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Clean Water Initiative of FLorida

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 In this file photo from Feb. 12, 2009, trash piles up on the Anacostia River in Washington.

In this file photo from Feb. 12, 2009, trash piles up on the Anacostia River in Washington.

CREDIT: Associated Press

At first glance, some stretches of the Anacostia river in Washington, D.C. look like those of any other urban waterway — muddy-brown, crossed-over by bridges, flanked by a few grassy trails and dotted with docks here and there.

The river made a scenic backdrop for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to sign the city’s Sustainability Act on a sunny, breezy Tuesday this week. But the location of the signing wasn’t chosen for its beauty. One of the bill’s main goals is to start cleaning up the heavily polluted Anacostia by implementing a ban of Styrofoam containers, a policy that will go in place in 2017 and which supporters hope will be as successful at reducing Styrofoam pollution in the river as the D.C. plastic bag tax was at reducing bag pollution. The Mayor also chose the river as a way to highlight a new plan, with initial phases beginning this month, that aims to clean up the toxic pollution that’s been discharged into the river for decades.

“I know first-hand that this river was once a place for people to swim in, and people [to] fish in and enjoy the natural resources,” Gray said Tuesday. “While there have been many attempts to improve the condition of the Anacostia River in the past, I’m actually very encouraged by the efforts to date because this is the first time in history that the District government is taking the lead to assess and then remove toxic pollution from the Anacostia River.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signs the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Act of 2014 into law on July 29, 2014.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signs the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Act of 2014 into law on July 29, 2014.

CREDIT: Katie Valentine

The river’s long history of pollution — not just the trash that gets thrown out of passing cars, but the toxic, cancer-causing substances — and lawmakers’ history of remaining largely indifferent to the problem has earned the Anacostia the nickname of the “Forgotten River.” Industrial facilities dating as far back as the 19th century have discharged carcinogenic PCBs and PAHs, sewage overflow dumps about two billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into the river each year, and like most urban rivers, runoff discharges oil, fertilizers, pesticides and trash into the river. In 2011, a report dubbed the Anacostia “one of the most polluted waterways in the nation.”

There have been plenty of studies on the Anacostia River’s pollution, and in recent years, some steps have been taken to reduce the pollution coming into the river. But the new plan, called the Anacostia River Sediment Project, aims to develop a strategy to deeply and thoroughly clean the river. The first phase of the project involves intensive testing of the river’s sediment to isolate exactly which pollutants are in the river and to identify the areas where they are most concentrated. The testing, completed by scientists at Tetra Tech, is already underway, and will also involve testing clams to see how much pollution has accumulated in their tissue. The testing is set to be completed by June 2015, and after that, a plan for how to clean up the river will be developed, with river cleanup projected to be underway by June 2019.

Doug Siglin, Executive Director of the Anacostia River Initiative, a government project that helped design the Sediment Project, has been working on restoring the Anacostia for 17 years. Though there has been progress on the issue before now, including installing litter traps that capture garbage entering the river and a plan that aims to drastically reduce sewer pollution in the river, the biggest challenge to implementing a comprehensive cleanup plan has been residents’ indifference to the river’s health.

“We used to think of rivers as part of the waste stream, that it was just OK to throw stuff in them because it would just go away,” Siglin said. “I think it’s been an evolution in people’s views that now in the modern world, clean rivers are important for recreation and cultural reasons. I think the biggest challenge has been to get people’s minds wrapped around what a potential amenity the Anacostia could be.”

Siglin said that in addition to seeing the Sediment Project carried through, he wants to see D.C. create parkland along the Anacostia River. He envisions the river as not only fishable and swimmable, but a place where D.C. residents will come to picnic, listen to music, sail, and canoe — and a place that, like other urban parks, can host art installations. It’s something he’s been talking to D.C. officials about, and he’s optimistic that they’ll continue to be receptive.

“Other places are doing it — why shouldn’t we do it in nation’s capital?” he said.

That goal is the main reason he does the work he does, he said — he wants the river to become a central meeting place in D.C., rather than a boundary that divides the east part of the city from the west. That’s what Lee Cain, director of recreation for the Anacostia Watershed Society, said he wants for the river, too. The Anacostia Watershed Society offers free canoe trips down the river and has been working to build new docks along its shores, so that even before the cleanup is complete, residents can better enjoy the river.

“A lot of people live within a mile of the Anacostia and have never been up to it,” he said. “So we’re trying to make it so that people can enjoy that space.”

Bags of trash collected from the Anacostia River in July 2014.

Bags of trash collected from the Anacostia River in July 2014.

CREDIT: Katie Valentine

Until the river is cleaner, though, improving recreation is a challenge. The D.C. government has issued warnings not to eat the fish that are caught out of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, but still, a study commissioned by the Anacostia Watershed Society found that 17,000 people eat the fish they catch out of the river each year, despite signage warning them not to. Most of the fishers in the study were African American or Hispanic, and many were sharing the fish with hungry people who approached them, begging for the fish.

“We’ve got a guy that calls us every day or comes past our fishing spot every day to see what we caught and get our fish because he’s not working, he doesn’t have any, and that’s basically all him and his wife eat,” one of the study’s respondents said.

These findings point to issues that reach beyond the Anacostia’s pollution, including food security and the best way to relay the dangers of eating Anacostia fish to local communities. But under the new plan, the river could be fishable again by the early 2030s, eliminating the need for residents to worry about what they’re eating from the river.

“Ultimately if we succeed we’re going to change Anacostia from this forbidding, polluted thing that divides Washington to this beautify amenity that can connect the west side to the east side back together,” Siglin said.

The post D.C. Announces Plan To Finally Clean Up The City’s ‘Forgotten River’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Claire Moser is the research and advocacy associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser. Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.

