environment

Can "Eco-Industrial Districts" help make Seattle sustainable?

A potentially far-reaching step toward making Seattle and its economy truly sustainable went unrecognized by news media this week: King County declaring its intention to partner with the city to create "Eco-Industrial Districts." A likely first candidate: The Duwamish River corridor in south Seattle, home of a Superfund site but also some grand visions by environmentalists, community activists and others.

The King County Council, prodded by councilman Larry Phillips, passed a resolution Sept. 13 that was welcomed by Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin:

"Seattle’s industrial core is a unique and extremely valuable resource and critical to the long term economic health of the region. The City Council’s interest in (eco-industrial districts) has a dual purpose, both to strengthen our industrial core and to improve the environmental quality of the Duwamish river corridor."

It's been a few years since the city council passed an ordinance intended to help preserve easily gentrified industrial areas. It's a threat we explored in our 2007 series on the Duwamish. But the city hasn't done a whole lot since then to proactively encourage high-wage industry to stay in town.

The whole idea of these eco-industrial districts is that new and cleaner industry can dovetail with efforts to green up -- literally and figuratively -- some of the city's grittier and yet economically important areas. Here's how the county's press release conceputalizes them:

EPA gives $30 million to Puget Sound; but warming-related acidity attacks the food chain

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it's awarding $30 million to efforts to restore Puget Sound. Sounds like great news -- except that it was completely overshadowed by extraordinarily sobering new science unveiled today: Acidity levels in the Sound, driven by the same processes that are unnaturally warming the planet, appear to be dissolving the shells of oyster larvae. And the weak acid is killing plankton at the base of the food chain -- the one that provides sustenance for creatures all the way up to orcas. And people. 

Imagine a world without oysters. It means a lot more than just forgetting about oysters Rockefeller. Oysters are a basic part of the ecosystem, a big part of the processes that make the ocean what it is.

And then, given the news about the plankton, start considering a world without most forms of sea life that we currently know. It's not a big leap. Even for someone who has chronicled bad environmental news for more than two decades, this is an extremely grave development. 

Folks, this is really significant news. News reports from the Seattle Times, seattlepi.com and the Puget Sound Business Journal -- the early accounts that already are on line, at least* -- seem to count this as just one more strike against the Sound. But it's more. We're talking about harmful changes across the ecosystem at the cellular level. This is huge -- and hugely depressing -- news.

Saving salmon means spreading risks among diverse populations, important new study says

Saving imperlied salmon in the Pacific Northwest means focusing a lot more on the genetic quality of the fish and a lot less on the quantity of fish cranked out in hatcheries, suggest the authors of a groundbreaking new study in the prestigious science journal Nature.

The notion that spawning lots of salmon in hatcheries could actually impede efforts to bring back struggling wild runs is not a new one. The science on that is solid. But the new study, which focused on the success of salmon runs in Alaska’s hatchery-less Bristol Bay, is “a game-changer,” according to the University of Washington team that produced the research.

Here’s why: The new study documents how Bristol Bay for more than half a century has consistently produced fishable sockeye salmon runs. That’s because in a natural system like Western Alaska, the existence of so many different runs that reproduce in different nooks and crannies of the ecosystem ensures that – whatever happens – some salmon runs will thrive. Runs that do well in cold, wet years are winners sometimes. Other times, when temperature and rainfall are relatively mild, runs better suited to those conditions will boom.

But every year, at least some runs will do well. It’s all about spreading out the risk.

Think of the varied salmon runs of Bristol Bay like a financial portfolio well-positioned to endure whatever goes down on Wall Street: stocks that take advantage of upturns, bonds that hold value in down times and maybe some real estate or pig belly futures or gold bullion thrown in for good measure.

Keep up with news on BP's oil spill at The Daily Glob, courtesy SEJ

One of the cool fringe benefits of doing a lot of free labor for the Society of Environmental Journalists is that I get to hang out with folks who are doing some really cool stuff. Example: If you want to keep up with the latest on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, check out SEJ's new newsfeed, The Daily Glob.

 

 

 

Keep Up With Gulf Spill News on SEJ's New Daily Glob The story of the tragic Gulf oil spill is getting bigger every day. Keeping up with hourly breaking news, and the spill's causes and consequences, can be overwhelming both to journalists and the general public. The Society of Environmental Journalists has launched a new tracking blog to help you follow the Gulf spill story: The Daily Glob — online at http://dailyglob.sej.org . The site links to an array of the best information sources about the spill and related topics — ranging from the Coast Guard's spill news page, to lists of university spill experts, to the Times-Picayune's spill news portal. It also collects on an hour-by-hour basis, links to the hottest breaking spill news stories from all kinds of media — offering one-stop shopping for all the top stories. The array of news tools will help reporters find and enrich stories. They include mapping tools, infographics, photo and video resources, background information, experts' phone numbers, Congressional hearings, and more. Take a look. — http://dailyglob.sej.org/ — Tell your colleagues. And check back often for more.

