August 4, 2017

Toxic air on Virginia's Tidewater Peninsula?

You might think before you take a deep breath in James City or Yorktown Counties. Or in a few other locales too, such as Chesapeake, Newport News and Isle of Wight.

Sierra Club Virginia just released their annual report, naming the top 25 Virginia cities with the highest toxic air emissions. And James City County earned the dubious honor of 12th most toxic air, Yorktown 18th. Not the kind of honor roll to boast about.

The report, using 2015 EPA data, focuses on the major industrial corporations (and federal facilities) that hurt our air. And that doesn't even include coal particulates or auto emissions that are not reported. For example, Ball Metal Beverage Container Corporation released more than 400 thousand pounds of toxic chemicals in 2015. A total of more than 2.4 million total pounds of the "stuff" in five Hampton Roads areas; 19.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals throughout the entire state of Virginia!

On the positive side, James City's toxic air went down by 6 percent since 2014.

The sad thing is that many of these toxic-spewing industries are near poorer neighborhoods. Environmental Justice again loses.

July 15, 2017

Coal ash still a challenge

Coal cars
Dominion Energy will be dealing with the coal ash residue from a few of their coal-burning power plants for quite some time. A federal judge this week ordered them to monitor the fish, clams and crabs for any contamination from the seeping coal ash ponds that has been going on for years. it seems that the sediment in the Elizabeth River may not be so pristine. And this monitoring must continue for two years.

Also, Dominion must apply for new permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to determine how coal ash must be handled in the future. And that does NOT mean capping it in place.

"Clean coal" still remains an elusive goal. or an "alternative fact."

June 29, 2017

Enjoy the James River

Enjoy the view of the James River along the Colonial Parkway while you can. Before too long you'll be looking at 300 foot towers and a high-voltage power line across America's River. John Smith's view will be gone forever due to Dominion Power's unwillingness to submerge the line or convert the two old coal-burning units on the York River to gas. What's good for the York River will now be good for the James River!

The approval for this mega-project now has only one more hurdle (James City County Supervisors) after Virginia Marine Resources Commission members gave it unanimous approval this week. Their only caveat was to avoid installing pilings for the towers between February 15 and June 15 in consideration of any impact on fish. The toxic chemical kepone still lurks deep in the river bottom, so this may help a bit. But recent VIMS studies of the fish in the James River showed that kepone still lingers in them.

It really isn't easy being green these days as the EPA is neutered and clean water is threatened in numerous ways.

June 16, 2017

Summer on the Chesapeake Bay

Not to be a naysayer, but this summer may not be a good one for the Chesapeake Bay. It may face a larger than normal "dead zone" with less oxygen for its finned and shelled residents. Underwater sea grasses may not be happy either.

Recent progress on the health of the Bay has been promising, but the threatened lack of funding (out of D.C.) for cleaning up the Bay is not the only thing that might compromise the Chesapeake. The heavier than normal rainfall in recent months is washing all sorts of "stuff" into the bay and its tributaries. And that could mean more algal blooms this summer because algae loves nitrogen and "stuff." Most of this enters the Chesapeake from the Susquehanna River because Pennsylvania has less economic interest in the Bay and farmers there continue to allow their cows to wander into streams. Plus other initiatives that Maryland, Delaware and Virginia policy makers and legislators have supported receive less interest in Pennsylvania.

A regional pollution diet is needed. And voluntary goals, without funding, may not be reached.

May 23, 2017

One Love, One Ocean

Torn favorite t-shirt
Oh no! Does my husband's recently ripped Jimmy Buffett shirt reflect offshore drilling's threat to our Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Bay beaches? I'm afraid so as more public--and Presidential--support appears for renewed oil and gas exploration.

The sale of Jimmy's no-longer-available "One Love One Ocean" t-shirt followed the oil spills along the Gulf Coast a few years ago. Proceeds from the sale helped fund the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Just realized that this photo also invokes "For Whom the Bell Tolls," John Donne's famous poem:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself. . .
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
2017 Jimmy Buffett Virginia Beach concert

I'm hoping that Jimmy follows up his recent Virginia Beach concert with the release of another shirt for those of who love his annual concerts here as well as hope to enjoy our beaches for generations.

