipeline is a terrible idea and they’re fighting like crazy to stop it.

Long Island people, including the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, like the pipeline idea, because among other reasons they think it will eliminate any need for Broadwater’s LNG.

Late last week a federal court, ruling in a lawsuit brought by Islander East (a joint venture of Keyspan and Duke Energy), said Connecticut did an inadequate job justifying a decision to deny a permit for the pipeline, and sent the issue back to the state for another look.

Environmentalists and Broadwater: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some complaints I’d heard that Broadwater might be unduly trying to influence the region by contributing money to a grant program and, more specifically, by having a consultant become a member of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee.

Mark Tedesco, who runs the EPA’s Long Island Sound program, wrote a response to the second part of that complaint, citing the by-laws of the CAC, which were written to include as many groups and constituencies as possible. He posted his thoughts in the comments of my original post, but I’ll also excerpt them. Mark wrote:

There are many difficult, complex issues facing Long Island Sound. As should be clear from the by-laws, which were developed and approved by the CAC itself, the Long Island Sound Study believes that those issues are best addressed when we involve all perspectives in an atmosphere of open, honest dialogue and mutual respect. That has been a tenet of the CAC, to its credit, and one that we will continue to honor.

In other words, despite proposing a liquefied natural gas terminal for the middle of the Sound, a proposal that is generally reviled among environmentalists, Broadwater deserves a seat on the CAC as much as Citizens Campaign for the Environment or Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

Fair is fair, and the worst thing that could happen from Broadwater’s involvement is that they convince people the LNG terminal is a good idea. The best thing would be that Broadwater opponents listen and use Broadwater’s arguments to hone their opposition. (Both sides can also consider their proximity as a chance to follow the dictum that says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”)

All this is old news, of course. Broadwater’s consultant has been on the CAC for well over a year. The complaint that led to my post referred to worries about the pervasiveness of Broadwater’s influence. But it’s worth remembering that in any fair forum, you’ll be influenced by the worthwhile ideas, and reject the others.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fringed Gentians: "The spirit of their loveliness escapes imprisonment"

The rarest habitat within a short distance of where I live is an eight-acre calcareous fen at the headwaters of a small drainage that flows toward Long Island Sound. It lies over a tongue of Inwood marble bedrock, which enriches the groundwater that feeds it and turns it alkaline, making for a harsh and specialized habitat. Grass-of-parnassus grows there, and pitcher plants. I tend to be wide-eyed at any flower I find there, assuming it’s a rarity, which can lead to occasions like the time I carefully keyed-out a cluster of violets growing among the sphagnum only to learn that they were nothing different than the common violets that grow in my lawn.

I was there yesterday morning and the sun was so sharp and the contrast so high it was difficult to see what was growing. But after a little searching, I found a number of fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita), a first for me. Most of the plants bore one flower but a couple had two and one had three. There’s a group of women in my town who go out once a week on flower- or bird-finding walks, and I asked one of them, via e-mail yesterday, where else one can find fringed gentians near here. She replied with the general location and then said that this year the group found a stalk with 42 flowers.

In 1898, in a book called Wild Flowers of the North-Eastern States (“With three hundred and eight illustrations the size of life”), Ellen Miller and Margaret Christine Whiting wrote of the fringed gentian, “Though often low, and bearing but one flower, it is not uncommon to find a single tall stalk adorned with a dozen or two of blossoms, and a reliable observer reports having found plants 5 feet in stature, and bearing upwards of a hundred flowers and buds apiece!”

I wasn’t wearing the right boots yesterday, and had to get to the office in any case, and so I couldn’t look as far and wide through the wet meadow as I might have wanted. As it was, I felt lucky to find any gentians, given the number of deer around here and how they’ve all but destroyed the local flora. But deer aren’t the only reasons fringed gentians are hard to find. Of the plants bearing upwards of a hundred flowers, Miller and Whiting added, “This remarkable luxuriance could only have occurred in some solitary mountain glen unknown to the gentian-hunter, who, between greedy admiration of its beauty and ignorance of its habits, is doing his best to exterminate the plant…. For the aesthetic pleasure also it is best not to pluck them; their charm loses its subtlety when carried into civilized environments – the spirit of their loveliness escapes imprisonment.”