Dustin Ellison attempts to beat down a roadside hot spot with a mat from his car on Monday, May 5, 2014, in Guthrie, Okla.

Dustin Ellison attempts to beat down a roadside hot spot with a mat from his car on Monday, May 5, 2014, in Guthrie, Okla.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nick Oxford

With multiple fires burning in the West, and the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) wildfire budget expected to run dry in the coming days, House Democrats have launched an all-out effort to force an up-or-down vote on a bipartisan proposal that would provide wildland firefighters the resources they need to do their jobs.

One hundred and ninety-six House Democrats have thus far signed on to what is known as a discharge petition, which would force House Republican leaders to bring the stalled Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014 to a vote.

Instead of debating a measure to provide needed resources for fighting wildfires, however, the House this week is expected to vote on a bill that would waive at least 14 environmental laws within 100 miles of the southern U.S. border, and has already spent time voting on legislation to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“With rising temperatures and record droughts across the country, we could be headed into one of the worst wildfire seasons in our history,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in launching the discharge petition on July 11. “But with fires raging across the west, the money is running out — and House Republicans can’t be bothered to act.”

Fire conditions are regionally variable, and worse than normal in California and the Pacific Northwest this year

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which President Obama included in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal for Congress and which is also championed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-CO) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), would treat the worst 1 percent of wildfires like other natural disasters by allowing the federal government to draw from special disaster funds to support response efforts.

A May analysis by the Center for American Progress found that this type of reform proposal would have “far-reaching benefits for American communities, parks, and public lands,” by helping free up resources for fire prevention, fuels reduction, and mitigation.

As part of their campaign for an up-or-down vote on the wildfire funding bill, House Natural Resources Committee Democrats released an analysis Tuesday that found that between 2008 and 2012 the U.S. Forest Service had to spend $1.6 billion “fighting the worst 1 percent of American wildfires, accounting for 30 percent of the agency’s total firefighting costs.”

“In case the Republican leadership hasn’t noticed, the west is going up in flames. Yosemite is burning, but they have turned a blind eye to continue this political, partisan ESA sideshow” said Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in releasing the report. “We should have dropped this charade and done something real — fixed wildfire funding before our agencies run out of money. There is no excuse for inaction.”

With DeFazio and his colleagues only 22 signatures short of the 218 required to force a vote on the bill, this new report may be partly aimed at attracting the support of Republican members whose districts are prone to wildfires and whose communities depend on federal agencies to help defend life and property.

Members from states like California, Arizona, and Oregon — the three states with the highest spending on catastrophic wildfires — may in the coming weeks face growing pressure from constituents to help pass the wildfire funding bill and avoid the type of recurring budget shortfalls that have plagued land management agencies and Western communities in recent years.

In seven of the past twelve years, the USFS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) have significantly exceeded their wildfire budgets, forcing the agencies to divert funds from other critical programs such as forest restoration and regular thinning practices, intended to reduce the numbers of wildfires.

The pattern appears to be repeating itself: addressing the Western Governors Association in June, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack estimated that “fighting wildfires this year will cost about $1.8 billion” which is “$470 million more than Congress has budgeted.”

The post House Republicans Fiddle While Forest Service Runs Out Of Money To Fight Wildfires appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Los Angeles

CREDIT: Shutterstock

New maps released Tuesday illustrate the toll climate change and pollution are taking on several communities in Los Angeles, many of the same areas that also hold the greatest potential for clean energy investment. The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER) is the result of a partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The groups say their work is a prime example of how big data can be used to engage citizens in the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change right in their own neighborhoods.

While climate change will drive up temperatures in Los Angeles, a particular concern for at-risk communities already burdened by pollution, the analysis found major potential for solar and energy efficiency projects. Realizing just ten percent of the city’s untapped rooftop solar potential, for instance, would create 47,000 solar installation jobs and could reduce carbon pollution by nearly 2.5 million tons annually — the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road every year.

Rising Temperatures

Rising greenhouse gas emissions will raise temperatures across the country and the Los Angeles area is poised to get a lot hotter in the coming years. Using an analysis done by UCLA climate expert Alex Hall, the first map shows L.A. area temperatures, projected to rise by an average of 4-5° Fahrenheit by mid-century. The number of extreme heat days — above 95° Fahrenheit — are set to triple in the urban core and downtown and quadruple in the valleys and areas of higher elevation.

map1a

Extreme heat is a serious health concern, particularly in urban areas where there are fewer trees to provide shade and more impervious surfaces like pavement and roofs. Blacks, Asians and Latinos are more likely to live in “urban heat islands” — areas most susceptible to the severe heat waves that will become more common with climate change — according to recent research from UC Berkeley. The trend not only presents a real threat to public health, but also places increased demand on resources.

A Heavy Toll On Disadvantaged Communities

The LASER maps show that L.A. County alone is home to 50 percent of California’s most vulnerable population. Examining data from 19 indicators related to pollution burden and population characteristics, the maps identified some 3.7 million people living in “communities disproportionately burdened by and vulnerable to multiple sources of pollution.”

map2

The first to show major racial and economic differences in exposure to hazardous air pollution, a 2012 Yale University study found that areas with a greater concentration of poor and minority residents are more likely to breathe air with dangerous compounds. The study listed Los Angeles among the metropolitan areas with both a large population of low-income minorities and high levels of dangerous particles that are emitted by diesel engines, power plants, refineries.

Major Solar Potential

A silver lining to Los Angeles’ vulnerabilities is the area has tremendous potential for investment in rooftop solar and energy efficiency. The LASER analysis found that the city is currently leaving 97 to 98 of that potential untapped and that closing the gap just slightly could both drive job creation and reduce air pollution, particularly beneficial for several of the communities identified as socioeconomically and environmentally vulnerable.

map3

Los Angeles County currently has the largest amount of installed solar capacity of any county in the state and with 1,400 installations on rooftops in disadvantaged communities, is working to improve vulnerable populations’ access to clean energy. Renters and residents living in multi-family developments are often shut out of the rooftop solar revolution but California has taken steps to change that, passing S.B. 43 last year, which allows customers of any of the three main utilities to purchase 100 percent clean energy for their home or business, regardless of whether they own it, and extending incentives for low-income households.