We definitely need "Changes in Attitudes."

May 1, 2017

Open season on federal lands

I always believed that "federal lands" were our country's natural resources savings account, to be preserved and protected for posterity, where wildlife and recreation took precedence over timbering and mineral extraction. However, today's executive action by President Trump opens them up for exploitation and extinction.

This is only part of today's message from the White House:

"We need an America-First energy plan. This means opening Federal lands for oil and gas production; opening offshore areas; and revoking policies that are imposing unnecessary restrictions on innovative new exploration technologies.”

And this less than 24 hours after an announcement about the Chinese demand for seafood that is pushing them to illegally fish off African shores because they have exhausted their own waters.

Science as well as the historical facts about oil spills and pipeline leaks are not the only truths that are morphing into "alternative facts." Opening offshore areas is a threat to Virginians, especially those in Virginia Beach. Fracking for oil in Virginia's federal forests threatens our waters. And this Virginian is not happy.

An "American First" energy plan that included a major push for innovative wind, solar and tidal power could have provided jobs too. But those are not the ones favored by lobbyists and the prevailing corporate bottom line. A sad day indeed.

April 22, 2017

Blue crab winter survey looks promising

The annual Chesapeake Bay blue crab winter survey does indeed look promising. The number of juvenile crabs has dropped a bit, but the female adult crab population appears to have increased by 31 percent. That is especially good news.

The only bad news in a recent Daily Press article focused on the shortage of skilled crab pickers in the crabmeat packing houses. If you have ever witnessed a crab-picking contest (yes they do have them), the amble dexterous fingers of these pickers is amazing.

April 15, 2017

Scallops return to Chesapeake Bay

A 1933 mega-hurricane wiped out the sea grass beds on the Eastern Shore of the Bay, and the scallops who depend on them too. But thanks to VIMS and others, the seagrasses are being restored. There are about 6200 acres of them today and happy scallops can now survive in them.

In April 2017, VIMS began a major fundraising campaign to buy thousands of the little guys. If you'd like to be a part of this, send any contribution, big or small, ("BAY SCALLOPS") to Virginia Institute of Marine Science, 1375 Greate Road, Gloucester Point, VA 23062. It would be a super Earth Day gesture.

March 30, 2017

NOT easy being green

Who am I kidding? It is no longer easy to be green.

Our elected folks in DC are putting barriers in our way:
  • A neutered EPA with employees now forbidden to even use the term "climate change"? 
  • Coal returning as a positive energy source? * 
  • Clean water no longer a major goal? 
  • Higher gas mileage regs being rolled back? 
  • Recently banned pesticides getting back onto our crops? 
  • And now. . . the return of Twinkies?

* No word yet on whether Dominion's two coal-burning units at their Yorktown Power Plant will indeed be closed down on the anticipated day, April 15. Or does the latest executive order breathe new life into them? Either way, the plant's oil-fired unit is still allowed to burn up to 8% of the time.

My postings to this blog have dropped in frequency, but I WILL PERSIST in spite of these threats to a healthy future world for my grandkids.

March 10, 2017

Chesapeake Bay health is NOT debatable

Sadly, President Trump's proposed budget does not look promising for Chesapeake Bay. Cutting bay cleanup programs from $73 million to $5 million is not in the best interest of the bay.

I just phoned Congressman Wittman's office to convey those thoughts. His office staff confirmed that Wittman would NOT support a budget with cuts such as these. Hope he didn't have his fingers crossed. There are sufficient "alternative facts" coming out of D.C. Without any more Pinocchios.

March 8, 2017

Recycling corks

I just learned that NATURAL (not plastic) corks can be recycling through a dandy program into yoga mats, shoes, etc.

One of the major natural cork drop boxes locations is ALL Whole Foods stores.

Click on to learn more about this program. Cheers!

March 1, 2017

Clean water and clean air

Really, Mr. President?

