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Volume 14, Issue 46
The last extensive update of the National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) occurred in 2012. Recently the NWPL’s national panel released an online questionnaire to ensure that the list remains current. The aim of the questionnaire is to designate those plant species possessing wetland ratings that may need revision, as well as those species that need examining either for inclusion or exclusion from the list.
All four of the federal agencies who collaborate on the NWPL—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service—have already received the questionnaire, which is set to be announced by numerous institutions, including the Society of Wetland Scientists and the Association of State Wetland Managers.
Any agency, institution, or individual interested in submitting information regarding one or more plant species possessing a wetland rating that may be in need of further review must complete the questionnaire prior to the January 31, 2015 deadline. In order to properly complete the questionnaire, the respondent must identify the species in question, the wetland region(s) and/or sub-region(s) in which the species’ wetland rating may need review, the species’ current wetland rating, and the proposed wetland rating change. Documents providing information in support of the proposed change must also be submitted with the questionnaire. Appropriate documents that provide supporting evidence include but are not limited to literature citations, regional floras, herbaria records, and personal observations. Additionally, the respondent needs to summarize his rationale for requesting a wetland rating be changed based on the evidence he provides in the questionnaire.
Once all questionnaires have been received, a list will be created of all the wetland ratings that are deemed necessary for review, as well as those species that have been suggested either to receive a wetland rating, or to have their wetland rating removed. The NWPL panel will then evaluate those species compiled from the questionnaire based upon the submitted documentation, available literature, and the panel member’s own experience. All decisions made regarding proposed changes to wetland ratings will be left to the panel member’s discretion.
The results of the questionnaire and NWPL’s evaluations will be posted on the NWPL website, and any changes to wetland ratings will be included in the 2015 NWPL update.
The NWPL provides an example of a completed questionnaire for an individual plant species, as well as a link to the questionnaire at their website: http://wetland_plants.usace.army.mil/.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding either the questionnaire or the process for rating wetland plants, please contact Robert Lichvar of the U.S. Corps of Engineers at 603.646.4657 or email NWPL@usace.army.mil.
It is important to follow the process of updating the NWPL closely, because any changes to wetland species may affect delineations, as was demonstrated in my previous article regarding the wetland rating of the Japanese Honeysuckle.
Volume 14, Issue 45
Pubic comments on the proposed “Waters of the US” regulations close on November 14, 2014. That is if they do not extend them once again. I very much encourage you to submit your comments before then. Many of our readers already have done so as evidenced by the over 250,000 comments submitted to date.
You can submit your comments online by going to: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001
If you do comment, I would encourage you to post your comment tracking number in the comments section of this post. My comment comment tracking number is 1jy-8fd2-fndk. I have posted my full comment below.
My main concern is not that the definition needs to be revamped. Rather, it is more focused on the way it is being done. I am very concerned that the vast majority of water resource and wetland professionals have been left out of this discussion. The regulations have been drafted by a very select group of mostly academics including at least one foreign national from Canada. There are virtually no professionals involved.
I do not believe that this new definition is a matter of the “right thing to do.” It is more a matter of is it the legal thing to do. Does the President have the right to act alone and promulgate a regulation that expands the reach of government into private landownership? I believe that is a matter for our representative and elected officials in Congress to take up.
What do you think?
Environmental Protection Agency
Mail Code 2822T
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Re: Comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean
Docket ID No. EPA-HW-OW-2011-0880
To whom it may concern:
I would like to offer my comments on the proposed “Waters of the US” (2011-EPA-OW-0880) as advertised the Federal Register on April 21, 2014.
My chief comment relates to the overall stated premise of these new rules. The proposed rules are concerned with the perceived issue that the existing rules do not adequately represent the intent of Congress (ergo the people) when they passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. Currently, it is the Agencies’ stated belief that the intent of Congress was to claim jurisdictional authority over nearly every body of water in the United States including wetlands and non-wetlands.
In 2001 The Supreme Court ruled in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) that Congress did not have unlimited authority to regulate all bodies of water. This was emphasized on isolated wetlands associated with the SWANCC site. These wetland areas lacked the required commerce connection to downstream waters. The Clean Water Act is limited in jurisdiction to only those waters that have a potential to affect interstate or international commerce. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution limits the role of the Federal government in this matter to only those areas that could affect commerce.
