water pollution

One mining firm fined as another ups its Pebble bet by $10 million

We didn't have to point out the juxtaposition of one Alaskan mining firm being fined for environmental violations -- notwithstanding the industry's claim that modern mining methods obviate environmental harm -- as another upped its bet to open a massive new mine in The Last Frontier state.

No, the editorial writers at the Anchorage Daily News caught that one for us.

Firm No. 1 is Teck Alaska, which was just fined for wastewater violations at its Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue. It's a subsidiary of Teck Cominco, a firm based just across the Canadian border and upstream from Washington's Lake Roosevelt, which the firm also has polluted. This despite the mining industry's characterization of regulations as a "belt-and-suspenders" system to protect the environment.

Firm No. 2 is Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., which is boosting its budget for the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska by $10 million, to $70 million. Opponents point out that the proposed mine is upstream from Bristol Bay, where they fear mining pollution will severely curtail the salmon harvest.

Here's what the Daily News' opinion writers had to say about the situation.

We're told Alaska has strong mining laws that will ensure Pebble is benign. Experience with Red Dog suggests those laws have failed to prevent significant trouble....

No mine -- or any other industrial operation -- is going to run flawlessly, even with the best training and intentions and vigilant enforcement.

While we're rounding up pollution news in the 49th state, we also should note that BP just got fined $1.7 million for inadequate oil spill protection at Prudhoe Bay.

-- Robert McClure

NYT helps you track down water pollution in your town

It's true that the mainstream media has plenty to apologize for, having flubbed reporting on Iraq and the financial crisis and for its tortoise-like pace in moving into the modern age of interactive journalism. (For an interesting take on that last part, and more, see Dan Gillmor's worthwhile "Eleven Things I'd Do If I Ran A News Organization." No anniversary stories or top 10 lists, for starters.)

But this week brings a powerful reminder of what the MSM can do that isn't generally possible in other quarters -- and in this case, the MSM is explicitly trying to empower citizen journalists and fellow scribes to run further with the story.

I'm speaking, of course, about the powerful package that ran this week in The New York Times on lax enforcement of our country's water-pollution rules. It's the latest installment in a series called "Toxic Waters."

Charles Duhigg's story starts with a woman whose kids got scabs and rashes and had teeth enamel eaten away by polluted drinking water. She lives just 17 miles from the state Capitol in West Virginia:

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.  “How is this still happening today?”

The Times wore out a lot of virtual shoe leather on this project, filing public-records requests with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with all 50 states.

Spokane cracks down on detergents to save a river

The Spokane River is so badly polluted that it will take $500 million and a decade to get a handle on the pollution problem. That's the upshot of a new plan released by the Washington Department of Ecology.

 Nine years in the making, the plan envisions trading of pollution credits, much like the cap-and-trade legislation being considered in Congress to slow global warming. The public has until Oct. 15 to comment on the new plan. 

According to a story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review by Becky Kramer, enviros and government types are happy about the plan. The most memorable writing about the Spokane River's pollution problems in recent memory came from Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times:

By day, Patti Marcotte is a working mom -- dealing with the balancing act created by a 5-year-old daughter, a demanding job, a split-level house and a willful boxer puppy.

Come the post-dinner hour, however, Marcotte begins operating in the shadowy world of smuggled soap.

Local officials, you see, banned detergents containing phosphorus, the element that is leading to rapid growth of algae that ultimately robs the water of oxygen.

But most detergents still contain phosphorus. When residents of Spokane couldn't get their dishes clean enough using the reformulated soaps, they went across the state line to buy the good stuff. Good for them and their dishes, anyway -- but not so good for the Spokane River.

 -- Robert McClure

Soapy water pollution obscures a greater storm drain solution

When I came across this piece in the Tacoma News Tribune, I thought: How many articles do we need about the ramifications of car wash runoff in storm drains? The idea that folks might still be oblivious to the toxic soapy suds associated with washing their wheels in paved driveways had never occurred to me. But boy, was I was wrong. The article by Debbie Abe of the News Tribune explained:

Many people don’t realize that what goes down storm drains flows untreated into South Sound waterways, polluting the habitat of salmon, crabs and countless other sea critters.