In his first address to Congress (and the Americans watching), President Trump sounded so promising when he touted he would "promote clean air and clean water."

Guess he conveniently forgot that just hours before that statement, he had signed an executive order to roll back a 2015 "Clean Water Rule." NOT a promising claim, in my humble opinion.

January 12, 2017

Thank you, Dominion. Thank you, SUN.

Today's impressive photo in the Daily News of the now operating 100-acre Isle of Wight solar farm made me smile. The 19 megawatt facility will power approximately 4700 homes. Dominion Virginia Power now has three solar sites that power 14,000 homes.

These sites are also a big blessing to the three farming families who formerly grew strawberries and other crops. No more second-guessing the whims of Mother Nature since they lease their lands to Dominion and get guaranteed incomes now.

January 11, 2017

More mosquitoes?

Just when my Zika-phobia was lessening, I read that two non-native mosquitoes (formerly common only in Central and South America) are now making their homes in south Florida, according to recent findings by folks at the University of Florida. And one of these mosquitoes is from a species that transmits Everglades encephalitis virus--for which there is no vaccine. And that makes NINE new non-native mosquito species there in the last decade.

Sure makes our Virginia chiggers seem more benign.

January 6, 2017

Grading Chesapeake Bay on a curve?

Was it a coincidence that today's Daily Press included 39 pages of area schools' honor roll students and a major article (although on page 4) about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks giving our Bay a C minus?

The end of that article explained that the Bay in John Smith's time would have received an A, based on 100 points. Four hundred years and 18 million people later, the Chesapeake receives a score of 34, based on 70 for a "fully restored Bay." And the goal for 2025 is only 40.

So an "A" in Bay terms is only 70? Grade inflation by my definition.

No wonder area schools have so many students on their honor rolls. It might have been easier and a waste of less paper to print the names of those NOT on the honor rolls.

November 29, 2016

Proposed pipeline still in the headlines

The proposed interstate Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) has both proponents and opponents. No surprise there.

The Isle of Wight economic director recently supported a lateral line off the main pipeline that would connect to his county's industrial park. Other counties see it as an economic boon as well.

But others see the pipeline as a threat to their historic areas and much too close to their schools. All seems to be in various stages of negotiation.

Solar farm coming to Toana

The first solar farm is indeed planned for James City County! A California-base company, SunPower Corp, may soon request a special use permit for a 35 megawatt solar farm in Norge near Williamsburg, Virginia. That would put 223 acres of rural land to a good use!

November 8, 2016

App sick

Google no longer supports this app. So posting to it is now VERY sketchy, especially from my iPad. So expect fewer postings since I can only do so from my computer.

September 24, 2016

James River is not a dumping ground

But Virginia's State Water Control Board does not mind wastewater from Dominion's Chesterfield Power Station's coal ash being discharged into the James about 15 miles south of Richmond. It recently approved a permit to do so in spite of the James River Association and other environmentalists who had major concerns about that process. 

Earlier this week the Virginia Health Department issued a warning for the lower James River because a toxic Alexandrium monilatum algae continues to thrive there. Larval oysters and fish are not happy coexisting with this nasty algae. So swimmers might want to beware as well.

More assaults on this historic river are expected. 

September 15, 2016

Chesapeake Bay in the news again

This is my first posting in three months because 1) I have been traveling a lot and 2) there has been very little news, good or bad, about the Bay in recent months. Maybe an algae bloom here or a closed beach warning there, but nothing of substance.

But now the Bay will benefit from $11.5 million worth of projects in coming months. Most of that will come from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Chesapeake Bay Stewarship Fund. And the Bay definitely needs stewards to oversee progress in reducing the ongoing pollution that threatens this humongous estuary.

I wish that more of these funds went into the actual infrastructure--living shorelines, retention ponds, storm water treatment, fences to keep livestock out of creeks, etc.-- and not into salaries and administration. But grants are what keep a lot of folks employed. 

Will the Chesapeake Bay will ever return to a state near what John Smith saw? Most likely not, but that does not mean we should not try.