The proposed rules seem to ignore the SWANCC ruling of the Supreme Court. In fact, it is the stated intention of this rule to reverse the Courts decision.
Under the Constitution, it is the role of the executive branch to administer the laws that are passed by Congress. It is acknowledged that many aspects of the Clean Water Act are purposely left to the discretion of the executive branch to interpret these laws by promulgating regulations such as this proposed rule. However, the Executive branch does not have the authority to expand the regulations beyond what the laws allows. Similarly, it is the role of the Judicial Branch to reign in Congress and the President should they pass a law that is beyond what the Constitution allows as was done with the SWANCC case.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report referenced in the proposed rule states that there is a minimal expansion of Federal jurisdiction over what is currently called “Waters of the US”. The report estimates that the expansion is only about 3%. While this may seem small on a relative scale it represents a land area roughly the size of the State of Arizona. This is in fact a rather large expansion of the Federal Governments reach into private land ownership. I am very concerned with the concept that the Executive Branch can expand the Federal Governments land holdings without the consent of the other two branches of government and the people.
Much of the proposed rule is based upon a misinterpretation of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s lone opinion in the 2006 John A. Rapanos, et ux., et al., Petitioners v. United States; June Carabell, et al., Petitioners v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, et al. case. The concept of significant nexus is central to his opinion. However the proposed rule offers no further insight into what constitutes “significant.”
The proposed rule does by way of reference to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Connectivity Report delve into the concept of “nexus.” The SAB report ostensibly argues that all bodies of water are connected to all other bodies of water. At a very fundamental level this is true. However, the SAB report does not address the concept of which of these connections or nexus are “significant” as described by Justice Kennedy. If it is assume that all waters are connected and that there is no procedure to distinguish these connections as significant, then are we to assume that all connected water bodies are considered ““Waters of the US?”
It is clear in the opinions of the Supreme Court Justices that there is a difference between jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional waters. What is not clear, and in fact these proposed regulations make it much less clear, what exactly is a ““Waters of the US.”
Furthermore, I draw your attention to the 199 additional documents posted to the Regulation.gov docket folder in the last two weeks. They in fact have not been posted and the public is greeted with this 12 page notice:
Additional Supporting Materials for Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880
EPA will be adding the following documents to the docket. Copyrighted material is publicly available only in hard copy. Publicly available docket materials are available electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or in hard copy at the Water Docket, EPA Docket Center, EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. The Public Reading Room is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. The telephone number for the Public Reading Room is 202–566–1744, and the telephone number for the Water Docket is 202–566–2426.
To what purpose do these documents serve? Why at this juncture are the Agencies concerned with copyright issues? It does beg the question of whether these copyright issue were addressed in the SAB report. Perhaps this should be disclosed.
How does this serve the public trust when the vast majority of these documents are only available by taking a trip to Washington, D.C. If the agencies feel that these documents are necessary to support their case for further regulations, then they should resolve the stated copyright concerns and publish them on the website in their entirety. Otherwise these 199 documents should be removed from the docket.
I disagree that there is a regulatory need to update the definition of what is a waters of the United States. What is needed and was voiced by Justice Alito in the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case is for Congress to more narrowly define what is meant by a “Waters of the US” by amending the Clean Water Act. This would afford the public through its elected representatives in Congress to express its concerns and support for what should be regulated as a “Waters of the US” and what should not. This current proposed regulation dictates to the public what is and is not jurisdictional without the consent of the governed. With over a quarter- million public comments already submitted, it is clear that this is a matter for the people to decide, not a single branch of the government.
Thank you for your consideration.
Marc Seelinger, PWS
Volume 14, Issue 44
In 2009, Jeremy Feinberg, an ecologist at Rutgers University, and his team—consisting of Louisiana State University geneticist Catherine Newman, University of Alabama biologist Leslie Rissler, University of California, Los Angeles biologist Brad Shaffer, and fellow Rutgers ecologist Joanna Burger—happened upon an unusual frog call while exploring the disappearance of the southern leopard frog from the New York City area. The chuck, chuck, chuck sound emanating from a group of frogs on Staten Island differed from any known species in the area. When describing this first encounter of the frog call, Feinberg said, “Pretty much within 10 seconds of hearing the call, we said, ‘Something is really weird here.’” That chance meeting led to Feinberg and his team investigating the origins of the odd sound.
