Congress has passed a measure banning drilling for oil or natural gas in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has the details:
Congress has passed a measure banning drilling for oil or natural gas in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
The legislation includes a two-year moratorium on new oil and gas drilling in or under the Great Lakes. US Senators Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan and Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican from Illinois came up with the plan. They say the measure was needed in order to protect the waters of the Great Lakes from environmental damage. In Michigan, Governor John Engler denounced the measure. Engler is a long-standing supporter of drilling under the lakes for new energy sources. Susan Shafer is the governor’s press secretary.
“We’re concerned about the federal government coming in and telling us that Michigan and other Great Lakes states: ‘This is what you will do; you don’t have a choice on this.’ And, in the past there have been no federal statutes that have governed control over oil or natural gas in the bottomlands of the Great Lakes. And, so, that’s always been governed by state statute.”
Michigan was preparing to issue new drilling permits. Because of term limits, Engler leaves office at the end of next year. The candidates running for governor in Michigan all oppose new drilling permits. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Liberals often claim the environment as an issue that gives them leverage over conservatives, but Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren says conservatism should equally embrace environmental protection as a fundamental part of its vision for America:
Liberals often claim the environment as an issue that gives them leverage over conservatives. But Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren says conservatism should equally embrace environmental protection as a fundamental part of its vision for America.
Rush Limbaugh calls me an “environmental whacko.” I’m one of those people who believe in saving energy, preserving wild areas, and treating the earth as a finite resource that should be handled with care. I get alarmed when I hear about air pollution, food contamination, and oil drilling under the Great Lakes.
Rush seems to hate this. He likens me to a nazi extremist. He says I don’t understand the world’s bounty, or the simple principle of supply and demand. Worse yet, he’s convinced I’m one of those “whining liberals” who use environmental scare-tactics to push big government.
The funny thing is, when it comes to most social issues, I’m a fairly conservative guy. There are few so-called “liberal” ideas that I support. Yet, I often find myself walking hand-in-hand with left-leaning Democrats in battles to protect our natural heritage.
I wonder why that is. Shouldn’t Republicans join the fight? After all, there are few things more “conservative” than trying to conserve our resources for future generations.
I know there are some members of the so-called “political right wing” – whatever that is – who feel as I do. REP-America, for example, is a national grassroots organization that claims to be “the environmental conscience of the Grand Old Party.” Members believe we can preserve our environment – and boost our economy at the same time.
But many Republican leaders don’t seem to be listening. They want to scrap laws that have cleaned up air and water, preserved natural areas, and prevented the extinction of native species. What’s that all about?
Anybody with the smarts to get elected ought to be able to see that more – not less – needs to be done. While significant environmental progress has been made during the past few decades, we can still benefit from cleaner air, water, soil and food supplies. And reducing wasteful consumption today will bring greater benefits tomorrow, including greater economic performance?
You’d think more conservatives would be leading the way to safeguard these natural resources – rather than fighting against the liberals who are. If ever there was a bipartisan issue, this is it. Few modern social concerns are as vital to our health, recreation and economic prosperity.
Human progress should not be measured solely on the basis of dollars and development, but also on what we have preserved and protected.
Republican Theodore Roosevelt called conservation “a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring safety and continuance of the nation.”
Roosevelt, of course, may have been the first “environmental whacko” to be elected President of the United States. Maybe it’s time for another one – along with several others at all levels of government.
And there’s no good reason they couldn’t be conservatives.
The Great Lakes region is home to major power producers. But along with the electricity they make comes some amount of air pollution. When coal-fired power plants in Illinois and Ohio emit sulfur dioxides, prevailing winds blow them to the Northeast, where they can fall as acid rain. Several northeast states are suing those power plants to clean up their emissions. Earlier this summer, a professor at Clarkson University in northern New York coordinated a unique study to learn more about the life cycle of air pollution, from where it’s produced to where it lands. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein has the story:
The Great Lakes region is home to major power producers. But along with the electricity they make comes some amount of air pollution. When coal-fired power plants in Illinois and Ohio emit sulfur dioxides, prevailing winds blow them to the Northeast, where they can fall as acid rain. Several northeast states are suing those power plants to clean up their emissions.