June 16, 2016

Smaller Chesapeake Bay dead zone predicted

Headlines announce that NOAA predicts a smaller dead zone with little to no oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay this summer. Should we rejoice that this dead zone will ONLY be about the size of 2.3 million Olympic-size pools? The sea life in those areas will not be thriving or rejoicing. And we should not be complacent. Much more still needs to be done to keep runoff out of these waters. More folks still need to apply less fertilizer to their lawns. Virginia and Maryland have made strides in reducing nutrient pollution, but Pennsylvania needs to get onboard to reduce the "stuff" from farms that still flow down the Susquehanna River.

Turtle research in the Chesapeake Bay may answer some questions

Loggerhead turtles are quite numerous in the Chesapeake Bay. 5000 to 10,000 enter the Bay each summer to feed. But quite a few of them end up dead, washing up on Bay shorelines as they decompose. Loggerheads are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

So the ingenious folks at VIMS have recreated two "Frankenturtles" using the carapace of two dead turtles. They plan to track these fake turtles as they get blown around the Bay to determine the causes of death. Interesting plan!

May 21, 2016

Vertical wind turbines sound promising

Wind energy scientists in Finland are designing vertical wind turbines as an even more efficient mechanism than the traditional horizontal turbines. And quieter too.

Think of attic fans that spin simply by the wind and you'll get the idea. Watch for more on this promising source of wind energy. It appears that they'd also be excellent lightning rods.

May 19, 2016

Chesapeake Bay receives a "C"

Seriously, when is a C grade so worthy of bragging rights? Only when you had a D before.

And when did the bell curve grading system become so deformed that 53% is a C?

But the folks at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science declared that the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay improved in 2015, giving it a C (53%) in 2015, one of the three highest scores since 1986. Only 1992 and 2002 scored as high or higher, both years of major sustained droughts.

Thus, the recent May rains do not bode well for the bay. Many farmers, especially those in the Susquehanna basin, do not fence their cattle out of streams or use no-till methods.

May 7, 2016

Zika battle plan in Cayman Islands

According to Caribbean News Now, "The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), in partnership with the UK-based firm Oxitec, will be releasing genetically engineered male mosquitoes across Grand Cayman in a new initiative to try and suppress the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads a number of viruses, including Zika."

These are male mosquitos, so they do not bite, but they will breed with females carrying Zika and Chikungunya viruses. The first release is planned for the West End area of Grand Cayman only. Keep your fingers crossed that this trial is effective.

April 29, 2016

Will natural gas pipelines be overbuilt?

Overestimating the need for natural gas and the subsequent overbuilding of pipelines is a possibility, according to some experts in the field. NOT Dominion Power of course. That fear of not having sufficient natural gas for their power plants that are being converted from coal is what they are selling to regulatory entities. And to elected officials in Tidewater Virginia.

What most folks do not realize is that natural gas pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and that agency does not have the same level of oversight as state regulatory commissions. The main factor that FERC looks at is whether a pipeline developer has been able to recruit enough companies to contract for capacity on that pipeline, not whether it is truly needed. If the pipeline is fully subscribed, it's a go. And who ultimately pays for that pipeline? You got it: the public.

Look for more on this topic from your local media. It will most likely not be on the front page.

April 18, 2016

Dominion Power is powerful, but confusing

In all their responses to not converting their aging York River power plant from coal to gas, company spokespersons simply say that is "not feasible." How they define that phrase is not clear.

Is it the cost? Proposals have not been made public as far as I know. No cost estimates that I have read about. Only that costs have vacillated over the last few years, especially after Dominion starting pushing for a James River power lines crossing.

Dominion folks claim that sufficient gas cannot get to that York River plant. But now I read that the plant currently runs only at times when demand is high. That seems to contradict their lack of gas argument.

According to a recent Daily Press article, "Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said the company has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for permission to keep the Yorktown coal units running until June 2017.

She said the company understands that the EPA will issue its permission on or shortly after its current exemption expires. The plant, which runs only at times when demand is high, is not currently generating power."