January 2012 saw the team publish their findings in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. This initial publication, however, had an extremely narrow subject matter. It focused on the genetic uniqueness of the unknown amphibian, which until that point had been confused for a southern leopard frog.
On October 29, 2014, a further study was published in PLOS ONE, whereby the team argued that the uniqueness of the frog ought to designate a new species. The scientists then opted to name the frog after Carl Kauffeld, a herpetologist who in 1936 stipulated that New York City was home to not only the two accepted species of leopard frogs, but also a third. Rana kauffeldi, then, became the latest of the 19 species of leopard frog known worldwide.
There are two aspects of Rana kauffeldi that differentiate it from other species of leopard frogs: the croak and the spots found down the back of the legs. The croak, however, is the most revealing characteristic. The team described the croak as a “single-note unpulsed chuck,” a sound that distinctly stands apart from the region’s other leopard frog species.
It is extremely difficult to hear the unique croak of Rana kauffeldi, however. The breeding period in which these mating calls occur only last for a few weeks each year, during which most noises are drowned out by the sound of the spring peepers. Feinberg said that these factors “keep them hidden.” He added, “You have to win the jackpot to hear them.”
Rana kauffeldi predominantly dwell within open-canopied costal marshes and bottomland floodplains located within a few miles of a river mouth. Feinberg said they can be found in “places where you can almost see and smell the ocean.” These habitats, however, are disappearing as a result of ever growing development. Once able to be found throughout the New York City area, Rana kauffeldi is now limited to Staten Island area where Feinberg first discovered them.
The habitats that still host the new species, however, are isolated from one another, and do not suggest the species may last in the long term. Feinberg said, “There’s one population in Staten Island where all it would take is filling in one pond, and it would be gone.” The optimistic view, however, is that Rana kauffeldi has managed to survive up to this point despite the restrictions that face their habitats, and the chytrid fungal disease that has caused mass amphibian annihilation elsewhere. Considering these obstacles that have already been overcome, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the longevity of the species.
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 14, Issue 43
The last few decades have seen an increase in efforts to better understand the toxic algae and oxygen-hungry aquatic dead zones that have been appearing around the world. These threats are currently two of the largest dangers facing the world’s oceans and fresh water reserves. Little benefit has emerged from increased research, however. In fact, recent evidence suggests that such algae and dead zone hotspots are growing in size, and pose greater threats to fisheries and consumable drinking water.
Studies published in Science, a respected scientific journal, suggest that both phenomena are effects of the increased amounts of fertilizer, manure, and wastewater running into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Such studies have received backing from the U.S. National Science Foundation and other similar institutions.
August 2014 saw the drinking water plant in Toledo, Ohio, one of the largest cities located on the Great Lakes, close due to a toxic bloom. This was the first time that a large American city has faced such an incident. However, since 2004 toxic algae infestations have shut down water supplies to more than 3 million people over 3 continents. Outbreaks to Australia’s Murray River, China’s Lake Taihu, and Kenya’s Lake Victoria are only a few instances of the problem escalating on a global scale.
When algae blooms die, the areas that they once consumed become dead zones. These low-oxygen areas decompose, causing the fish and other wildlife native to the habitat to either flee or die as a result of the new water conditions. Similar to toxic algae outbreaks, the amount of dead zones are increasing. A 2008 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science discovered over 400 dead zones that together cover 245,000 square kilometers worldwide.
If these obstacles are not addressed, then the events that occurred in 2007 to China will act as warning to what the world can expect in the future. A significant algae bloom affected Lake Taihu—a 2,250-square-kilometer lake that supplies water to over 10 million people for consumption, as well as for industrial and agricultural purposes—and left 2 million people without water. It took a month to clean the lake and restore full drinking water service. The inhabitants of the nearby city of Wuxi were forced to only drink from bottled water for the duration of the cleansing period.
