Weekly Conservation Bulletin
Nature's clock is ticking on the state's preferred means of access to the Outer Banks. This week in CIB - Coast Watch: Re-thinking the Outer Banks Highway; Washington Watch: New Ozone Standards Delayed; Campaign Watch: GOP Candidates Vie for 'Browner-than-thou'; Education & Resources: Clean Air Lesson Plans; Conservationists: Richard and Lonna Harkrader
Coast Watch: Re-thinking the Outer Banks Highway
Hurricane Irene has left a "public comment" on North Carolina's business-as-usual approach to ensuring access to the Outer Banks. Irene said, "You may want to reconsider that."
As Irene churned its way up the East Coast a week ago, it left enormous damage in its wake, especially flooding-related damages. On the North Carolina Outer Banks, the most dramatic damage was the breach in multiple locations of NC 12, the sole land connection between Hatteras Island and the mainland. NC 12 passes over Oregon Inlet via the Bonner Bridge on its way down to Cape Hatteras.
Water escaping the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds blew out through Hatteras Island in two new inlet areas, severing NC 12 in several places, including two breaches more than 200 feet across. The NC Dept. of Transportation is scrambling to devise plans to re-establish the highway link. In the meantime, the fall tourist season on Hatteras has been severely damaged, and stopgap additional ferry service is trying to keep the permanent residents supplied with necessities.
Those who follow coastal policy debates will recall that the replacement of the Bonner Bridge has long been a divisive issue among coastal advocates and state politicians. Just this year, the state renewed its decision to replace the aging bridge with another fairly short span which would likewise come ashore in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Coastal scientists and conservationists decried that decision and announced a legal challenge. In addition to the direct damage to the wildlife refuge, they pointed out that such a replacement plan would do nothing to address the vulnerable points of NC 12 farther south of the bridge. The highway is regularly flooded and covered with sand from storms, requiring millions of dollars in maintenance on an ongoing basis. Plus, the highway is vulnerable to even more serious new-inlet style breaches from major storms.
Hurricane Irene made those critics look like prophets before the summer was finished. So far, state transportation officials and the governor's office have shown no sign of backing off on their stubborn business-as-usual approach to this problem. Perhaps the federal courts can encourage them to take a harder look at the lines Irene drew through the sand.
Washington Watch: New Ozone Standards Delayed
National conservationists expressed strong disappointment on Friday at the announcement by the Obama Administration that it would ask the EPA to postpone revision of the ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone. The EPA, under Administrator Lisa Jackson, has been in the process of re-considering standards set by the Bush Administration in 2008. National League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski called the new delay a "huge loss for public health".
The ozone standards are among the most important, and the most controversial, air quality issues currently under debate. The 2008 Bush standard represented a tightening from previous rules, but fell substantially short of the limits recommended by EPA's scientific advisers. Industry and environmental advocates have carried on a continuing sharp debate over whether the limits should be tightened further, and if so by how much. State and local governments, some of which are leery of feared impacts on industrial expansion and recruitment efforts, have chimed in with comments as well.
There is no dispute that the proposed tighter standards would leave large parts of the nation--including much of North Carolina--out of compliance with the rules. Substantial additional investment in pollution controls would be required, especially by electric utilities which employ coal-fired power plants. Industry claims that the higher costs would result in economic and job losses at a particularly bad time. Environmental advocates have countered that the public health benefits would be even larger. Both sides have signaled an intention to make the standards a campaign issue in 2012.
It was expected that the losing side in this administrative debate would appeal the decision to federal court in any event. The standards are also set for a new from-scratch review beginning in 2013.
Campaign Watch: GOP Candidates Vie for 'Browner-than-thou'
In a disturbing race to the bottom, leading GOP presidential candidates appear to be in a fight to prove they're even less "green" than their opponents. Faced by a surge from climate-denier Rick Perry, the formerly surging Michelle Bachmann has amped up her attacks on the EPA.
On the campaign trail in key swing state Florida last week, Bachmann trumpeted her claim that "The United States is the number one country in the world for energy resources," but that they are locked up by environmental rules. She refers specifically to oil shale and offshore oil. To address this claimed problem, she promises, "We will lock the doors and turn out the lights [of the EPA]."
The sole exception to this anti-environmental trend among the GOP field is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who has gone out of his way to reaffirm his belief in human-caused global warming. Unfortunately, Huntsman appears to be running at the "asterisk" level in polling of likely GOP primary voters.
Education & Resources: Clean Air Lesson Plans
Just in time for back-to-school, Catawba College's Center for the Environment is offering free air quality lesson plans for teachers and other group leaders for children. The lesson plans and activities on air quality were initially designed for middle school classes, but are also suggested as suitable for other group learning situations for elementary through high-school ages. Potential users of the materials are invited to check them out through the Center's clean air campaign website: www.campaignforcleanair.org.
Conservationists: Richard and Lonna Harkrader
An ecotourism lodge and sustainable coffee farm in Nicaragua, founded by Durham residents Richard and Lonna Harkrader, was the subject of the cover story of the Fall 2011 edition of UU World, the national magazine publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The Harkraders are also strong clean energy advocates, and Richard has served as a member of the Conservation PAC, NCLCV's arm for direct support of "green" candidates.
The full article is online at http://www.uuworld.org/life/articles/186480.shtml.
As a fan of good coffee, CIB appreciates any work that makes our favorite hot beverage more sustainable.