April 12, 2016

Solar Mickey Mouse?

Yes, it seems that sometime this spring, Walt Disney World Resort in California will have this incredible solar farm with 48,000 solar panels operational. Duke Energy Florida is constructing it.

Zika alert

The aedes aegypti mosquito has received a lot of PR in recent months. The female is the one that transmits Zika and other diseases, and she will bite during the day. After doing yardwork yesterday (wearing DEET to thwart chiggers), I researched what she looked like. Seriously? You think I can see these white markings? Before I swat her?

More important, this mosquito already lives in 30 states. And Virginia is one of them.

March 18, 2016

Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets support

Two recent Daily Press articles caught my eye.

The first one focused on 33 local lawmakers supporting a NEW pipeline, Dominion's 70-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would bring more natural gas to our area. They insist it is crucial to economic development.

The second one was more ominous. It seems that during the last two decades, more than 2000 accidents have occurred on gas transmission lines across the U.S., resulting in 46 deaths, 181 injuries and $1.8 billion in damages.

Decide for yourself if these two articles are saying the same thing. Perhaps our Tidewater lawmakers are thinking about the new jobs that will open up AFTER the pipeline is built, the ones for inspectors to oversee any accidents?

March 16, 2016

Offshore Virginia drilling off the table for now

There was a huge sigh of relief from environmentalists, marine life and fish yesterday when the big news about offshore drilling was announced. For the next five years, Virginia and the mid-Atlantic coast  will NOT see any test drilling for oil and gas. The Interior Department responded to more than one million public comments about concerns for human error in this component of the energy industry. The potential lease areas here were under threat since the initial plan was announced in early 2015 and the longtime moratorium lifted. No one could definitively explain if Virginia would even share in any of the revenue. So, for the time being, look for more progress in renewable forms of energy. Perhaps Dominion Virginia's "voluntary" renewable energy goals could see more of a commitment, rather than a promise.

March 11, 2016

Better news for the James River

The announcement of the settlement between the James River Association and Dominion Virginia Power was a somewhat brighter bit of news this week. Perhaps the recent protesters in Richmond made their point about the discharge of treated coal ash wastewater into the James River. Cleaner water standards will be implemented and fish near the Bremo power station's discharge area will be tested for arsenic and other heavy metals that are in coal ash.

But any threat to theses waters should not be taken lightly. Dominion insists that merely 2.2 million gallons of "treated" wastewater will end up in the James each day, far less than the 10.2 gallons daily that is in their permit. But how long will that be the case?

witnessed the sugar industry's wastewater discharge in Florida just two weeks ago and it was not a pretty thing. The line of demarcation as the wastewater from Lake Okeechobee entered the Caloosahatchee River and then San Pedro Bay was very visible. See for yourself what regulations really mean.

Coal industry subsidies in Virginia

Did you know? . . . that fewer than 3000 Virginians work in the coal industry, according to the Virginia Conservation Network. In 1988, more than 11,000 made a living from this fossil fuel. And yet $610 million of Virginia tax dollars have been poured into this declining industry over the last few decades. More than $37 million last year alone, an increase of $9 million over 2014.

Senate Bill 44 will extend these subsidies during the next five years, unless Governor McAuliffe vetoes the bill.

Subsidies for any industry means that government is picking winners and losers, with OUR money. Is it fair? Or would it be better to invest these dollars in re-training programs for those still struggling in this dirty industry. 

March 3, 2016

Reverse osmosis water plants

After spending a week on Exuma in the Bahamas using nothing but reverse osmosis water got me pondering why the United States has so few of these RO plants. James City County uses one of these plants to supplement our water supply. The largest such plant in the U.S. is a new one in Carlsbad, California. And many cruisers have small scale watermakers onboard. 

The one that began operating in 2004 on Exuma produces an average of 165,000 gallons of desalinated water daily, with the capacity of 400,000 gallons. Yes, this water is more expensive than natural well water. But wells near shorelines frequently have higher saline levels than desired.