Hans Paerl, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who worked to curb the algae in Lake Taihu, claimed, “We are using Lake Taihu as a looking glass for how bad things could get here [in the U.S.].” He said that “back in the 90’s, the lake had gone through a state change where the blooms initially started appearing but were not too serious.” However, he continued, “Within a matter of 5 to 10 years, the lake shifted to a situation where blooms started to pop up in the spring and persist through the summer. The change is very extreme. Now, blooms start in early May and run all the way into November—more than half the year.”
Paerl concluded that in order to remedy the problem in China, the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen running into the Lake Taihu must be reduced by 50 percent. Considering the incident at Lake Taihu is viewed as a warning of what may happen to the United States in the future, it is reasonable to expect that similar proposals may be made in the not so distant future as prevention measures.
These phenomena do more than only cause environmental trouble, however—they also prove to be large economic obstacles. The increase in toxic algae blooms and aquatic dead zones cause a loss in seafood sales, higher drinking water costs, losses to livestock, and lower tourism revenues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the U.S. loses 82 million dollars annually due to toxic algae and dead zones on coastal waters—a much lower number than those of Australia and the European coastal countries.
The combination of environmental and economic qualities makes the handling of toxic algae and aquatic dead zones a possible major talking point in upcoming political conversations.
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 14, Issue 42
Speaking at the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, requested that wastewater professionals begin to back the agencies proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. The controversial rule attempts to redefine which bodies of water fall under the Clean Water Act, and, subsequently, the EPA’s jurisdiction. If the rule is passed then wetlands, streams, and various watersheds would become subject to federal regulations.
McCarthy, however, holds the opinion that in order to maintain safe water supplies in the U.S., then new regulations of wetlands and runoff entering streams and rivers are necessary. Therefore, in an attempt to establish supporting evidence, she requested that water professionals back the rule. She said, “As water managers, as regulators, as technicians, help us explain what this rule is and isn’t.”
McCarthy then cited the August shutdown of the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, as proof for why new regulations ought to be implemented. The shutdown occurred due to a toxic algae bloom—created by added nutrients running into the city’s water supply—infecting Lake Erie. Subsequently, the water was forced to be shut down for two days.
Such an event, McCarthy said, “is what one would call a wake-up call.” She continued, “It’s 2014, folks, 2014, in the most prosperous nation on earth. Yet for two full days, thousands of families couldn’t access life’s most basic necessity.”
Furthermore, McCarthy approached the issue from an economic standpoint. Since the implementation of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the nation’s economy tripled, which, she claims, “goes to show that having environmental protection does not stifle economic growth.” Correlation, however, does not prove causation, so the implication that EPA regulations provide a positive effect of the nation’s economy remains unsubstantiated.
If the Waters of the U.S. rule is passed, then 60 percent of the nation’s streams and wetlands will be subject to the Clean Water Act. McCarthy believes that this will make it easier to maintain healthy water supplies for drinking water. She said, “These streams and wetlands filter pollution, they reduce runoff, they recharge our groundwater supplies. How critical is that in areas of continued or historic droughts?”
“And we know our iconic water bodies like Boston Harbor, like the Chesapeake Bay, like the Great Lakes as a whole, like the Mississippi, like the Missouri, they rely on clean streams and they rely on wetlands to feed into those water supplies, in order to maintain them as viable opportunities for clean drinking water,” she continued.
Climate change, according to McCarthy, also plays a significant role in water quality. She said that the warmer temperatures on Lake Erie this year—possibly resulting from global warming—exacerbated the toxic algae bloom.
Due to the sea levels possibly rising because of global warming, she said, “If we don’t act by 2050, more than $100 billion worth of coastal property could be submerged.” She continued, “But we don’t need to wait until 2050, folks, we know it’s happening today. We’ve already heard about the drought in California that’s historic, that is challenging that great state to find a way to protect their economic growth opportunities, and frankly, to find a way to continue to have their faucets continue to have clean water when they turn them on.”
As the debate over the Waters of the U.S. rule continues, the EPA is reaching for more controversial topics—such as global warming—to justify their claims, depending on economic correlation rather than economic causation to demonstrate economic benefits, and is pleading that wastewater professionals begin to back their proposal.
