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Caught in the Act: WalMart Fined $110 Million for Flouting Environmental Laws

Caught in the Act: WalMart Fined $110 Million for Flouting Environmental Laws

The world’s largest retailer has been fined for flouting the United States’ Clean Water Act; WalMart has been issued this fine by U.S. authorities on several accounts, a report claims. 
WalMart plead guilty to charges of several environmental crimes, including mishandling pesticies and hazardous waste, and has agreed to pay a total of $110 million to settle the charges. 
The United States Department of Justice claimed WalMart stores has pleaded guilty in cases filed by federal prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles to six counts of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of poisonous materials at its retail stores throughout the United States. 
The U.S. retail giant pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by mishandling pesticides that were returned by customers at its stores throughout the United States. 
Documents retrieved by the court system reveal illegal dumping to have occurred in 16 counties in California between 2003 and 2005. Prosecutors claim the company did not train its employees on how to dispose and handle hazardous materials. The court documents reveal that these retail stores simply tossed the waste into trash bins or poured the hazardous materials into sewer systems. 
As a result of the criminal cases filed by the Justice Department, along with related civil cases filed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, WalMart is required to pay roughly $81.6 million for its illegal conduct. In 2010, WalMart paid nearly $28 million to settle similar charges made by California authorities that led to the restructuring of its hazardous waste compliance program. 
“Combined with previous actions filed by the States of Missouri and California for similar conduct, WalMart will pay a total of $110 million to settle cases alleging violation of several state and federal environmental laws,” the United States Justice Department claimed. 
The retail giant owns more than 4,000 stores across the United States; each store sells thousands of products which are considered corrosive, reactive, flammable, toxic, or otherwise deemed hazardous under U.S. law. 
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Sean Parker Slapped with $2.5 Million Fine for Dream Wedding

Sean Parker Slapped with $2.5 Million Fine for Dream Wedding

Napster co-founder and Internet bad boy Sean Parker dished out $10 million for his fantasy wedding in Big Sur, and now, he is being slapped with $2.5 million in fines for the dream-like nuptials. 
Parker constructed the equivalent of a Lord of the Rings movie set near the majestic redwoods and a creek that contained endangered steelhead trout. The wedding project included fake waterfalls, ruins, a cottage, and an enormous dance floor amid the fauna and flora. 
Problem was; however, that Parker did not procure the proper permits required for the wedding, officials claimed. The California Coastal Commission, an independent agency, notified Parker after a local resident informed the Commission of the newlywed’s violations. 
Also in trouble are the owners of the sanctioned campground where Parker staged the event. The California Coastal Commission discovered the breech of environmental laws before the wedding, but by then, the elaborate sets had already been constructed. Officials agreed to let the nuptials take place after Parker negotiated a deal. 
The two sides settled on the $2.5 million fine, money that could be applied to projects such as building new hiking trails or bolstering the conservation effort. 
The extravagant nuptials took place between the Napster co-founded and Former Facebook President and blonde singer Alexandra Lenas this past Saturday. The wedding drew an assortment of celebrity guests from singer Sting, to actress Emma Watson and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. 
Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie “The Social Network”, also agreed to make an educational video or mobile application to help identify which coastal areas are open to the general public. “Sean Parker has been extremely cooperative and even helpful during this matter,” said Charles Lester, the executive director of the California Coastal Commission. 
Source: EPA.gov

1.3 Million Cubic Yards Dredged from Hudson River

1.3 Million Cubic Yards Dredged from Hudson River

On November 13, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the third consecutive season of dredging on the Hudson River was completed.  A total of 1.3 million cubic yards of sediment containing PCBs has been removed from the Hudson River so far.

The dredging began on May 9, 2012 after General Electric (with oversight form the EPA) removed 650,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment south of Fort Edward, New York.  The EPA is now half way to its goal of removing 2.65 million cubic yards of polluted sediment from 40 miles of the upper Hudson River.  

The EPA reports that approximately 1.3 million pounds of PCBs went into the Hudson River after they leaked from two General Electric manufacturing plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.  

The EPA set strict standards during General Electric’s dredging.  The company could not allow more than 2 percent of the dredged PCB-contaminated sediment to stir and become suspended in the water.  The first series of measurements were conducted in Waterford.  Additionally, the EPA did not allow the company to suspend more than 1 percent of the contaminated sediment by the time the water reached Waterford.  Waterford is the farthest monitoring station downstream on the Hudson River.  

The company fulfilled a goal of letting no more than 11 percent of the project undergo capping as well.  General Electric’s seasonal cleanup only accounted for 5 percent capping in the contaminated area besides capping that could not be prevented.  

