Dan River coal ash spill: Smoke in the Water

Excerpts from a New York Times Opinion piece by Derb Carter:

Smoke in the Water: The Dan River Coal Ash Spill

“NO ONE is exactly sure when Duke Energy’s coal ash pit adjacent to the Dan River in north-central North Carolina began leaking toxic coal ash into the waterway. What is known is that by the time the leak was discovered, in early February, more than 39,000 tons of coal ash and millions of gallons of contaminated water had spilled into the river near the town of Eden, N.C. — making it the third largest coal ash spill in American history.

Coal ash contains arsenic, selenium and other pollutants known to be harmful to human health — and unfortunately for the residents of towns along the river, the Dan supplies drinking water to thousands of homes.

…it’s no surprise that our state government has shown little interest in forcing Duke to clean up the mess it has made of our state. In fact, even as North Carolina faces the worst threat to its waterways in a generation, state politicians have started a process to eliminate dozens of environmental protections that have kept our water safe and clean for decades.

Last year, the General Assembly mandated that every single safeguard on our state’s waterways and drinking water be allowed to expire, unless regulators went through a burdensome process to readopt each one. To further stack the deck, legislators have simultaneously slashed 40 percent from the budget of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the agency charged with ensuring these safeguards are in place and enforced.

…It’s hard to overstate the seriousness of the crisis that would ensue if our politicians allowed the safeguards that protect our water to expire. These are the laws that allow us to feel confident that when we turn on our taps and pour a glass of water, that water is going to be clean and free of toxins. These are the safeguards that stand between us and corporations that have demonstrated, with every single leaking coal ash pit, that what they care most about is profit, not the health and safety of North Carolina’s families.”

Read the complete New York Times editorial here.

Heather Govenor receives the 2014 William R. Walker Award

heatherg_thumbCongratulations to Heather Govenor, the William R. Walker Award winner for 2014-15. Heather is a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering and a fellow in the Interfaces of Global Change Program

Heather will be using the funds from this award to support her participation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Vancouver, Canada in November. She will be presenting a poster entitled “Sediment as a Surrogate for Multiple Stressors in Freshwater Ecosystems: Digging Deeper to Reveal the Nature of Benthic Invertebrate Impairments.”

Established to honor the late William Walker, the founding director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, this award has been given since 1999 to recognize and support graduate students in water resources who are pursuing work in a field different from their undergraduate study, or who have returned to school following a period of professional work. More information about this program is available HERE.

Tamara Fetters receives NSF Research Fellowship



From VT News:

Tamara Fetters of Warrenton, Virginia, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Tamara is a doctoral student in biological sciences in the College of Science. She works with Joel McGlothlin, assistant professor of biological sciences, on the project  “Thermal trait variation in an invasive lizard: adaptation or plasticity?” She is also a fellow in the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program at Virginia Tech

About this NSF program:

The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity.  The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions.  The NSF welcomes applications from all qualified students and strongly encourages under-represented populations, including women, under-represented racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities, to apply for this fellowship.”

Read more about this program here…  http://www.nsfgrfp.org/

Five other Virginia Tech students received NSF graduate research fellowships this year. Learn more about them at VT News.

Is Brazil now the world leader in tackling climate change?

Leandro Castello is a co-author on a new paper published in Science this week. The research story is featured today in The Economist.

Slowing Amazon deforestation through public policy and interventions in beef and soy supply chains

“IN THE 1990s, when an area of Brazilian rainforest the size of Belgium was felled every year, Brazil was the world’s environmental villain and the Amazonian jungle the image of everything that was going wrong in green places. Now, the Amazon ought to be the image of what is going right. Government figures show that deforestation fell by 70% in the Brazilian Amazon region during the past decade, from a ten-year average of 19,500 km2 (7,500 square miles) per year in 2005 to 5,800 km2 in 2013. If clearances had continued at their rate in 2005, an extra 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would have been put into the atmosphere. That is an amount equal to a year’s emissions from the European Union. Arguably, then, Brazil is now the world leader in tackling climate change.

But how did it break the vicious cycle in which—it was widely expected—farmers and cattle ranchers (the main culprits in the Amazon) would make so much money from clearing the forest that they would go on cutting down trees until there were none left? After all, most other rainforest countries, such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have failed to stop the chainsaws. The answer, according to a paper just published inScience by Dan Nepstad of the Earth Innovation Institute in San Francisco, is that there was no silver bullet but instead a three-stage process in which bans, better governance in frontier areas and consumer pressure on companies worked, if fitfully and only after several false starts.” Read more…

This research news is also featured in the New York Times.