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 14, Issue 41
In 1988 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the National Wetland Plant List (1988 NWPL), which not only listed all the plants common to wetlands in each region, but also classified them based on how frequently they occurred in wetlands under natural conditions. This 1988 listing classified Lonicera japonica, commonly known as the Japanese Honeysuckle, as a Facultative-minus (FAC-) species. Facultative (FAC) species generally have a similar likelihood of occurring in both wetlands and non-wetlands; the (+) and (–) modifiers indicate species that have a higher probability of occurring in one habitat over the other—the (+) modifier indicates species more likely to appear in wetlands, and the (–) modifier is given to species less likely to occur in wetlands. Therefore, the Japanese Honeysuckle was classified as a species that may appear in wetlands, but was unlikely to do so. As a result, it became extensive within the transitional zone between wetland and non-wetland habitats.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), however, updated the list in 2012. The 2012 NWPL changed the specification of the Japanese Honeysuckle in the Eastern Mountains and Piedmont (EMP) Region and in the Atlantic Gulf Coastal Plain (AGCP) Region from FAC- to FAC. This shift meant that the Japanese Honeysuckle was then classified as a wetland plant instead of a non-wetland plant.
Furthermore, this change in classification had the possibility of changing the delineation of wetlands in the EMP and AGCP regions. When the Japanese Honeysuckle occurred as a dominant species in a wetland area, there was a strong possibility of a positive dominance test for hydrophytic, or wetland, vegetation, which may have resulted in the expansion of the wetland’s boundaries.
The 2014 NWPL once again saw a change in the classification of the Japanese Honeysuckle. The Japanese Honeysuckle shifted from FAC to Facultative-Upland (FACU) in the AGCP Region. FACU species sometimes occur in wetlands—less frequently than FAC-, however—but generally occur in non-wetland habitats. Therefore, the Japanese Honeysuckle is no longer categorized as a wetland plant in the AGCP Region. Subsequently, this may result in the reduction of wetland boundaries in that region.
The Japanese Honeysuckle maintained its FAC classification in the EMP Region for a longer time than in the AGCP Region, however, its classification was altered earlier this year. March 31, 2014 saw the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) submit a request that the classification of the Japanese Honeysuckle be changed from FAC to FACU in the EMP region. The COE responded on May 22 by listing the Japanese Honeysuckle on their website as FACU, effective immediately. The change in classification will be reflected on the 2015 NWPL, but the 2014 NWPL will remain unaltered. Now that the Japanese Honeysuckle is considered a non-wetland plant in the EMP Region, wetland delineations have the possibility of changing as the boundaries of wetlands may decrease.
The COE publishes changes to species classifications on their website, however, provides no formal public notification when revisions are made. Until such a process is implemented, the only way of finding out about classification changes is to periodically check the COE website.
Volume 14, Issue 40
Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service submitted a proposal that if passed would enact the same criteria for commercial filming on federal wilderness property that is currently upheld on national forests and grasslands. On September 4th, The Federal Register sought comment on the proposal, and was confronted by many who believe such a proposal would restrict constitutional rights established by the First Amendment.
The U.S. Forest Service, however, remains adamant that the proposal would not hinder anyone’s constitutional rights if it is passed. Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, claimed, “The U.S. forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment. The directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only. If you’re there to gather news or take recreational photography, no permit would be required.”
Furthermore, the U.S Forest Service sights the 1964 Wilderness Act, and claims that they, subsequently, have the “responsibility” to restrict some commercial activities to preserve the natural condition of established wilderness areas. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness areas by stating that “a wilderness, in contrast to those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Today, approximately 110 million acres of land across the United States count as wilderness areas.
Public TV stations in Oregon and Idaho have already been asked to obtain permits from the Forest Service for both still and video photography. Furthermore, in order to maintain that the land stays “untrammeled by man,” restrictions prohibiting personal-use motor vehicles and mountain bikes would be put into effect.
Despite the Forest Service’s defense of the proposal, Republican Senators, as well as those others who are critical of the proposal, remain steadfast in their opposition. The top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, claims, “This proposed regulation is just one example of the kind of federal overreach that comes when we lock up our public lands in wilderness designations. If the Forest Service is intent on moving forward with its proposed regulation, it must make clear that these types of activities are exempt.”