The dredged sediment is stored at the Fort Edward processing facility and shipped to authorized disposal facilities in other states.  The material will continue to be transported out-of-state by train until all of the sediment is removed from the Fort Edward processing plant.  

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Fugitive Surrenders in Largest Eco-Terrorism Case

Fugitive Surrenders in Largest Eco-Terrorism Case

On November 29, 2012, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon announced that Rebecca Jeanette Rubin from Canada surrendered at the border in Blaine, Washington.  She faces conspiracy, federal arson, and destructive device charges throughout California, Colorado, and Oregon.  Her crimes are part of the largest eco-terrorism case in U.S. history, and she remained an international fugitive for more than 10 years.  

Rubin is charged with being part of a group that caused 20 arsons in five western states from 1996 to 2001.  The group was made of self-proclaimed members of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).  The group attempted to cause environmental damage and fight against government, businesses, and the general public by engaging in violence, mass destruction, intimidation, and other forms of violent retaliation.  

Rubin faces state charges in Oregon for the November 30, 1997 and December 22, 1998 arsons at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Facility near the town of Burns in Harney County and the U.S. Forest Industries Inc offices in Medford.  She also faces a state charge in California for arson and using a destructive device at the BLM Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corrals on October 15, 2001 around Susanville, California.  

The eight federal charges are for an arson that destroyed the Two Elk Lodge and surrounding buildings in Eagle County, Colorado on November 30, 1997.  

A count of arson carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum of five years.  Using a destructive device carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of 30 years in prison, and conspiracy carries five years in prison.  

Since August 2007, 10 defendants in the same case have received sentences from 37 months to 156 months in prison.

Two of the defendants are still fugitives: Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Josephine Sunshine Overaker.  

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Idaho Man Charged with Killing Protected Patas Monkey

Idaho Man Charged with Killing Protected Patas Monkey


On November 19, 2012, the Boise Police announced the arrest of Michael J. Watkins.  He is currently in custody of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Weiser, Idaho, and the monkey’s death is tied to a break-in and burglary at the Boise Zoo on the morning of November 17, 2012. 

Police were called to the Boise Zoo at 4:30 a.m. on November 17 because a guard spotted one man inside the zoo and another outside of the perimeter fence.  The two men fled as after they saw the security guard, and a search of the zoo proved the men fled. 

When officers and employees searched the zoo, they found a Patas monkey near the perimeter fence inside the zoo.  The monkey was severely injured with blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and it died within a short time after discovery. 

During the investigation, Boise Police found blood evidence and a baseball cap belonging to one of the suspects.  One of the suspects, Watkins, was arrested after the police used different pieces of evidence and tips from helpful citizens. 

The Charges against Watkins

Watkins is charged with two felonies: burglary and grand theft.

Burglary is defined under 18-1401 of the Idaho Statutes:

“Burglary defined. Every person who enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse, or other building, tent, vessel, vehicle, trailer, airplane or railroad car, with intent to commit any theft or any felony, is guilty of burglary.” 

Grand theft is defined under 18-2407 of the Idaho Statutes, and the following subsection applies to Watkins:


“A person is guilty of grand theft when he commits a theft as defined in this chapter and when…


The property taken or deliberately killed is livestock or any other animal exceeding one hundred fifty dollars ($150) in value.”

Why Patas Monkeys are Protected at Zoos

Patas monkeys are not endangered or threatened, but they are protected for several reasons.  For one, they are hunted in areas of Africa for their meat or because they’re damaging crops.  Additionally, the growth of cattle grazing in Africa and the increasing amount of farmland in the African savanna areas has seriously decreased the habitat for the Patas monkeys. 

Chief Michael Masterson with the Boise Police Department stated: “I speak for many of us in the police department and the community who were angered and outraged over this senseless crime. The loss of this Patas monkey has touched many lives, including our officers and investigators.”

Source: Boise Police Department

New Study Raises Concern over Illegal Python Skins

New Study Raises Concern over Illegal Python Skins


A new report, called Trade in South-East Asian Python Skins, was published by the International Trade Centre (ITC) with cooperation from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and TRAFFIC—a program maintained by the IUCN and World Wide Fund (WWF).  The new report was published on November 27, 2012 and reveals about $1 billion worth of python skins are traded every year. 

Alexander Kasterine, the Head of the ITC Trade and Environment Programme, states: “The report shows that problems of illegality persist in the trade in python skins and that this can threaten species’ survival.  The fashion and leather industry has a stronger role to play in supporting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the developing countries to ensure supply is legal and sustainable.”

Since law enforcement is not targeting the problem efficiently, the report stresses that the fashion industry needs to develop a tracing system to see where the products are coming from.  Additionally, the tracing system needs to demonstrate that the product is legal and comes from an environment where harvesting of skins is sustainable.  A similar permitting system exists, called CITIES, and the new supply chain tracing system would add to the efforts of CITIES. 