The team behind the LASER analysis said the goal of the data-driven mapping project is to help communities identify which projects might be most beneficial to their residents, something that will become particularly important as S.B. 535, passed in 2012, requires that at least 25 percent of the proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auction are dedicated to projects benefiting disadvantaged communities. In addition, the state’s most recent budget allocates $225 million for similar efforts that both work to lower emissions and create jobs in low-income areas.

Many of the Los Angeles communities already experiencing the disproportionate impact of pollution also happen to be areas with the highest job creation potential from solar and energy efficiency projects — by connecting all of the dots, the LASER team hopes to show how beneficial big data can be in the fight against climate change. The White House released a trove of data in March to help illustrate for the public the risks associated with climate change, part of its larger Climate Data Initiative. And the United Nations launched a similar initiative to gather data related to the economic impacts of climate change, intended to spur data-driven solutions.

By publicizing data on impacts like coastal flooding, these efforts seek to connect climate change, often an abstract and overwhelming phenomenon, to what people care about the most — their home. “We hope to help people internalize the risk and care,” said Rebecca Moore, founder of Google Earth Engine.

The post These Maps Show How Big Data Can Fight Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.

Activists protest plans to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam in India.

Activists protest plans to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam in India.

CREDIT: AP Images

A leaked document from the World Bank says that the international lending organization is about to scrap key safeguards that protect indigenous peoples and the environment in their project sites. The World Bank, which lends up to $50 billion a year to developing nations, instituted the protective policies after several high-profile development projects in the 1980s and ’90s led to grave human rights abuses and environmental degradation.

The draft policy would allow countries receiving World Bank loans to “opt-out” of abiding by the organization’s rules protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. In response, a coalition of NGOs, activists, and community groups issued a statement to the World Bank warning that the proposed change in policy “represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice.” Even some of the World Bank’s top leaders have expressed reservations about the plan.

If the World Bank presses ahead with the changes, we could see repeats of flagrant abuses from the past that alienate more people than they help, leading to fierce criticism of the international financing system from the left at the turn of the century. Here are three of the World Bank’s past blunders the current safeguards would have prevented that are definitely not worth repeating:

1. The Dam That Displaced 300,000 In India

In 1985, the World Bank made a $450 million loan to the Indian government to build a massive dam in the Narmada Valley of Gujarat state. While Indian authorities and World Bank officials argued that the dam would provide irrigation and drinking water to millions, indigenous peoples living in the protested that the huge reservoir created by the dam would flood their homes and displace hundreds of thousands.

Working with a coalition of activists from across India, the residents demanded that the World Bank stop funding the dam. After the activists’ hunger strikes and civil disobedience attracted the attention of human rights advocates worldwide, the World Bank finally buckled under pressure and allowed an unprecedented independent review in 1991. The review board, headed by a top U.N. official, found that the World Bank had repeatedly broken its own guidelines and legally-binding agreements with the Indian states and called on the Bank to radically overhaul its plan for the dam. But the Bank decided to completely ignored the findings of its own review board, prompting the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations to join the calls for an end to the project. Under pressure from governments and activists around the world, the Bank finally agreed to withdraw from the project in 1993. However, in 2000, the Indian Supreme Court approved continued construction. To date, the dam has displaced 300,000 people. The World Bank’s indigenous peoples policy, now under threat of rollback, was instituted as a direct result of international outcry caused by the dam.

2. Palm Oil Plantations That Uproot Millions In Indonesia

Since the 1980s, the World Bank has invested over $2 billion in promoting the global palm oil trade. In Indonesia, which produces half the world’s palm oil, the World Bank funded a massive expansion of palm oil plantations over the past few decades. Now, Indonesia has the highest deforestation rate in the world. According to a report commissioned by the Bank itself, 70 million Indonesians live on or near state forest land, but with palm oil plantations quadrupling in area since 1990, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has predicted that Indonesia’s natural rainforest will be wiped out by 2032.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the World Bank supported worked with Dictator Suharto’s to deliver one third of all forests to logging companies and another third to palm oil plantations. Only after years of devastation to local communities did the Bank conduct an internal review, which found that poverty skyrocketed throughout the 1990s. Indonesians trapped in the path of the encroaching plantations have reported earning less than half their previous wages after deforestation forced them to take up work on the plantations. Floods, landslides, and droughts also plague regions where forest has quickly disappeared. In 2009, louder and louder criticism finally forced the World Bank to place a two-year moratorium on new lending for palm oil investments. If the World Bank ditches environmental and human rights safeguards, however, palm oil giants won’t face any obstacles going forward.

3. Paraguay’s $15 Billion “Monument To Corruption”

Between 1979 and 1988, the World Bank shelled out $210 million to help build another huge dam on the Argentina-Paraguay border. The Bank signed on with a plan devised by Paraguay’s then dictator, Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, to turn the poor, landlocked nation into an “energy superpower” by building the huge hydroelectric dam. When construction began in 1983, however, demand for electricity lagged 25 percent behind the original forecast, calling into question if the dam should even be built. The World Bank forged ahead anyway. An internal audit concluded “the Bank did not act decisively when confronted with the facts” but instead “accepted repeated violations of major covenants.” The Bank lost nearly $11 billion on the project by 1996 and the dam only operated at 60 percent of its capacity a few years later. But the costs to the local population were even worse.