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has also raised his concerns over the proposed regulations. He stated, “To me, it’s a direct violation of American’s rights. . . . It’s clear that the Forest Service believes that wilderness areas are government land. But it’s public land. This is public land.”
The amount of concern raised by the proposal has resulted in the November 3rd deadline for public comment to be pushed back 30 days. Tidwell claimed, “We’re looking forward to talking with journalists and concerned citizens to help allay some of the concerns we’ve been hearing and clarify what’s covered by this proposed directive.” He also noted that photographers, both professional and amateur, would not need a permit unless models, actors, or props were used, or if they work in areas that the public is generally not allowed. Tidwell also pointed out that the agency has required permits for years for several activities from cutting down Christmas Trees to filming major motion pictures, such as “The Lone Ranger” (2013).
The debate over whether or not such a proposal goes against American’s First Amendment rights looks set to heat-up over the coming weeks.
Volume 14, Issue 39
EPA’s Proposal to Define its Jurisdiction over Bodies of Water
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that a rule be implemented to establish more clearly which bodies of water—for example, wetlands and streams—actually fall under the Clean Water Act, and, subsequently, under their own authority. The proposal became a controversial topic that forced Gina McCarthy, the EPA Administer, to claim that the rule does not significantly expand the EPA’s current authority to those bodies of water that lay outside of the agency’s jurisdiction.
Such a statement only added to the debate, however. Republicans argue that the rule grants the EPA too broad a reign, and that inconsequential bodies of water will become subject to federal regulation. Pennsylvania Representative Lou Barletta asserted, “I have heard from many of my constituents that this rule would force them to prove that large mud puddles and ditches on their property are not federally regulated waters…sometimes, a mud puddle is just a mud puddle.” Perhaps the regulation of inconsequential bodies of water is exactly what McCarthy meant to allude to when she said that the new rule would not “significantly” expand the EPA’s authority.
Democrats, however, appear somewhat split on the issue. The larger percentage of Democrats dismiss the Republican concern as excessive use of hyperbole. Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resource Committee, claimed that if such concerns were taken seriously, then not only have we “departed from reality,” but have also returned to “the earlier era of the 2003 and 2008 guidance.” Other Democrats, however, such as West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall—the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee—agreed with the Republicans that such a rule may result in federal overreach. He stated, “The only certainty that these regulations provide is the sure knowledge that under them, anyone undertaking any activity so much as a ditch in the United States will have to deal with the bureaucracy known as the EPA.”
This debate remains far from over, however. In early September, the House passed legislation that would prevent the EPA from implementing their proposed rule with a vote of 262 to 152. The bill would block the EPA from using their proposal in any way regarding the Clean Water Act.
Obama’s administration, however, “strongly opposes” the bill, and will advise that President Obama veto’s the bill if it reaches his desk. The Obama administration is allegedly only interested in protecting the waterways from pollution. They claimed that “clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.” They continued by asserting that the bill not only “would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance,” but would also “sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation.”
This debate is set to continue, and with the threat of a presidential veto looming overhead, it may prove to be a significant issue in upcoming elections.
Volume 14, Issue 38
The amount of Chlidonias niger, commonly known as the black tern, found in New York has rapidly decreased since the 1960’s. The levels have lowered by such a significant degree that New York now considers the bird endangered within its state. The black tern has yet to reach this level of scarcity on a global basis, however, the species is being closely monitored as its global population also continues to decrease.
The black tern nests in shallow freshwater wetlands; the combination of open water and emergent vegetation provide ideal feeding and breeding grounds for the swallow-like bird. The marshes in New York, among other northern states, however, have become overrun with vegetation and, subsequently, are now unsuitable habitats for the black tern.
The 1960’s saw a number of dams constructed on the St. Lawrence River. These dams generate hydropower, maintain the water levels for commercial shipping on Lake Ontario, and prevent shoreline real estate from flooding. However, the dams also limit the annual water fluctuations within the marshes, allowing for dense vegetation to establish itself.