Earlier this summer, a professor at Clarkson University in northern New York coordinated a unique study to learn more about the life cycle of air pollution, from where it’s produced to where it lands. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein has the story.
Chemical engineering professor Phil Hopke will take any opportunity to get out of his office and over to his field lab. It consists of a concrete slab amongst the weeds in a corner of the local airport. Installed on the concrete are monitors he uses to find out exactly what’s in the air we breathe.
(sound of opening lock)
Hopke unlocks a gate in a chainlink fence. You can already hear a strange hum in the distance. It gets louder as Hopke strides up to one of three white machines the size of dishwashers.
“Come out and change the filters once a day. This one’s for organic constituents in the air.”
He pulls out what looks like an air filter for your furnace. These machines suck in air. They leave a unique footprint of chemicals on the filter that represents what was in the air in this place on this day — chemicals like sulfur dioxide and mercury. Hopke will send these filters to specialty labs around the world to be analyzed.
There are hundreds of stations like this in North America. Groups of researchers study daily air quality for every region of the country. They examine how things like traffic and smokestacks might affect the air we breathe.
But Hopke says they mostly focus on their own areas. They don’t often coordinate studies to see how the chemicals they find move from region to region.
“It struck me a couple of years ago, particularly in the Northeast, that we have these groups talking to one another.”
Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hopke convinced 26 sites in the East, from Texas to Toronto, to measure the same stuff on the same days. They chose the whole month of July.
It’s perhaps the largest simultaneous air sampling effort ever conducted in this country. When the data’s complete, the study will track the lifespan of pollution, from when it leaves a smokestack or a car’s tailpipe to when it is taken up by a tree or your lungs.
But scientists can’t just follow one molecule of pollution from a car in St. Louis to a lake in Michigan. They have to make models of how the chemicals move, like how meteorologists make weather maps to trace storm systems. As if that’s not complicated enough, says Hopke, naturally occurring chemicals make the job even tougher.
“You have to keep in mind that the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia are blue because of natural photochemical smog, particles being formed because of the pine materials that come off. Those materials that you smell are chemically reactive and will undergo the same type of smog reactions as human emitted materials.”
So researchers use techniques to separate out the “man-made” pollutants from the “natural” pollutants. Next they look for high concentrations of, say, sulfur dioxide in Chicago on July 15th. Then they follow those high levels east with prevailing winds. They look for high sulfur dioxide levels in Ohio or New York a few days later. After doing this many times in July for many types of chemicals, the researchers hope patterns will begin to emerge.
Hopke sits on a scientific advisory committee that helps the EPA develop pollution standards. He says this coordinated study will bring stronger science to the EPA’s sometimes controversial decisions.
“Suppose I require all power plants to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions by twenty percent. What does that do for me for particle concentrations in New York City? What will that do? Will that get us where we want in terms of clean air?”
With a study this large in scope, the answers to those questions won’t come quickly. The massive amount of data gathered in the study will take a few years to interpret.
In the meantime, Hopke and the EPA are planning another cooperative sampling effort for wintertime, when temperatures and people’s habits are different from summer.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.
