Posted by: Green Knight | January 20, 2012

Weekly Roundup

[Yes, “superweeds” are developing resistance to Roundup, but that’s not the subject!]

Today I sent a modest proposal to SEJ about speaking at their annual conference this fall, and maybe moderating a session or two. My own topic would be the lousy state of science and math education in the US, among journalists as well as their readers and listeners. I’ve been having fun developing a “pre-quiz” to see how well they all would do. Let me say here that the Society of Environmental Journalists is the cream of the crop, but a lot of your everyday reporters in whatever medium don’t have much more of a grasp of science than Joe Sixpack. As someone who has taught enviro science and health for 20 years, I know how dismal things are.

The other topic I suggested was mining. There are a lot of agencies that have some level of oversight over extracting stuff from the ground and processing it onsite, whether it be coal, aluminum, oil, natural gas, or limestone, and there are separate regulations for surface vs. underground mines. Yes, oil and natural gas are “minerals” too, even though they’re not solid materials. Among the agencies involved are the Mine Safety & Health Administration or MSHA, the EPA, the US Geological Survey, and the Corps of Engineers. With all the concern about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” it surprises me that MSHA doesn’t regulate it. Miners aren’t going underground or into a surface pit, so I guess that’s why. And with all the mountaintop-removal and coal ash dams out there that have the potential to cause a lot of physical hazards and water pollution, the EPA has much to look at.

That’s why it was interesting to read a request from a reporter this afternoon, looking for sources to confirm his obviously preconceived idea that the EPA is overstepping its bounds and making a “power grab.” That’s pretty laughable, considering how hamstrung that agency has been for so long. Congress hasn’t put any money into the Superfund since 1996, and a lot of talented consultants and cleanup companies I used to know have gone out of business as a result…that’s what we call “job loss,” not “job creation.” Then there’s something called the Bevill exclusion to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, added by Congress in 1980, that exempts mineral extraction and processing waste from mines from regulation as hazardous waste. When I had my first RCRA training class from EPA in 1988, we were told it was a temporary thing and would probably expire in two years. Guess what, it’s still in force all these years later, and the toxic metals in that stuff don’t behave any differently in the environment just because they came from one type of operation as opposed to another. Only a different valence state would do that, as in hexavalent vs. trivalent chromium, for example.

So I wasn’t surprised when I looked up the web magazine this person writes for and saw it was arch-conservative (which is certainly not the same as conservation-minded). He was looking for people to validate his already formed conclusions. That isn’t objective journalism, and I doubt I’ll get a reply.

It’s cold out there here, but at least the feral kitties have plenty of food tonight. I hope you all eat well, sleep tight, and help the critters.

thanks to The Operacats for image.

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