April 30, 2010

Good news and bad news in one month

It's been an emotional roller coaster for the environment this month. It’s time to smack some corporate hands.

First, some good news: The Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound got Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's blessing this week after nine years (yes years) of opposition and permitting. [see earlier posting about Cape Wind project]

The Chesapeake Bay was in the news again last week as the EPA stuck it to one of the nation’s largest home builders, Hovnanian, with a million dollar fine for a history of violations of clean water laws. It seems that Hovnanian looked the other way at 591 construction sites in 18 states in dealing with—or not dealing with—storm water runoff. Can you believe 82 million pounds each year of sediment and construction debris, according to EPA?

A portion of that $1 million fine will help protect the Chesapeake since 161 of those Hovnanian construction sites were in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and thus affected the bay watershed. That meant a lot of sediment runoff, used oil, paint, solvents, concrete washout, etc. but what about the jillions of acres of lawns, rooftop, and streets after their mega-developments are completed? Otherwise known as non-point source pollution, this is one of the biggest sources of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay. And then there’s the chicken farm droppings!

What about the rest of the big-time developers who also deserve some watchdogging? Is a million dollar fine enough of a deterrent for a company like Hovnanian that took in $1.6 billion in 2009 revenues?

Do fines on the biggie companies even convert into improvements? Ask the families of the 29 victims of the recent coal mine explosion in West Virginia if Massey Energy Company CEO, Don Blankenship, was influenced by the $382,000 fines his company received this year for ventilation and equipment violations. Guess not, since in 2009 the disaster mine site was cited for at least 500 violations. He supposedly wouldn’t even give his workers the time off to attend funeral services.

And what about the relatives of the 11 offshore workers killed in last week’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf? Did BP put corporate profits ahead of worker safety as well? Guess they didn't learn from their 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more. At that time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million for neglecting to correct safety violations. Another $20 million fine followed an oil leak in Alaska in 2006. Not slaps on the wrist, for sure, but obviously not enough to get BP's full attention.

The worst environmental damage of the month is occurring to the Louisiana coastline where the oil slick is heading (as I write this). Controlled burns and booms obviously couldn't contain the hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil. The first number I saw was 42,000 gallons per day, then 210,000 gallons. So in anyone's math, that more than a million gallons that was totally wasted, an ecological disaster, and with a loss of 11 lives. It's getting darn close to the Exxon Valdez numbers, so that should get everyone's attention.

Is is a "coinkydink" that this happened only weeks after President Obama lifted the ban on offshore drilling? [see earlier posting on this] But I see that he just reversed that decision today--or at least halted any new offshore drilling. The industry had promoted its recent good record before the drilling rig accident. Sure got that wrong, didn't they?

Definitely a month of ups and downs for Earth Month 2010.