The report announces there is a lack of transparency in the market.  Indonesia, Malaysia, and Viet Nam are the biggest exporters, and about 70 percent of all python skins are re-exported through Singapore.  The report suspects that large undisclosed stockpiles of skins could remain in Singapore because of a lack of screening. 

The biggest importers of pythons skins are European Union countries—especially Italy, Germany, and France. 

Tomas Waller, the Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Boa and Python Specialist Group, states: “It would appear a substantial proportion of the skins in trade are sourced illegally from wild animals, beyond agreed quotas, and using false permits to launder the skins.” 

More than 20 percent of python skins from South-East Asia are marketed as captive-bred, but the report questions the amount of snakes bred in captivity.  Furthermore, the report indicates that a large amount of slaughtered wild snakes are killed before they are old enough to breed.  The report suggests that minimum skin size limits need enforced along with harvest numbers outside of captivity to maintain sustainability. 

Current trade bans and not stopping the illegal harvesting of python skins, so the fashion industry and local authorities need to strengthen regulations before pythons become even more threatened. 

The report referenced to in this article was funded by the Government of Denmark. 

Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature


Annual List of Endangered Species Candidates Published

Annual List of Endangered Species Candidates Published


On November 20, 2012, the US Fish & Wildlife Service published its annual appraisal of plants and animals for consideration under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Since the last review in October of 2011, three species were removed from the status of candidate, two were added, and 9 have changed as far as priority. 

A total of 192 species are now recognized as a candidate under the ESA.  This is the lowest number in over 12 years.  Since the Listing Programs implementation, the 25 candidates have been granted protection under the ESA and proposed protections has occurred for 91 species. 

Candidates on the list show signs of being threatened or endangered, but species higher up on the list receive more attention that those lower on the list.  Candidates are not protected under the ESA, but their candidacy status helps them receive conservation attention. 

Once a species becomes a candidate, the results are provided to landowners and resources managers for the state and local municipalities.  The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently involved in conservation agreements covering 5 million acres that help protect 130 species. 

The two new candidate species are the Peñasco least chipmunk located in the White Mountains of New Mexico and parts of California and the Cumberland arrow darter in Kentucky and Tennessee.  The three species that were removed from the candidacy list are the elongate mud meadow springsnail, the Christ’s paintbrush, and the bog asphodel.  The bog asphodel no longer needs protection, and springsnail and paintbrush populations have improved according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Dan Ashe, the Fish and Wildlife Service Director, explained the Service’s ultimate goals: “We’re continuing to keep the commitments we made under this agreement, which has enabled us to be more efficient and effective in both protecting species under the ESA, as well as in working with our partners to recover species and get them off the list as soon as possible.  Our ultimate goal is to have the smallest Candidate List possible, by addressing the needs of species before they require ESA protection and extending the ESA’s protections to species that truly need it.” 

The Fish and Wildlife Service can help protect candidate species in several ways.  For one, grant programs provide conservation funds to private landowners as well as states and territories.  Secondly, Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs) make sure public and private parties perform their share of conservation efforts—like removing threats to the species or stabilizing the specie’s environment.  Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) are agreements between the Service and non-Federal landowners.

A complete list of the candidate list can be found on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. 

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Climate Change Talks Begin at Doha Conference

Climate Change Talks Begin at Doha Conference


The 18th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began on November 26, 2012.  The United Nations has warned that strict policies and pledges are required during the conference to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. 

Without the emergency adoption of tighter emissions controls, the world’s temperature could increase as much as 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, putting water security, food security, economic security, and human security at risk—especially along coastal cities. 

Conservation International (CI), headquartered in Washington, D.C, indicates the conference needs to address at least three areas to curb the impending realization and risks of rising global temperatures. 

For one, the conference needs to add to the Kyoto Protocol (the only international emissions treaty) to reach international goals by 2015. 

Secondly, new public funding needs to come from developed countries to help developing countries adopt infrastructure and policies to reduce climate change. 

Thirdly, the conference needs to allow developing countries to add to existing actions that reduce the destruction of natural environments.  CI notes that specific action needs taken in REDD+ areas (Reducing Emissions form Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  These areas receive compensation for keeping forested areas protected and reducing emissions associated with deforestation. 

Dr. Fred Boltz, the Senior Vice-President for International Policy at CI, reported on the three imperative goals at the conference: “These are the pillars of a successful plan to stabilize the climate, one with increased commitment for immediate actions to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming, and which harnesses the power of nature itself to ensure that humans and all species may adapt to climate change.” 

Boltz went on to say, “This year’s conference is crucial because many of the negotiations which have been taking place since 2007 will draw to a close.  We need to make sure the progress that has been made over the past five years is not lost.” 