In the end, 100,000 poor and indigenous people on both sides of the border were displaced and fish populations were decimated, destroying many locals’ primary source of income and food. While the Bank promised to compensate the displaced, many have still not seen a cent. “Not a single business was created to give people real jobs, either on the Argentine side or on our side,” said Jorge Urusoff, a resident of Encarnacion. People living on the edges of the giant reservoir created by the dam are still haunted by sewage-contaminated water that has upped the risk of malaria and other diseases in the area. Argentina’s president throughout the ’90s, Carlos Menem, called the dam a “monument to corruption,” and today the name sticks.

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If the World Bank drops basic safeguards, disasters like these are bound to repeat themselves. “The Bank’s policy review is an opportunity for the World Bank to finally make itself accountable on human rights,” said Jessica Evans, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “If the Bank’s board allows the draft policy to go out without fixing these major flaws, it sends a message that respect for human rights remains discretionary at the Bank.” This is not what international development should look like.

The post World Bank Preparing To Scrap Protections For The Environment, Indigenous People appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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A sprinkler system sprays water onto a parked car along the curb in Glendale, Calif., Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

A sprinkler system sprays water onto a parked car along the curb in Glendale, Calif., Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Hamilton

When water becomes a precious commodity in California, things get ugly.

Californians are taking to social media to call out neighbors and businesses that are wasting water amid the state’s extreme drought. As ABC News reports, disgruntled Californians are snapping photos of the offending lawns, sidewalks, golf courses and baseball fields and uploading them to social media accounts, using the hashtag #DroughtShaming.

Some even go so far as to add an address for the water-waster.

Along with using Twitter to call out neighbors, California residents can also use an app to document water-wasters near them. The app, which was designed in April to allow users to report things like lost pets in their neighborhoods, added the option to report drought offenders after they saw that the #DroughtShaming campaign had taken off.

But despite these efforts, Felicia Marcus, Chair at the California State Water Resources Control Board, told ABC News that the Water Resources Control Board isn’t monitoring Twitter to try to spot water-wasters. Neighbors can call their city’s drought hotlines to report residents or businesses using an excessive amount of water, numbers which since water usage restrictions were put in place earlier this month have seen record high phone calls. Or, Marcus said, they can try approaching their neighbors about their water usage.

“We appreciate the fact that residents are engaged,” Marcus said. “They can talk to their neighbors. If they don’t feel like their neighbors are listening, they should let the local water board know.”

Earlier this month, California agreed to impose fines of up to $500 on residents who were caught doing things like washing cars with running hoses, watering lawns between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and letting water from outdoor sprinklers run down sidewalks. The fines came after a report that found voluntary water reductions weren’t working — in fact, water consumption had increased 1 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the report.

Even residents who try to comply with the water restrictions, however, can still be hit by fines. One couple in Glendora, California who stopped watering their lawn got a letter from the city that threatened to fine them up to $500 if their lawn remained brown.

“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” the letter read.

Some are turning to creative ways of keeping their lawns green — a gym in California is using a special trademarked paint to turn its brown grass green. The gym paid the paint company about $600 to come and spraypaint their lawn, and the treatment should last up to six months. For an average residential lawn, the treatment costs around $175.

There are far cheaper ways of maintaining a lawn — just maybe not a grass one — in the midst of a drought, however. This summer, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power upped its “cash for grass” rebate to $3 for every foot of grass residents replace with local, drought-resistant plants. As California’s extreme drought persists, these desert-friendly lawns may need to become more of the norm: one environmental expert told the New York Times last August that the “era of the lawn in the West is over.”

The post Californians Are Taking To Twitter To Shame Neighbors Who Waste Water appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Seattle, Washington.

Seattle, Washington.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Washington State is poised to join California and several Canadian provinces in a carbon trading system, according to a Monday memoranda from the governor’s office.

The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is an agreement between California, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to develop and implement coordinated systems to cut their collective greenhouse gas emissions. California already has its cap-and-trade plan, for instance, and British Columbia has sported a carbon tax since 2008. Washington had been poised to also join the WCI, but the midterm elections 2010 upended much of the political momentum.

Now Governor Jay Inslee’s (D) memorandum to Washington’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce (CERT) indicates the state is out to close the deal, according to a story by Responding to Climate Change.

“Material covered with the CERT thus far has mainly focused on how these systems have been implemented in other jurisdictions,” the memorandum said. “This meeting begins the process of bringing a Washington State-specific focus to how these policy design options could be implemented.”

Both a cap-and-trade system and a carbon tax are under consideration as possible options. According to local Washington media, the CERT task force was briefed on the options Tuesday, and Inslee intends to produce a bill from their deliberations for the 2015 legislative session. The goal would be to hit the state’s previous commitment to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035. (And to return to 1990 levels by 2020.)

In considering the cap-and-trade option, the memorandum explicitly suggests linking up with the California and Quebec markets, and through them to the WCI as a whole. “By joining with other jurisdictions, Washington would have better access to the number of market entities needed for a well-functioning market,” it continued.

The CERT team will be submitting feedback until August 5th, and will meet again in September to further flesh out the policy options.

This is Inslee’s second crack at bringing a plan to cut carbon emissions to Washington: in 2013, the Governor tried to get it done through a legislative committee that split between Democrats and Republicans, with the latter eschewing a cap-and-trade system or emissions limits in favor more nuclear power and a possible revisitation of older climate goals. By contrast, the CERT team is made up of Inslee appointees from business, labor, non-profit, governmental and environmental groups.

British Columbia’s carbon tax cut the province’s fossil fuel consumption over 17 percent from 2008 to 2012, with negligible effects on the economy. The market in carbon permits created by California’s cap-and-trade system has also been strong, and its scope is set to more than double in 2015 — after which it will oversee 85 percent of the state’s economy.

The post Washington State Is Gearing Up A System To Cut Its Carbon Emissions appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) rips into Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) for blocking a resolution that would have acknowledged the reality of climate change.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) rips into Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) for blocking a resolution that would have acknowledged the reality of climate change.