My friend who found the stalk with 42 flowers claimed to be unable to describe exactly where she saw them. And I’m pretty sure I’d be unable to retrace yesterday morning’s steps.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Seaweed

Another alien invader in Long Island Sound, this one in algal form (Grateloupia turuturu).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Long Island Sound Stewardship

The Long Island Sound Stewardship Act has passed both houses and apparently is waiting for the President to sign it. Here’s a summary of the program and here’s a list of the stewardship sites. The Journal News today has a summary of what the new law would mean:

With the Long Island Sound Stewardship Initiative, Congress authorized itself to spend up to $25 million a year for five years, although the amount actually given is likely to be far lower.

… The stewardship funds that do materialize are meant for projects "where the land meets the sea," Miller said. It would include projects that increase public access to the Sound, such as the purchase of new parkland and the creation of ecological sanctuaries. It could, for instance, include projects like clearing away invasive vines, work that the county is undertaking at Edith G. Read Nature Sanctuary in Rye, Caccese said.

Norwalk Harbor's Fish

If Dick Harris is right (and the couple of times I interviewed him and accompanied him on his little boat he seemed to know what he was talking about, enough so that I put him in my book and I cite him when I give a Long Island Sound talk) Norwalk Harbor is in bad shape.

Harris used to work for Shell oil but for years he’s been running a volunteer water quality monitoring program in Norwalk. A Stamford Advocate reporter went with him and his Wilton High School students recently as they did their routine fish surveys. Here’s an excerpt from today’s news story:

The more fish and diverse animals they find the better the water is doing, Harris said.

"We are looking for noncommercial fish that don't do anything for man but show him he has got a balanced environment," he said.

The totals from each day are sent to Penny Howell in the fisheries division at the DEP who, after years of data collection, can analyze the changes….

The fish count naturally dips and spikes between the years, but despite the creatures found on the recent trawling trip, 2006 is showing signs of a drastically low dip from previous years, Harris said.

Last year, Harris' team collected 14 species and 442 fish. So far this fall, they have collected only seven species and 60 fish, Harris said….

The numbers of fish in Norwalk waters were low to start, Howell said.

"This stock can't afford any more bad numbers," she said. "It's had too many bad numbers, so something is seriously wrong."

Howell's next step is to search for the cause of the sustained dips, which would take years of data collection. Her department is looking at links from the rising number of predators such as cormorants, diving birds that eat small fish, to man-made causes such as pesticide use.

Another indicator of unbalanced ecology in Norwalk Harbor was the thousands of mud snails Harris and his crew picked up last week. The tiny snails feed off organic material such as decomposed leaves that residents rake from their yard and throw in the water, Harris said.

But the trend is not all downhill. Some years have been worse, such as 2002, when volunteers picked up one fish the entire year. The modernization of the Norwalk sewage plant in the mid- and late-1990s also helped improve the harbor's water, Harris said.

(I add as a caveat that to me it’s hard to tell what’s really going on out there. The story says:

2006 is showing signs of a drastically low dip from previous years

The numbers of fish in Norwalk waters were low to start

But the trend is not all downhill. Some years have been worse, such as 2002, when volunteers picked up one fish the entire year.

So things are drastically worse this year than in previous years, except for 2002, when they caught only one fish, and in any case there weren’t many fish out there to begin with. To make it harder to figure out, the story reports:

The students have helped him collect data every year since [1991], except for a hiatus from 1994 to 2002.

In other words, they looked for fish in 1991, ’92 and ’93, and then again in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 – seven of the last 16 years.

Is that enough data to draw a conclusion?)