The “progress” that Boltz refers to is funding made from developed countries in Copenhagen in 2009.  The $30 billion that was pledged is expiring at the end of December, 2012, and no pledges have agreed to continue the funding.  The goal was to pledge $100 billion internationally per year by 2020. 

Conservation International is now asking for $60 billion in pledges from 2013 to 2015 that will double the “fast start” funds agreed to in Copenhagen. 

Boltz raised concern over the lack of pledges: “The debt problems facing several wealthy nations make it more challenging for them to put money on the table. But, if funding is not provided now, the future costs of inaction will be prohibitive in both financial and human terms.” 

Source: Conservation International

Increased Protection in Wild Tiger Campaign

Increased Protection in Wild Tiger Campaign


On November 21, 2012, the Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it is providing more support for Project Predator under INTERPOL.  Project Predator helps the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) protect wild tigers. 

The U.S. Ambassador to India and Bhutan Nancy Powell made the announcement at the Second Asian Ministerial on Tiger Conservation.  The event is organized annually by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Global Tiger Initiative.

Ministers that attended the Second Asian Ministerial on Tiger Conservation were from 13 different countries containing wild tiger populations.  The recent meeting focused on important achievements in conservation and the implementation of a 12-year conservation strategy and ensured political support would continue. 

The same countries that attended this year’s meeting approved the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) during 2010 in Russia. 

Ambassador Powell stated: “Protecting our living natural resources, especially endangered species, has increasingly become an issue impacting the security of nations because of massive upsurges in international wildlife trafficking.  We need to recognize wildlife crime as a serious crime that undermines good governance and rule of law.” 

Project Predator is an initiative crated by INTERPOL that aids in the conservation of wild tigers while respecting countries’ rules and government.  Since its creation, the project has provided seminars on police, customs, and wildlife.  The seminars have helped enforcement agencies in other countries identify signs of tiger poaching and underground trading. 

David Higgins, the manager of the Environmental Crime Programme under INTERPOL, stated: “This additional financial support from USAID will assist INTERPOL's global and regional networks of national police and enforcement agencies in their continued efforts support the tiger range countries in ensuring that we protect the wild tiger population and target those criminals who are attempting to undermine efforts to conserve this iconic species.” 

In 2011, USAID provided monetary support for the creation and launch of Project Predator.  The project has helped Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal confront the killings of protected tigers in their countries.  So far, the countries have made 40 arrests and seizures of big cat skins and other body parts. 

Mary Melnyk, the Senior Advisor of Natural Resources Management for Asia and the Middle East for USAID, stated: “USAID is supporting INTERPOL not only because of its international network and communications systems to track down criminals, but also to encourage the greater participation of police in cracking down on wildlife crime.”

Source: Agency for International Development

New Recreational Water Quality Criteria Recommended

New Recreational Water Quality Criteria Recommended


On November 26, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that states need to harness new and improved water quality criteria and testing for recreational water areas.  The recommendations were made with favor from a U.S. District Court and requirements under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000. 

The new water quality criteria will make sure visitors are protected as they visit beaches and other bodies of water throughout the year.  The criteria can better protect the public and quality of water by observing waterborne illnesses more efficiently, measuring water pollution after heavy rainfalls more quickly, and more. 

It is important to note that the recommended criteria do not mandate new requirements.  The recommendations simply serve as an example of tools that states can choose to adopt in their overall standards and state or territorial environmental protection agencies.

The new criteria provide states and communities with the most updated scientific information about particular areas, particularly public water bodies like beaches.  The updated information can help the state or community issue a beach, lake, or stream closure more quickly. 

The new criteria were established by the EPA after several scientific and health studies confirmed some waterborne illnesses (including some stomach illnesses) can occur without a fever.  The period required for monitoring water samples was reduced from 90 day to 30 days.  The new water quality data will create more accurate water trends and improve advisories. 

Some of the other recommendations include the following:

·  short-term and long-term testing of bacteria levels in water

·  improved recommendations for coastal waters to make sure public health is protected equally in coastal and fresh waters

·  a quicker water-testing method that allows the state to see if the water is safe within hours

·  tools that can predict problems with water quality and find sources of pollution quickly

The increased testing of bacteria levels was recommended because the criteria in 1986 called for a certain amount of testing depending on the beach usage.  The new recommendations replaced the testing/intensity standard and recommended a precautionary testing method for states. 

Predictive modeling will pair with epidemiological studies and other information like microbial risk assessments to predict outbreaks in the future.  The new and faster testing method recommended by the EPA uses a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and a quick analytical technique to detect a type of bacteria called curable enterococci. 

Source: Environmental Protection Agency