CREDIT: CSPAN

Here at ClimateProgress, we spend a lot of time debunking politicians who deny climate change based on scientifically murky grounds. On Thursday, it looked as though we’d have to do it again, after Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) blocked a Senate resolution that would have simply stated that climate change is real. Inhofe said he objected to the resolution because the earth had experienced “no warming for the last 15 years;” and because 9,000 scientists had signed a petition expressing doubt that greenhouse gases cause global warming.

Fortunately, however, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) did the debunking for us, just seconds after Inhofe finished his tirade against the Obama administration for having his federal agencies “collude” together to promote a “global warming agenda.”

“I appreciate very much having had the opportunity to hear those words, from what I can only describe as an alternate reality,” Whitehouse began, before getting into detailed specifics rebutting each one of Inhofe’s points.

Watch it here:

Whitehouse began by addressing one of Inhofe’s most oft-used arguments against the existence of climate change — that the earth’s atmospheric temperature has not risen in the last 15 years.

That “little rhetorical device” Inhofe is using fails to consider two things, Whitehouse said. One, is that more than 90 percent of the heat generated from increased carbon emissions gets absorbed into the ocean, not into the atmosphere. Two, is that any changes in ocean temperature will eventually have “a pronounced effect” on atmospheric temperature. Indeed, recent studies show that global temperatures are set to rise rapidly in the face of our increasingly warm and acidic oceans.

“To say that we have no warming is just not factual,” he said.

Next, Whitehouse took on Inhofe’s assertion that federal government agencies — The Department of Defense, NASA, and NOAA, for example — were colluding to promote environmentalists’ agendas. “Colluding together. That’s a fairly tough word to use,” he began.

Whitehouse: Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called colluding together. How about NASA? We trust them to send our astronauts into space. We trust them to deliver a rover the size of an S.U.V. to the surface of Mars safely and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from Mars to us. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … How about the United States Navy? The commander in chief of our Pacific Command? Is he colluding when he says that?

If you want to ignore the federal government, if you live in a world in which you think the federal government colludes with itself to make up things that aren’t true, okay. But look at the property casualty insurance and reinsurance industry. They’re the people with the biggest bet on this. They have billions of dollars riding on getting it right, and they say climate change is real, carbon pollution is causing it, we’ve got to do something about it. So does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because they care about the poor and the effect this will have on the people who have the least. So does every major U.S. scientific society. Every single one.

Whitehouse then ripped into Inhofe for citing the Petition Project, which purportedly features over 31,000 scientists –9,000 with PhDs — signing a petition stating “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the forseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

“I’m told that among the names on that petition are the Spice Girls,” Whitehouse said, “It’s almost a comedic effort.”

“The fact you can’t find 9,000 people who think the earth is flat is a bit of a stretch, and the idea that we should base our policy on a petition that imaginary people are on rather than on what NASA and NOAA and the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and every major scientific society and the entire property casualty reinsurance industry are telling us, it’s just extraordinary,” he added.

Despite Whitehouse’s argument, however, the resolution — which required unanimous consent — failed with Inhofe’s objection. So as demonstrated by that non-action, the Senate has no official position on whether climate change is real or not, much less whether it poses a threat to American citizens.

Klobuchar told The Hill that she would keep trying to pass the resolution, saying the Senate looks “silly” for arguing with scientific consensus.

The post Senator Denies Climate Change On Senate Floor And Gets A Science Lesson From His Colleague appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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shutterstock_58351

CREDIT: shutterstock

Since its founding by an Illinois Congressman in 1856, General Mills has been part of America’s diet — a diet that is now being impacted by climate change. On Monday, the behemoth company, which is home to dozens of household brands, including Cheerios, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury, avowed newfound concern for climate change as part of a bigger movement by major corporations concerned with both profits and practices tied-up in greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement by General Mills comes two months after Oxfam launched a report calling out big food companies for their significant greenhouse gas emissions, and specifically noting General Mills as a “clear laggard.”

In a complete reversal, this week Oxfam praised General Mills for its “bold steps” in becoming a climate change leader and promising to reduce not only its operational emissions but also those in its supply chain. This makes the pledge more than a token gesture considering nearly two-thirds of General Mills’ greenhouse gas emissions and 99 percent of water use occur upstream from their direct operations primarily in the agricultural sector. In 2005, General Mills pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its direct operations by 20 percent by 2015, and in 2009, it also committed to reduce transportation fuel by 35 percent by 2015. These actions are not motivated merely by vague good intentions, but also calculated concerns regarding the impacts of climate change on business practices.

“Weather conditions such as drought, floods, and excessive heat can decrease yields on crops like corn, oats and wheat,” said John Church, executive vice president of supply chain operations at General Mills. “Changing weather patterns can also impact our ability to deliver quality products to our consumers and value to our shareholders. As weather volatility increases, General Mills recognizes the need to mitigate the climate change risks presented to humanity, our environment and our livelihoods.”

According to Oxfam, General Mills is the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term targets to cut emissions. General Mills also recently joined BICEP, or Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a coalition of companies including Starbucks, Nike, and Timberland, advocating for strong climate and clean energy policies and legislation.

While General Mills stopped short of naming greenhouse gas reduction targets in their latest announcement, the company has committed to sustainably sourcing 100 percent of its 10 main ingredients by 2020, which would account for half its total purchases of raw materials. General Mills has also made an effort to reduce its impact on deforestation, a major driver of GHGs, by aiming to sustainably source three-quarters of its palm oil by the end of the year. Palm oil use is surging globally, and demand is weighing heavily on forested areas, especially in Southeast Asia where rainforest is being converted into oil palm tree plantations at an alarming rate.

