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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

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

 

On November 20, 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it was awarding support for the design and licensing of small modular reactors with the United States.  The strategy is parallel with the Obama Administration’s strategy to access every possible source of energy in the United States. 

The funding was announced in March of 2012, and the DOE has just announced the recipient of the award.  The project is led by Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) along with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel.  If strategies stay the same, the DOE plans to solicit other companies and manufacturers to focus on developing small modular reactor designs and operations. 

The investment from the DOE to B&W will help the company receive Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements and begin commercial operations by 2022.  The small modular reactor project will first occur in Tennessee, but the DOE plans to help operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  All of the projects will help U.S. utilities receive power from low carbon sources while increasing export opportunities and U.S. dominance in the world energy market. 

Secretary Chu stated: “The Obama Administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future.  Restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production.” 

The recent projects stands as the first-ever government investment in the design, implementation, and licensing of small modular reactors.  The DOE will invest in about half of the project’s total cost through a five-year cost-share agreement.  Babcock & Wilcox will provide the other half of investment, but the specific amounts toward the project are still being decided by the DOE and B&W. 

Small modular reactors are about one-third the size of traditional nuclear power plants.  The smaller designs increase safety and offer more economically benefits over large nuclear plants.  Also, the small modular reactors can be manufactured at factories then transported to the sites were they can basically be plugged in.  The designs decreased capitol costs and construction costs for nuclear energy. 

Small modular reactors have other benefits as well.  Large reactors cannot be used on some small grids, while small modular reactors can provide power to small grids in a cost-effective way.  The reactors allow greater flexibility for utilities as demands grow. 

Source: Department of Energy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

 

 
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that will provide grants of $340 million to New York and $229 million to New Jersey for improvements to drinking water treatment facilities that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. These funds will help storm-ravaged communities in both states as they continue to rebuild and recover from the damage caused by the super storm on October 29th of last year. 
In the aftermath of the super storm, drinking water and wastewater treatment centers in New Jersey and New York were so badly damaged that some could not treat raw sewage or provide safe drinking water to their residents. The funding announcements will give states the ability to further reduce the risks of flood damage and increase the resilience of drinking water and wastewater facilities to withstand the effects of severe storms like Hurricane Sandy. 
 
“As communities continue to rebuild and recover following the storm, it is crucial that their efforts to rebuild infrastructures such as drinking water and wastewater facilities are approached in a sustainable manner,” said the EPA’s Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “This money is a crucial step in the administration’s ongoing effort to provide aid to New Jersey and New York so they can recover and move forward in a way that ensures local communities are stronger than ever.”
 
“As extreme weather is increasingly becoming the norm, the United States Congress wisely provided these funds to make sure our drinking water and wastewater facilities can withstand storms the size of Hurricane Sandy,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judit Enck. “These funds will help vulnerable communities in New York and New Jersey become more resilient to the effect of weather change.”
 
The funds will be offered as grants to New York and New Jersey and roughly 40 percent of the funds will provided to New Jersey for both the Drinking Water and Clean Water Revolving fund programs. The determination of how the funds will be allotted to the states was based on the percentage of the population living in counties that were impacted by the storm. 
 
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act provided the Environmental Protection Agency with $500 million for Clean Water Revolving Fund and $100 million for the Drinking Water Fund. 
 
 
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

 

On November 23, 2012, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reached a landmark decision to increase investor confidence and generate 250,000 jobs in the energy sector.  The decision, called the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) in the Energy Bill, will address electricity demands through low-carbon technologies in the United Kingdom as about 20 percent of the country’s generating capacity from conventional, carbon-based sources decrease over the next decade. 

The EMR hopes to give confidence to certain investors and create government contracts for about £110 billion in investments. 

The sections of the Energy Bill allow the following:

·   Create a government owned-company to give investors more confidence while investing in long-term contracts called “Contracts for Difference” for low-carbon electricity projects

·  Allows auctions for generating capacity from 2014 for the winter of 2018/2019 to make sure peak demand is addressed

·  Provides confidence to gas investors to make sure energy demands are addressed (Gas Generation Strategy published with Chancellor’s Autumn Statement)

·  Sets a target range for reducing carbon emissions by 2030

The UK’s Climate Change Committee will make suggestions in 2016 during the Fifth Carbon Budget to make sure target ranges are reached by 2030.  Until 2016, the government is providing tips to National Grid for different ways to reach lowered emissions ranges by 2030 and even reach target ranges by 2050 in the most economical way.  A sample approach for the UK 2050 carbon target is explained in the Fourth Carbon Budget. 

Edward Davey, the Energy and Climate Secretary, stated: “They [the Coalition Agreement decisions] will allow us to meet our legally binding carbon reduction and renewable energy obligations and will bring on the investment required to keep the lights on and bills affordable for consumers.” 

The decarbonization targets were set by the Climate Change Act of 2008.  Together with the decarbonization targets and government-issued contracts, about £9.8 billion in 2020 prices is set aside in the Levy Control Framework.  The budgeted investment by the government will decrease dependency on gas imports by establishing renewable energy.  By 2020, about 30 percent of the UK’s energy will come from renewables—compared to 11 percent in 2012.  The investment will also ensure power from new nuclear energy and commercialized carbon capture. 

Davey continued, “The decisions we’ve reached are true to the Coalition Agreement, they mean we can introduce the Energy Bill next week and have essential electricity market reforms up and running by 2014 as planned.”

The shift in public spending by the government, referred to as the Levy Control Framework (LCF), is the responsibility of the Treasury.  The spending meets energy and climate goals in line with economic recovery and the least impact on utility bills for consumers.

The spending does not include the ECO or the Warm Homes Discount in the UK.  These programs have separate spending limits for 2015. 

Source: Department of Energy & Climate Change

President Obama Responds to Devastating Tornados in Oklahoma

President Obama Responds to Devastating Tornados in Oklahoma

 

 
At least 24 people, including nine schoolchildren, were killed when a massive tornado hit an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon. 
 
At least seven of the children killed were students at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. Emergency respondents today continued to sift through the school’s rubble in search of any survivors. 
 
The devastating tornado was 1.3 miles wide and move through Moore with winds that reached nearly 215 miles per hour. 
 
In response to the devastation, President Barack Obama told Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin that the administration, through FEMA, is committed to providing all the resources it can to the state of Oklahoma as the response effort unfolds. FEMA has already deployed an incident Management Assistance Team, a Medical Emergency Response Support Team and a number of Search & Rescue Teams to provide resources in those areas hit hardest by the natural disaster. 
 
FEMA is urging those in damaged areas to listen to instructions from their local school officials, and to take the recommended protective measures to stay safe. 
 
“Americans from every corner of this nation will be right here with the victims of this tragedy. We will open our homes and our hearts to those in need,” President Obama said. “We are a country that stands with our fellow citizens as long as the rebuilding process takes; we have seen this spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; and we saw this spirit in Breezy Point and Boston. This is what the people of Oklahoma are going to require from us right now.” 
 
As recovery and response efforts continue in Oklahoma, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced today that Secretary Janet Napolitano will travel to the devastated area tomorrow to meet with local and state officials to ensure first responders are receiving the resources they need to help those impacted by tornadoes. 
 
 
Source: whitehouse.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:

18-2407(b)

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

18-2407(b)(7)

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