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Stock Picker Says the Coast Guard's Broadwater Report is a Reason to Sell TransCanada Shares

Soon after the Coast Guard released its Broadwater safety report 10 days ago, a stock tout named John Duboscs, who writes a column called Guru Picks at Forbes.com, wrote that he "bailed completely" and sold his shares in TransCanada, which is Royal Dutch Shell's partner in the proposed LNG terminal:

TransCanada (nyse: TRP - news - people ) operates as a natural gas transmission and storage company. Its partnership with the U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (nyse: RDSA - news - people ), Broadwater Energy, had hoped to build a liquefied natural gas depot in Long Island Sound. On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a report highly critical of the idea, and while it did not kill the project, for all intents and purposes, it is now dead in the water, so to speak. The Coast Guard pointed out the vulnerability of such a facility to terrorist attacks and maintained that it did not have the resources necessary to ensure safety. Gurus bailed completely.

To be fair, when he says he "bailed completely," it's not clear whether he means TransCanada, or Shell, or both. My guess is that if he's looking to protect himself from a stock price that falls because of a questionable report from the Coast Guard, the smaller company would make him more vulnerable than the bigger company, because the impact of the Coast Guard's report would be greater on the smaller company. TransCanada, with a market capitalization of $16 billion, is much smaller than Shell, which has a market capitalization of $137 billion.

$9 Million More For The Cleanup Of Davids Island

The conversion of Davids Island, off New Rochelle, from an abandoned U.S. Army base to a park got a big boost on Friday when Congresswoman Nita Lowey announced that she has secured an additional $9 million, to add on to the previous $9.1 million, to clean up the island.

For decades until the early 1960s, Davids Island was the site of Fort Slocum, an Army base. The Army sold it to New Rochelle for $1, and ever since there have been a number of proposals to develop it, some with the New Rochelle city government’s support and assistance, some not, including a nuclear power plant and (in various permutations) luxury housing.

Westchester County wants to buy it and turn it into a park, but the island is a mess, and a massive (an obviously quite expensive) cleanup needs to come first.

If you're not sure where it is, you can find Davids Island here.

Two Editorial Opinions on the Broadwater Proposal

The New London Day had a strong editorial yesterday in reaction to the Coast Guard’s report on the safety of the Broadwater LNG terminal proposed for Long Island Sound. Its conclusion, although it doesn’t use this term, is that Broadwater will require a substantial public subsidy to keep it safe and that, for the time being at least, there’s little proof that the subsidy is justified in terms of need:

The Coast Guard points out that it doesn't have the resources to manage the risks it identifies, including possible collisions with the LNG tankers in the channels they would traverse….

To protect against such risks, the Coast Guard is proposing a security zone a square mile and a half around the LNG platform, and protective zones around the tankers while they are transiting the Sound. These would be two miles in front, a mile behind and 750 yards to either side the tankers.

The Coast Guard report says it isn't equipped to enforce these requirements on its own, and points out that Broadwater alone cannot protect against fire and other risks. These tasks will require additional help from state and local agencies. Because the tankers will pass through Rhode Island and Connecticut as well as New York waters, all three states will need to be part of the planning and reach an agreement with Broadwater over how the costs will be shared….

These social, environmental and economic costs make it particularly incumbent upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that has the final word on this proposal, to carefully consider whether there is a need that trumps the clear ecological danger posed by the Broadwater plan. A study commissioned by the Fund for the Environment asserts there is no such need, and that existing or planned LNG facilities elsewhere in the Northeast will meet the region's energy needs. Too much is at stake for the federal government to make this decision based on speculation.

Newsday, on the other hand, opines that the Coast Guard report proves that the Broadwater facility would be safe. It adds, though, that safety isn’t enough:

The comprehensive Coast Guard report settles one key question: safety. Whether a liquefied natural gas facility belongs in the Sound remains a legal, political and public policy question yet to be answered.
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