With this new pledge from General Mills, Oxfam has turned its attention to another longstanding food company.

“We applaud General Mills for taking this vital first step,” said Monique van Zijl, who heads up Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “The ball is now in Kellogg’s court.”

The post To Keep Delivering Quality Products, General Mills Wants Major Carbon Cuts From Suppliers appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Even as giant U.S. coal companies bemoan the Obama Administration’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a federal agency’s long history of protecting industry interests could hand coal companies a victory and threaten an otherwise impressive climate record.

The coal industry has loudly and publicly decried the administration’s Clean Power Plan, saying it would “place the U.S. economy at serious risk,” while quietly working to convince the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to sell off billions of tons of coal owned by the American public at below-market rates.

If the coal industry succeeds, and if the Obama administration doesn’t step in to curtail major new coal lease sales proposed by the BLM in a region of Wyoming and Montana known as the Powder River Basin, those sales could lock in decades of massive carbon dioxide releases. Combustion of that coal — if not here in the U.S. then quite likely abroad in places like China — will undermine White House climate goals and achievements.

Two new reports, one by the Center for American Progress, the other by Greenpeace, highlight the costs of the BLM’s coal leasing program.

“The true cost of Powder River Basin coal is much more than the billions of dollars in lost revenue that the federal government fails to collect on behalf of U.S. taxpayers; that is only half the story,” the CAP report states. “The cost to society for mining and burning Powder River Basin coal — its social cost — is the other half.”

The report found that even using BLM’s lower estimate of 388 million tons of Powder River Basin coal sold in 2012, “the total net social loss that year was more than $19 billion dollars. These losses will continue to reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars if Powder River Basin coal remains so highly undervalued and production continues at similar levels to today.”

The Greenpeace study looked at the social cost of carbon released from coal lease sales during the Obama administration and concluded it will result in damages of $52 billion to $530 billion, compared to receipts from those sales of just $2.3 billion. The study found that the more than two billion tons of coal sold already by the Interior Department under Obama has resulted in the release of 3.9 billion tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to the annual emissions of 825 million cars.

And there may be far more to come. A BLM plan to authorize lease sales for 10 billion tons of publicly owned coal in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin has been under development since 2008 in federal agency offices in Wyoming. Based on the Greenpeace calculations, that could release in the neighborhood of 17 billion tons of carbon pollution when burned for electricity. This latest leasing plan, known as the Buffalo Resource Management Plan, is in fact now in Washington, where Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and agency leaders must grapple with a blueprint that reflects coal industry priorities and that fails to take account of the President’s goals under the Climate Action Plan.

Therein lies a tale of how coal, oil and gas companies have long gotten their way with the Bureau of Land Management. It is an agency with a pro-industry history and culture that oversees nearly 250 million acres of mostly western land and is often subject to strong political pressures from western state politicians who think the primary uses of our public lands should be in service to the mining, energy and livestock industries.

When Jim Baca took over as director of BLM early in the Clinton administration in 1993, it didn’t take long for the former New Mexico state land commissioner to discover the gale force political winds that often buffet the Interior Department agency.

Within an hour and a half of approving a recommendation from his Wyoming field staff to order a sheep rancher to remove his livestock from an overused and battered federal grazing allotment, Baca had received calls of protest from both of the state’s U.S. Senators. “Two U.S. Senators, with everything else going on, found time to call me about those 300 sheep,” Baca said.

That anecdote illustrates a truism about the BLM: administrations come and administrations go, but the agency continues to be dogged by criticism that it is too beholden to both conservative western politicians and the industries — oil and gas, coal, hard rock mining and livestock — that often dominate politics in the West.

Washington residents protest a proposed coal export terminal in 2013.

Washington residents protest a proposed coal export terminal in 2013.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

While the public lands issues have changed somewhat since the last time Democrats controlled the Interior Department — there’s less talk of hard rock mining and grazing reforms now, and more about “all of the above” energy development — the BLM’s flaws remain in focus. They are, to a large extent, a product of its history, its culture, and the way it is organized.

And those flaws will, to a considerable extent, influence how the Obama Administration’s record on environmental stewardship will be judged, particularly how its enthusiasm for using public lands for robust production of oil, gas and especially coal conflicts with its otherwise solid record on combating climate change.

It’s been two decades since Baca’s boss in the Interior Department, secretary Bruce Babbitt, launched a broad-based reform effort on how public lands are managed, promising to make them more of a cradle for conservation and less of a playpen for extractive industry. That he was forced to trim his ambitions, and not incidentally to fire the outspoken Baca in an attempt to appease western politicians outraged by the effort to overhaul grazing practices, gives Babbitt a particularly useful perspective on the BLM.

In March of this year, Babbitt traveled to Boulder, Colorado to inaugurate a new lecture series at the University of Colorado law school. His topic: unrestrained oil and gas development on lands managed by the BLM.

“The BLM is not meeting its obligation, its trust for managing the public lands on our behalf,” Babbitt said that evening in Boulder. “It is completely outgunned and overmatched by the oil and gas industry, by the pace of the energy boom and by overwhelming political pressure that is put on that agency by the oil and gas industry and indeed by many western legislators … The BLM does not seem to have the resources or the will to be an effective regulator.”

Despite attempts to reform the BLM, including his own, Babbitt said the agency’s “DNA has not yet been changed.”

While Babbitt was talking specifically about the BLM’s failings on oil and gas regulation, he said in a later interview with ThinkProgress that the criticisms regarding ineffective regulation also apply to the agency’s relationship to the coal industry. The same point has been made recently by government watchdogs, including the Government Accountability Office and the Interior Department’s inspector general, which both found that the agency has failed to ensure the public receives what it should when the BLM sells leases to public coal.

