Backyard Talk

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline “unprecedented” as Species Extinction Rates Accelerate

The United Nations issued a report earlier this month that came to alarming conclusions about the unprecedented loss in worldwide ecosystems and the accelerating rate of species extinction occurring on the planet.
According to the UN press release, “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.” The report found that around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. 
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Th report describes a planet in which the human footprint has been devastating.  Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human activity such as the dedication of one third of world’s land and three-quarters of water found in freshwater rivers and lakes to crop or livestock production.
The average number of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.
“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Sir Robert Watson. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
The causes of these dramatic impacts were identified in descending order as: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.
The UN Report also presents steps that can be taken to address these issues in specific sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, and finance. It highlights the importance of adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.
The report was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with 145 expert authors from 50 countries, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors. The report included a systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources to assess changes over the past five decades. The primary focus of this effort was to evaluate the impacts of economic development on nature and biodiversity.
Highlights of the 1,800 report can be found on the United Nations website <here>.

Homepage Superfund News

Minden added to EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List

Minden, a small Fayette County [WV] community, is now officially on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites, making it a federal priority for enforcement, cleanup and funding. <Read more>


At UN meeting, governments agree to a global ban on PFOA – a toxic water pollutant

Governments at the 9thConference of the Parties (COP9) of the Stockholm Convention agreed to a global ban on PFOA – a chemical that does not break down and causes adverse health effects at background levels. <Read more>.


California to ban controversial pesticide, citing effects on child brain development

California, one of the nation’s largest agricultural states, announced plans Wednesday to ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos linked to neurological problems in infants and children even as federal regulators have allowed the product to remain on the market. Read more.

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Oregon’s Zombie LNG Terminal-Alive-Dead-Alive-Dead

Oregon DEQ denies Jordan Cove LNG water quality permit. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on Monday denied a water quality certification for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and its feeder pipeline, the Pacific Connector pipeline, though the agency left the door open for the company to reapply.

In a letter Monday to the project backers, the agency said “DEQ does not have a reasonable assurance that the construction and authorization of the project will comply with applicable Oregon water quality standards.”  Read more.

Backyard Talk

EPA Budget Cuts Would Endanger Health of Pennsylvania Residents

President Trump’s recently proposed federal budget should have come with a warning label: This budget may cause adverse reactions, including shortness of breath, damage to vital organs, and serious illness, sometimes leading to death.
By Flora Cardoni & Gary Morton – Reprinted from The Morning Call April 30, 2019
Every day, most Pennsylvanians drink their tap water, go outside and breathe the air, and walk around outside without getting sick. This normalcy we all take for granted doesn’t just magically happen. It happens because our federal and state environmental protectors, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees, are on the job, maintaining continuous vigilance.
Through the hard work and dedication of these government employees, implementation of environmental regulations has achieved such a level of success that we often take clean water, air, and soil as a given, despite modern life’s reliance on chemicals, oil and pesticides.
Now comes President Trump’s proposed budget to slash funding for the EPA by 31%. The EPA Regional Office that serves Pennsylvania (as well as five neighboring states) is already understaffed: More than 350 critical positions have been cut in the region over the past few years. The president’s proposed budget would reduce our regional EPA workforce even further, cutting another 150 positions and bringing it to half of what it was a few years ago.
For Pennsylvania, this means more pollution of our water, lands and air. Nearly one in three days in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg were unhealthy air days in 2016. This dangerous air pollution causes asthma attacks, respiratory problems and heart attacks. Scientists have shown that as air pollution increases, the rate of death from air pollution-related illness also increases, day to day. EPA clean air programs save the lives of 3,441 Pennsylvanians a year by reducing mercury, soot and smog pollution from the air, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
These programs only work if there are EPA employees on the ground, enforcing the rules. The proposed budget will deprive Pennsylvanians of the safeguards necessary to maintain Pennsylvania air quality because EPA will not have the personnel it needs to monitor, inspect and enforce the law against unlawful air polluters, never mind the staff and resources needed to further improve the commonwealth’s environmental protections and air quality.
Another example: Pennsylvania has 95 sites in the Superfund program, the most toxic of the toxic sites in America. A one-third cut to EPA’s budget means that these sites, many of which are within a few hundred yards of residential neighborhoods, will not be cleaned up anytime in the near future: a delay, not by a few weeks or months, but years, during which the toxic stew at these sites continues to jeopardize surrounding properties and residents, especially as downpours and flooding increase. Delay in a Superfund cleanup is akin to a delay in treatment of disease. Both are unnecessary risks that can lead to what could have been avoidable complications.
The proposed budget also slashes climate change research programs and prevention initiatives, including a 90% funding cut for the EPA’s Atmospheric Protection Program, which reports on greenhouse gasses, and a 70% funding cut for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This ignores the impacts of climate change the United States is currently experiencing, ignores the warnings of the National Climate Assessment (an annual report by scientists from 13 federal agencies) that we need to act now, and ignores the electorate.
There is common agreement by most, except the administration and the extraction industry, that the United States must transition to a clean energy economy in order to mitigate the effects of climate change to our health, economy, national security and livelihood. These budget cuts put our climate progress in reverse.
Some will say that the proposed Trump budget merely sets a target, and indeed it has: That target is squarely on the back of every Pennsylvanian who breathes the air, drinks the water, treads on the land and relies on a livable climate. The EPA needs more funding to protect our environment and public health, not severe budget cuts.
Pennsylvanians need Congress to step in where the administration has failed and protect our health and well-being by fighting to fully fund EPA.
Gary Morton is the president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238. Flora Cardoni is the Climate Defender Campaign director with PennEnvironment a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.

Homepage Superfund News

United States : Settlement will provide nearly $21 Million for Cleanup at the Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund Site in New Jersey

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice and the state of New Jersey announced the filing of a consent decree with the Ford Motor Company (Ford) and the Borough of Ringwood, New Jersey, to address remaining land-based contamination in three areas of the Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund Site in Ringwood, New Jersey. Read more here.

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Bill would make pollution information secret for companies that self-audit passes House panel in Oklahoma

With assurances from its author that no existing environmental rules will change, a bill that would allow industries to avoid some penalties and keep self-audits of pollution issues secret passed the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. Read more here.