Records indicate that nesting sites in New York decreased by 57% between 1989 and 2004. Furthermore, the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas displayed 40% fewer black tern breeding areas in 2000-2005 than there were in 1980-1985. The largest explanation for such declines is the degradation of suitable breeding locations.
Seneca Meadows, Inc. owns the largest active landfill in New York, and in 2007 created a 600 acre wetland preserve to replace the 70 acres of wetlands that it destroyed in an expansion project. The current state standard for mitigation in New York is 3:1, however, Seneca Meadows opted for a much larger project given the potential impact the project could have due to its proximity with the Montezuma Wetlands Complex.
Applied Ecological Services (AES) were placed in charge of the project and restored 24 acres of grasslands, 157 acres of wooded wetlands by using invasive species management, and 419 acres of wetlands by altering hydrology and plantings. The once farm fields were transformed into robust wetlands and meadows.
Since the completion of the project, black terns have been spotted in the wetlands during surveying. It is expected that their appearance is a result of the proximity to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, an area within the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. The restored wetlands provide great opportunity for the black tern to forage, feed, and reproduce.
The wetland preserve is also home to several grassland species that have showed significant signs of decline due to many grasslands in New York being converted to agriculture or reverted to forests. A few of these animals include bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, and savannah sparrows.
Furthermore, it is not only animals that are benefiting from the wetland preserve. There are also a variety of plants that are now flourishing within the wetlands. Sedges, rushes, arrowheads, and pickerelweed are all growing healthily within the preserve. The seeds of these plants have been harvested and used to restore similar habitats in the neighboring Montezuma Wetlands Complex.
The restoration of the wetland habitat in New York, therefore, is actively contributing to the preservation of both animal and plant species that are native to the land.
Volume 14, Issue 37
For years Algae has been used as fertilizers, soil conditioners, and as a source of nutrition for animals. Derived from the first declension Latin word ‘alga’, algae literally means ‘seaweed’, and has generally not been used as much more than that. It captures runoff nutrients from soil deposits, and in turn becomes harvested as a fertilizer itself.
Algae also contains other useful molecules, such as lipids, and thereby has the potential to be used in order to make a number of profitable items, including high-energy fuel. However, the ability to extract these molecules is an arduous and expensive task, and, therefore, has yielded little reward. Until now, that is.
Algae Systems, a company based in Nevada, owns a pilot plant in Alabama that is used to generate behavioral information on algae. It is a smaller facility that is intended to identify a specific focus for algae study before larger plants are devoted to the cause. Subsequently, it claims to have found a way to produce diesel fuel from algae.
The process works by performing three separate tasks. First, municipal sewage, a treatment used to fertilize algae, must yield clean water. Second, a carbon-heavy residue must be used as fertilizer for the algae. Finally, valuable credits for advanced biofuels must be generated. If these tasks are completed in conjuncture with one another, then Algae Systems claims that a greater level of carbon will be extracted from the atmosphere then is added during the consumption of fuel.
The system works by heating the algae, along with the other solids found in the sewage, to temperatures in excess of 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch. This produces a liquid that appears similar to crude oil from a well. The chief executive of Algae Systems, Matt Atwood, refers to this as a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system.
Once produced, the liquid was studied by scientists at Auburn University, who, acting in line with the common procedure for oil refinement, added hydrogen to the liquid. This, subsequently, produced diesel fuel, which was later confirmed by Intertek, an independent laboratory, to meet all of the industries specifications.
The intriguing aspect of Algae Systems’ process is the means by which they separate the individual molecules from the algae. The high level thermal process they implement is a new system in algae treatment. It produces the potential to greatly reduce the amount of energy exerted on extracting molecules from algae.
Halil Berberoglu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, is also researching this area of algae treatment—separate from Algae Systems—and is excited by the prospect of such a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system. He described the older system as being “very energy-intensive,” whereby one must “dewater the algae, poke holes in the cell walls, and do all kinds of separation technologies.”
The high thermal process would not only allow the separation of lipids from the algae, but also the separation of proteins and carbohydrates, which may lead to further uses of algae.
Many obstacles remain in the advancement of such a process, for example the possible incorporation of heavy metals, nitrogen, and sulfur in crude oil compounds. Nonetheless, Algae System’s new perspective on algae treatment is both promising and refreshing.
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