Thirteen months ago, the Interior Department’s inspector general issued a report that said the agency may have lost more than $60 million by undervaluing coal when it leases tracts of public land to producers. About 40 percent of U.S. coal production comes from public lands, most of it in the Powder River Basin, though with smaller production in other states including Colorado and Utah. Since 1990, the BLM has sold 107 coal leases, and about 90 percent of them had only one bidder.

The BLM’s oversight of the coal leasing program is so weak, the IG report found, that it “could put the Government at risk of not receiving the full, fair market value for the leases” as is required by federal law. Further, the report said the agency’s inspection and enforcement program is flawed, likely preventing agency employees “from detecting noncompliance with laws, regulations and lease terms.”

The Inspector General criticized the BLM for relying solely on its own appraisers in determining the fair market value of the public’s coal rather than on the Interior Department’s separate office that houses valuation experts. Further, the audit found that without a consistent agency-wide system of handling lease sales, individual state offices had wide discretion in overseeing the process. Particularly telling was the revelation that the BLM does not independently verify coal companies’ claims to the quality and energy content of the coal they propose to buy — key factors in its market value — and does not conduct its own inspections of sites proposed for leasing, instead relying on coal companies’ own submissions.

Coal passes through a loading terminal at Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek mine near Decker, Mont.

Coal passes through a loading terminal at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek mine near Decker, Mont.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matthew Brown

And, even with coal companies increasingly looking to boost their exports of public coal to Asia, the Inspector General found that the agency did not consider the potential for export — and with it much higher prices for the companies’ coal — in determining fair market value.

Finally, the report highlighted one of the deficiencies most frequently cited by BLM critics: that officials in the Washington headquarters of the agency have let individual state offices operate with little oversight or direction. “[A]lthough the Washington Office manages the coal program, it does not directly control the program in the many State and field offices that oversee coal leases,” the IG report found. “Without strong, centralized management, State and field office personnel may interpret official standards, processes and procedures inconsistently.”

The Inspector General’s report made 13 specific recommendations related to those findings. Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw told The Washington Post this week that the BLM has begun implementing those recommendations and is “fully committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive a fair return from the development of coal resources on public lands.” But she gave no indication that the department intends to cut back on coal lease sales, saying that “coal is a key component of America’s comprehensive energy portfolio and the nation’s economy.”

The federal coal program has a history of financial mismanagement and has been suspended on several occasions in order to allow reforms to be implemented. Following a large sale of federal coal in the Powder River Basin in 1982 for example, the General Accounting Office found that the leases were sold for $100 million below fair market value and that there was a lack of competition.

Culturally, the BLM reflects America’s long history of viewing its public lands as a collection of natural resources to be exploited and put to use by industry, whether timber, water, livestock forage, minerals or land for the development of railroads. The agency was created in 1946 by merging the General Land Office (itself founded in 1812 to oversee the disposition of federal lands) and the U.S. Grazing Service (created by the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act). Much of the BLM’s inventory of land was once seen as “the land nobody wanted,” not homesteaders, not politicians anxious to create national parks from more aesthetically pleasing sites, not –except in a part of the Pacific Northwest — timber companies looking for old growth trees.

It was 30 years before the Congress enacted a law to guide the BLM and its mission of administering public lands. The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) was the first time the agency was given a specific environmental mandate, to manage the public lands “in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archaeological values; that where appropriate will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural conditions; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use.”

At the same time, FLPMA also recognized the BLM’s extractive roots by declaring that “the public lands be managed in a manner which recognizes the Nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber and fiber from the public lands.”

That inherent ambiguity was enshrined in the act’s definition of the “multiple use” mandate for the BLM, which it defined as “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.”

“Prior to the passage of that statute, they didn’t have any environmental charter whatsoever,” noted Dave Alberswerth, who worked for the BLM in the Clinton Administration and for national environmental groups before and after that. “They have a cultural attitude that they are obligated to provide every resource on public lands to every constituency that wants it, but particularly they’ve been biased culturally and historically to the extractive industries out there.”

It has been difficult to change the culture of the BLM in part, says Alberswerth, because in the past couple of decades it has often had acting directors rather than leaders confirmed by Congress, because it is organized into state offices that are more exposed to political pressures than other agencies organized on a regional basis, and because senior BLM people in the field seem “willing to wait out” reform-minded administrations.

“Certainly the state structure is susceptible to local pressures,” said Bob Abbey, a 30-year BLM veteran who was director earlier in the Obama administration. But Abbey believes the central office of the BLM in Washington still has the authority to get policy implemented at the state and field office level.

That was certainly true during the administration of President George W. Bush, when under the hands-on direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, the BLM became essentially a full-fledged oil and gas development agency.

That, says Babbitt, is the “great irony” of the traditional criticism of the BLM that its state offices act too independently. “With Cheney’s relentless focus on energy, they really ran the BLM,” Babbitt said.

Critics of the continued large-scale coal leases say that hasn’t been true for the Obama Administration, where a massive coal leasing program is proceeding without any apparent coherent oversight or policy guidance from either the White House or the senior political leadership at Interior — even in the face of a striking conflict with the administration’s climate change goals.

Coal leasing in the Powder River Basin is ultimately responsible for about 13 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Obama Administration during its tenure so far has leased more than two billion tons of public coal. More than three billion additional tons are in the leasing pipeline. And 10 billion more tons could be authorized for leasing in a BLM management plan for the Wyoming portion of the basin that is nearing final approval and will guide operations for 15 years or more.

That plan is now under review by senior Interior Department officials. But according to one official who recently left the department, there is no sign that the plan is going to be changed to be more consistent with the administration’s emphasis on fighting climate change. And there has been no top level support at Interior to do a thorough environmental review of the effects of large amounts of U.S. public coal being sent overseas, including its impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Noting the administration’s strong response to climate change in proposing tough limits on coal fired power plant emissions in the U.S., Babbitt said the administration could achieve some consistency between that effort and its coal program with a simple stroke. “We should ban coal exports except to countries that have coal burning restrictions equivalent to what we do.”

