Washington

Washington eschews coal for power, but lines up to be king of shipping coal to China

By Kimberly Cauvel and Marianne Graff

Western Washington University

BELLINGHAM – Coal has fueled American electricity for more than 100 years, but on April 29, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation to end coal-powered electricity in Washington. In an effort to reduce air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change, Washington’s only coal-fired power plant, in Centralia, is obligated to stop burning coal by 2025.

As Washington stops using coal for its own power, it could begin shipping coal to China’s power plants. Whatcom County could become one of the largest coal exporters in the United States and the largest on the West Coast if SSA Marine’s proposed 350-acre terminal is built at Cherry Point, west of Ferndale.

SSA Marine estimates its proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal could ship up to 48 million tons of coal to China each year if it reaches full capacity, which the company predicts would happen by 2026.Environmentalists and many concerned Whatcom County residents are asking whether this project fits with the spirit of the new state law. The environmental groups argue that coal, whether burned in China or Washington state, produces emissions harmful to human health.

“A ton of carbon dioxide or a ton of coal burned, whether in China or the U.S., is going to have the same impact as far as climate change is concerned,” said Dr. Dan Jaffe, University of Washington professor of atmospheric and environmental science.

Air pollutants are swept into the atmospheric cycle and have a global reach, traveling from Asia to the United States every 10 days, Jaffe said.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation: Big problems at nation's #1 dump, but stimulus funds speed cleanup

Maybe it was the post-Earth Day glow, or perhaps the prospect of a long-delayed vacation. But today when I and colleagues from the Society of Environmental Journalists visited the most contaminated site in North America, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, I was surprised by the amount of progress that has been made on cleanup.

Now, there's no doubt that Hanford is still a mess. The project is starting to look like it will cost roughly twice as much and take roughly twice as long as originally estimated, as Karen Dorn Steele established on our tour. There's been no shortage of screwups and missteps in the cleanup process. Radioactive waste is leaking into the only part of the Columbia River that still flows naturally, onto the spawning grounds for that so-very-rare commodity on the Columbia, a healthy salmon run.

And, of course, there’s the seemingly never-ending quest to build what has begun to sound like a figment of someone’s imagination: A plant that encases the worst of the wastes in a glass-like substance for longterm storage. Now it’s supposed to be done in 2019. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The chemicals within us

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester.

Sightline highlights need for continued cleanup of US's No. 1 water-pollution problem, stormwater

rm iwest mugIt was good to see former Dateline Earth denizen Lisa Stiffler out today with a new report  (PDF) on the country's No. 1 water pollution problem:  Stormwater.

As longtime Dateline Earth readers will know, Lisa and I worked together on a bunch of stories over the past decade highlighting the need to protect Puget Sound.

Cleaning up Coeur d'Alene

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman highlights the history behind a $1.79 billion bankruptcy settlement between the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), owner of the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead from the mines helped fuel World War II's barrage of bullets and Idaho's economic trajectory, but the mine owners knowingly emitted large amounts of lead into the environment, though they could have fixed the emissions control.

Instead, they pursued record profits while poisoning the air with a substance known to make children fidgety, dumb and brain damaged.  The Kellogg mine was on the Coeur d'Alene river, which drains into Lake Coeur d'Alene, which along with the upper reaches of the Spokane River is now one of the nation's largest Superfund sites.

Now, the mine's waste tailings, full of heavy metals like cadmium, spread into Washington, and the state and the E.P.A.'s work is not done.  $435 million of the settlement is set aside specifically for Bunker Hill.  The clean up of the mines is revving Idaho's economic engine now, attracting another $15-20 million in stimulus funds from the Obama Administration.

Read University of Idaho Associate Professor Katherine Aiken's excellent history of the Bunker Hill mine, whose owners were embroiled in Watergate, giving illegal contributions to the EPA to influence its decisions, rather than spending the money on cleaning up the toxic legacy they had left to Idaho and Washington's children.

Welcome to Black (Cape) Friday at Dateline Earth. Or... get your vampire on! Just don't buy anything

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

We're making it something of a tradition at Dateline Earth to refrain from the consume-a-fest that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. Instead we'll  remind our friends about Buy Nothing Day, which was conceived just up the road in Vancouver to say -- and this was long before the recession -- that retail therapy ain't the way to happiness.

But if we can't have Black Friday, we'll have Black Cape Friday. Check it out: I just started reading Tom Standage's "An Edible History of Humanity," which already is laying out concepts that will help me understand one of the most important of environmental issues, food.

Maybe it's that I still have grain on my brain because of our fretting of the other day about what climate change will mean to food supplies. Or maybe it's that the latest in the "Twilight" movies is out, meaning the vampire-focused among us are beating a path to Forks, Washington, a few hours from Rain City.

In any case, I just have to share this passage, which comes in a chapter in which Standage traces the development of maize -- corn -- from a plant that wasn't really very much used as a food source. Yes, be patient, kids -- this passage actually is about vampires:

Maize could only become a dietary mainstay with the help of  a further technological twist, since it is deficient in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, and the vitamin niacin, which are essential elements of a healthy human diet.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Washington domestic partnership law passing; Maine same-sex marriage law losing

rita_hibbardwebIt may be that if you call the union "marriage," it loses at the ballot box. Washington voters are appearing to approve a domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage without the label, while Maine voters are turning down a gay marriage law.

The Washington domestic partnership ballot measure was leading narrowly statewide as ballots were counted Tuesday night, the Seattle Times reports, and leading strongly in King County returns. The measure, a referendum on a law passed earlier this year by the Legislature, was doing well in the metropolitan Puget Sound area, and being rejected in the more rural areas of eastern Washington.

The Maine vote is widely considered a stinging defeat to gay marriage advocates, especially because it occurred in New England, which has been more receptive to other areas of the country to same-sex unions. It follows on the heels of a similar pattern in California, where voters overturned a gay marriage law at the ballot box last year.

The New York Times reports:

"With the repeal of the same-sex marriage law, Maine became the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Five other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont — have legalized same-sex marriage, but only through court rulings and legislative action.

-- Rita Hibbard

Glaciers melting faster than originally thought, study finds

Three heavily-studied glaciers in Alaska and Washington are shrinking rapidly, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study, reports Erika Bolstad of the Anchorage Daily News. Changes in the Wolverine Glacier and Gulkana Glaciers in Alaska and South Cascade Glacier in Washington state have been monitored for more than 50 years. Each has a different elevation and climate, allowing them to act as indicators for glaciers across North America. Glacial runoff provides necessary cooling and oxygen to mountain streams, and a reduction in the amount of runoff would affect water temperature and downstream ecosystems. Less runoff also means less drinking water in some areas: Anchorage gets their drinking water from Eklutna Glacier runoff. Although Anchorage's water supply isn't threatened at this point, that of millions of South Americans could be if glacial melting rates continue to increase.

– Emily Linroth