Help! I've been poisoned by stormwater!

For years talented fellow journalists -- and before them my best professors -- have emphasized the value of using all five of a journalist's senses to experience a story and enlighten readers, listeners and viewers. Great idea -- but tonight it went a little far for me. After more than a decade of writing about the perils of stormwater, tonight I actually tasted some.

It was far, far from on purpose. I decided to dash down to Pike Place Market to buy some fish, a rare thing nowadays since I don't work particularly near there.  

It was pouring as I drove back to my office. The windows fogged. I rolled them down while sitting at a stoplight. Then-- whoosh! -- passing cars sent walls of water cascading into the car. Unfortunately, when this started I had my mouth slightly open. (Maybe I was singing? Drooling? Mouth-breathing? I dunno....)

Yes, that foul mixture that I've described in seemingly innumerable articles is something I've looked at and smelled and heard and -- reluctantly -- touched in the past. I had no intention of going to this extent to understand this story.

Of course I spit and swished and spit and swished some more, using up a bit of mouthwash.

Now, here's the weird thing: I've written more than once about how bad it is to have copper in the waterways that are supposed to nourish young salmon, even at minuscule levels. And I've outlined how every one of us, every time we touch our brakes, unleashes a teensy-tiny amount of copper.

Byline: 

Obama administration to skeptical judge: Bush's salmon-rescue plan is A-OK

To highlight yet another example of how the Obama administration's environmental policies don't always look that different from the Bush administration's, note that today the National Marine Fisheries Service tried to assure a skeptical federal judge that a Bush-era salmon-rescue plan was just fine -- even though it ruled out disabling dams on the Snake River.

For years, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland has been ruling that the Bush administration's blueprint to bring back struggling salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers just didn't measure up. When environmentalists, tribes, sportfishing interests and the state of Oregon complained that the Obama-era Fisheries Service plan was no better than Bush's, Redden gave the agency three months to review the plan.

A pivotal question is whether four dams on the Snake River -- which produced about 5 percent of the Pacific Northwest's electricity, last I checked -- should be "breached," meaning partially removed to let the river flow more freely again. The dams and the changes they cause in the river kill some of the small salmon migrating to sea there.

After a three-month review, the Fisheries Service said the Bush-era plan needed only minor modifications. It refused to start the years-long planning process that would be required to breach the dams. It didn't even budge on a lesser step: letting more water flow through the dams without producing electricity -- "spill" -- to help the fish.

The best quote of the day -- and even this is a tired analogy, bearing witness to the tenure of this controversy -- came from Nicole Cordan, a campaigner with Save Our Wild Salmon:

"The Everglades is a test -- if we pass, we may get to keep the planet"

The quote in the headline about the Everglades being a test of our will to restore the Earth comes to mind as Everglades advocates gather in D.C. to try to give their cause some extra oomph at this time of tight government budgets. Today the Obama administration had some really good news for 'Glades campaigners: Some 5.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail will be raised to restore more-natural water flows into Everglades National Park.

It's a step that was called for waaaay back in the early 1990s when I broke a story on a group of federal scientists advising the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about what would constitute a credible stab at Everglades restoration. (1993 being the dim mists of antiquity, Web-wise, I can't find that news story or the report that inspired it. But I did locate a similar document from 1996 by the same "Everglades Science Subgroup" that advised the Corps. It's also discussed in a book  by Judith Layzer.)

Since the early '90s, the effort to rescue the Everglades from agriculture and development has emerged as the biggest ecosystem-restoration project ever attempted on the planet. It's long been a rarity, an environmental issue that enjoys bipartisan support. It remains a cause for both sides of the aisle, with the two-day "Everglades Summit" that kicked off today co-chaired by, among others, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Despite massive Gulf oil spill, offshore oil drilling starts soon in the Arctic Ocean

If you thought BP's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill would give the oil companies some pause about offshore drilling, you were sadly mistaken. Armed with a just-issued appellate court ruling against environmentalists and Alaskan native tribes, Shell is pushing briskly ahead with plans to launch exploratory drilling off the north coast of Alaska in matter of weeks.

Yes, just as BP's Deepwater Horizon spill is revealed to be on course to outdo the nation's worst oil spill, Alaska's Exxon Valdez, another oil company wants to open up vast swaths off the the 49th state's coast for drilling. These are the same waters that produce the nation's largest fish catch.

Recall that, as we recounted not long ago, government auditors have established that the U.S. Minerals Management Service scientists were ordered to do a shoddy job analyzing environmental risks of this new drilling campaign in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas of the Arctic Ocean.

Recall also -- and we're having trouble understanding why this isn't coming up more right about now -- that it wasn't that long ago that Minerals Management Service officials literally were having sex and snorting cocaine with the oil-company execs their agency was supposed to be regulating. In a novel, this would not be believeable. But it happened.

So now that we've covered the institutional background behind this Alaskan oil-drilling adventure, let's consider it in light of the Gulf spill.