Beyond that, he said in his University of Colorado speech, the administration ought to devote “some high level attention” to reforming the BLM as was done after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the Minerals Management Service, the Interior agency that oversaw offshore oil and gas development. In that case, President Obama appointed a commission of inquiry, which among other things recommended a thorough overhaul of the Minerals Management Service.

“That’s the right model for doing something about the BLM,” Babbitt said.

The post How One Agency Could Threaten Obama’s Climate Goals appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter holds coral samples he removed from an oil rig in waters, Monday, June 7, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, La.

Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter holds coral samples he removed from an oil rig in waters, Monday, June 7, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, La.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Scientists at Penn State University have discovered two new coral reefs near the site of BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impacts to those reefs from the spill have been greater than expected, according to research released Monday.

The two additional reefs found by the PSU team were both farther away and deeper than the one coral reef that had previously been found to have been impacted by the spill. That indicates not only that marine ecosystems may be more greatly affected, but that some of the 210 million gallons of oil that BP spilled into the Gulf is making its mark in the deep sea.

“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” PSU biology professor Charles Fisher, who led the study, said.

ThinkProgress spoke with Fisher to find out more about what the study says, what it means, and whether or not the findings spell trouble for the future of the Gulf.

TP: Your research noted that not all coral reefs surrounding the Macondo well were impacted by the spill. Can you explain, in your own words, what you found with regard to the corals that were actually impacted?

CF: The corals we found that were impacted were all within about 22 km of the spill site, and we could tell they were impacted by the appearance. Partially dead colonies were covered with growths of things that don’t normally grow on coral.

We know this impact was linked to the Macondo well, and that has to do with another study that we did in 2010. We found one [coral] site in 2010, and when we found it, the corals still had brown goo on it. The oil on those matched the chemical fingerprint of the oil from BP’s spill. We returned to that site and have followed the progress. So we know what a coral looks like that was impacted in 2010 looks like in 2011, and so on.

You don’t see this anywhere else, so all the rest of the corals that we found had the exact same characteristics. Things happened in a very predictable way.

How does your research compare to what we already knew about the BP spill’s impact on coral in the Gulf?

Before this study, we had only found one impacted site that was 14 km southwest of the spill. Now we’ve found two more, one of which is 22 km to the east. So this defines a larger circle of impact.

There was an oil plume from the spill detected at the time that modelers said predominantly moved away to the southwest at depths of like 1000 to 1400 meters. To find another impact to the east, and much deeper than that suggested means one of two things. Either the plume went further afield in different directions than some models suggested and deeper, or that there was a second mechanism that might have impacted the corals.

That second mechanism could be from sinking oil that was on a slick on the surface that either naturally emulsified and started to sink, or it could be that there was dispersant applied, and the dispersant started to sink. That’s nicknamed “toxic marine snow,” and that is a possibility. Sinking marine snow with these toxins in it could have reached the deep sea and impacted the corals.

How big were these reefs? How ecologically important are they?

Now, those are two different questions.

As for size, they’re mostly kind of tennis-court size. One of the two new communities we found has two areas, and each one is the size of a tennis court, and they’re a couple football fields apart.

As for whether they’re ecologically important, that’s a tough question to answer. The problem is that we don’t know much about the deep sea. So it’s hard for me to tell you exact connections. We do know that sharks lay their egg cases this deep on these corals. And there are lots of other fish and crabs there when we go to these sites. But we go there with bright lights and loud machines, so stuff that can swim off might swim off.

This isn’t just about corals. Corals are a great indicator species, because if something happens to them on the sea floors, they don’t just die and wash away. They’re attached to the sea floor and their skeleton stays there. So they are an indicator that this impact from the oil spill reached that far away.

If fish had died, we wouldn’t know because they wouldn’t be there by the time we got there. The corals are the evidence that there are impacts at those sites.

So because of the mystery of the deep sea, we don’t know how ecologically important this is. What are the implications of the fact that we don’t know these impacts?

What we’ve demonstrated here are what I would call acute impact to corals. In other words, corals that were impacted so hard that parts of the colony immediately died and then were colonizes by these hydroids. Things are starting to break off.

What we still don’t know, and what we need to all keep in mind, is that there’s the potential for sub-acute impact. In other words, things that might have happened to the corals’ reproductive system — slower acting cancers, changes in the fitness of the animal. These are very hard to detect and they’ll take a long time for us to see whats going on.

It seems like its been along time [since the spill], but the deep sea is a slow-moving environment. the water temperature down there is 4 degrees Celsius. These corals, some of them are 500 years old. Things change slowly. So it could be a while before things are fully recognized in the wider Gulf.

Are you worried?

About the deep sea? Sure I am.

There are many different stressers being applied to the oceans right now. In addition to energy extraction and metal extraction that’s coming upon us very quickly with people wanting to mine deep sea metals, there’s increased fishing pressure. We’ve got climate change and the effects of that, runoff and everything else.

The ocean is under a lot of pressure, and the shallows have already felt it very seriously, with a serious decline in coral all over the world. And the deep sea is starting to feel it as well. So yes, I’m concerned.

What do we need to do now that we know this?

We’re continuing to monitor, because we’re really not sure how it’s going to turn out in the end. We’re going to continue to see whether these corals going to recover or if this means death to these colonies.

Corals have a real value as monitors [of the state of the deep sea]. And I recognize very much how little we knew about the deepwater corals when we started doing this. So we’ve found that this has been very helpful.

We need to learn more about the deep sea and learn what a healthy deep sea looks like so we can more easily recognize impacts as man continues to expand its presence into the deep sea.

These answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The post BP Oil Spill Is Much Worse Than People Think, Scientists Say appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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