Some federal agencies and laboratories have restricted access to
information. The government fears terrorists could use some
plan attacks against the U.S.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the federal government has been re-thinking its website policies. Anything that the government feels could be used by terrorists was removed from the Internet. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its website for a time and little of it has been restored. The Army Corps of Engineers removed information about dams across the U-S from its sites. Similarly, some information about natural gas pipelines, and transportation systems was removed. The Environmental Protection Agency removed information about hazardous chemicals. Now, the E-P-A is considering putting back some information about the risks communities face because of nearby industrial plants. But some industry groups were glad to see the information removed and don’t want it put back on the internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the federal government has been re-thinking its website policies. Anything that the government feels could be used by terrorists was removed from the internet. For example. the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its website for a time and little of it has been restored. The Army Corps of Engineers removed information about dams across the U.S. from its sites. Similarly, some information about natural gas pipelines, and transportation systems was removed. The Environmental Protection Agency removed information about hazardous chemicals. Now, the EPA is considering putting back some information about the risks communities face because of nearby industrial plants. But, some industry groups were glad to see the information removed and don’t want it put back on the internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
In the last decade or so, the government has put volumes and volumes of information on the internet. In the interest of an open and free government, federal agencies have given the public access to all kinds of data. But after the terrorist attacks, there was a scramble to remove a lot of that data. Some government agencies concede they might have overreacted when pulling information off the web. But, most indicate they thought it was better to be safe than to leave information on the internet that terrorists could use to more effectively plan an attack.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency removed Risk Management Plans from the EPA website. Those plans give details about certain hazardous chemicals that are kept at industrial plants, how a chemical leak or fire at a plant would affect the surrounding community. and even how many people might be hurt or killed in a worse case scenario.
The EPA Administrator, Christie Whitman recently explained to journalists why she had the agency remove those plans.
“That was information on our website that really gave terrorists a road map as to how to where to plan an attack. I was just not sure that we wanted to have that up for any –not so much terrorists, but terrorist wannabe— to find and to take advantage of.”
The information was originally put together in EPA office reading rooms open to the public. Later it was put up on the EPA’s website. That was so community groups could more easily learn about the risks they faced from nearby chemical plants. It was also used by some neighborhood groups to pressure companies to either implement better safety measures or stop using certain chemicals.
Administrator Whitman says in the weeks since the attacks, the EPA has been reviewing whether some of that information can be restored to the internet.
“What we’re doing is reviewing and seeing if it is readily available elsewhere, then there’s no point in our taking it off. We’d put it back again.”
But many chemical companies and other industry groups don’t want that information put back on the government’s websites, even though it’s sometimes still available elsewhere on the internet. In fact, they don’t want the information available to the public at all.
Angela Logomasini is with the Washington-based libertarian think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. She says the information, such as worse case scenarios, shouldn’t be available because it might be used by terrorists. Logomasini was surprised to learn the EPA Administrator is considering putting the information back on the internet.
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think what they should be doing is trying to investigate, you know, what the risks are and whether this is really a wise thing to do. You know, just simply because other groups have taken the information and posted some of it on the internet does not mean that our government should go out of its way and provide it too.”
Logomasini says the risk management plans are of little use to the public anyway. She says the only people who used them were environmentalists, who wanted the information to scare people.
There’s some skepticism about the chemical industry’s real motivation to keep the information out of public view. Besides environmentalists. Some journalists use the information to track industry safety and government regulations.
Margaret Kriz is a correspondent for the National Journal where she writes about government, industry and the environment. She says since September 11th, chemical industry people might be arguing that the risk management plans should be kept secret for national security reasons. But before then, their reasons had more to do with corporate public relations and competition.
“Some of the information that was taken off the web by EPA the day of the attack is information the chemical industry has been trying to get off the web for years. They have not wanted it on there because they really don’t want to have— they fear two things: they fear the public will overreact to the information if they find out (about) some chemicals in a nearby plant and the second thing, they’re fearful if a competitor for them will go look at this information and find out what chemicals are being used and figure out what their secret formula is for whatever they make.”
So, it appears to at least some observers that the chemical industry sees the concern over terrorism as an opportunity. an opportunity to get the internet-based information removed for good. But it looks as though the Environmental Protection Agency is leaning toward making some of the information available on the website again. However. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman didn’t say when. Other agencies are also reviewing the information they’ve removed from the web with an eye toward eventually making some version of the data available to the public once again on the internet.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.