Texas egg producer faces record penalty

Texas egg producer faces record $1.9 million penalty
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department announced that Mahard Egg Farm, a Texas corporation, will pay a $1.9 million penalty to resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act in Texas and Oklahoma.

The civil penalty is the largest amount to be paid in a federal enforcement action involving a concentrated animal feeding operation. The company will also spend approximately $3.5 million on remedial measures to ensure compliance with the law and protect the environment and people’s health.

“By working with DOJ and our state partners in Texas and Oklahoma, we have reached a significant settlement that reflects the seriousness of Mahard’s violations,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Large animal feeding operations that fail to comply with our nation’s environmental laws threaten public health and the environment and put smaller farming operations at a disadvantage.”

The Clean Water Act complaint, filed jointly with the settlement by the United States and the states of Texas and Oklahoma, alleges that Mahard operated a facility without a permit and discharged pollutants into area waterways. Mahard also allegedly discharged pollutants or otherwise failed to comply with the terms of its permits at six other facilities, including its newest facility near Vernon, Texas, where it also failed to comply with the Texas Construction Storm Water Permit and to ensure safe drinking water for its employees.
–EPA News Release

 Dayton, GOP on collision course on environment
The first bill that DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican Legislature agreed on was to streamline environmental review and permitting. Since then, they’ve been able to agree on little else. And now a whole host of measures affecting the environment are appearing in a budget bill, which the governor is expected to veto.

 The Legislature’s proposed environment budget would cut 66 percent from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s general fund budget. That amounts to a cut of the agency’s total budget of about two percent, according Republican legislative leaders. 

The MPCA says that cut would mean the loss of so many staff members it would be impossible to meet some of the short timelines required in the streamlining law signed early in the year by Dayton. 

The chief author of the budget bill in the House, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), doesn’t buy that. He pointed out that most of the MPCA’s budget comes from fees and not the general fund. He said it’s time for the MPCA to focus on priorities.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Landwehr, Aasen criticize budget cuts
Read an op-ed column that Minnesota DNR Commissoner Tom Landwehr and Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Paul Aasen jointly wrote for the Grand Forks Herald. In it, they decry big budget cuts proposed for both agencies.

 Chicago plans for a hotter, wetter future
The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one.

 Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century. 

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. 

Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.
–The New York Times

 Calls for major shift in U.S. flood policy
As the Mississippi River reaches historic crests, the flood control system designed to protect property is instead destroying crops, homes and businesses that will cost billions of dollars and require months of recovery efforts, flood experts and conservationists say.

That has prompted them to call for a major shift in federal policy that since the 1920s has tried to limit Mississippi River flooding through a massive system of levees, release valves, floodways and drainage basins. The shift would let the river run more freely but would probably force the relocation of communities to convert developed areas into open space.

“We need some retreat from our rivers,” said Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. This year’s flooding, along with overflows of the Mississippi in 1937 and 1973, show the limits of control systems in protecting communities from intense rains and increased flows into the river caused by development and farming. “They need to re-evaluate the entire system,” Larson said.
–USA Today

Get your feet wet in the flood
Can’t get enough information on the downriver flooding on the Mississippi?

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment has a great Facebook page that is aggregating lots of coverage – photos, science, human interest coverage – on the great flood of 2011. Go to http:www.facebook.com/RiverLifeUMN. 

Proposed western Wisconsin well draws ire
Residents of a small town in western Wisconsin have raised a large red flag about a high-capacity well proposed near their community.

 At the center of their concern, both real and symbolic, is a tinkling trout stream.

 The groundswell of opposition to the project may carry regional and statewide significance.

 First the proposal: Darrell Long of Lima, Ohio, has applied to construct a high-capacity well on 45 acres he owns near the Village of Mount Sterling in Crawford County.

 The property is set among the scenic bluffs and valleys of the Driftless Area. The proposed well is 500 feet from the North Branch of Copper Creek, a Class 1 trout stream.

The well would withdraw a maximum of 500,000 gallons of groundwater per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Share your ideas for saving water
Minnesotans have good ideas—it’s time someone listened.  The Idea Open brings everyday Minnesotans together to help solve our state’s most critical issues. This year the Idea Open is looking for answers to the question “How would you use $15,000 to help your community become aware of and address water issues in Minnesota?”  

Starting June 21, people from all over Minnesota will be able to submit ideas to the Challenge. In the meantime, check out www.MNIdeaOpen.org to sign up for updates and connect on Facebook and Twitter. The Idea Open is a venture of Minnesota Community Foundation, in proud partnership with Pentair and its foundation on Challenge II.
–Idea Open News Release

 Opinion: Time to end farm subsidies
Farm subsidies could finally be on the chopping block.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently acknowledged that corn and ethanol “subsidies need to be phased out” over time. And on a swing through Iowa, Mr. Vilsack suggested that the Obama administration will support some cuts in next year’s budget.

 On the right, Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, has called for an end to sugar subsidies, and the budget plan from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would reduce agricultural handouts — which often go to large corporate farmers — by $30 billion over 10 years.

 This is good news. Agricultural subsidies cost taxpayers more than $15 billion each year, and until those subsidies are eliminated, farming in America will never be sustainable.

 Times have changed since Mark Twain described farmers as “fast rising from affluence to poverty.” Today’s farmers are earning record profits. Coupled with record federal deficits, the case for eliminating agricultural subsidies has probably never been more palatable. 

Over the last two decades, the nation’s appetite for food from “sustainable” farms has grown immensely. Sustainability is a buzzword, but at its optimum it aspires to maximize the benefits of farming while minimizing its negative impacts. Americans are starting to demand such practices — and they’re willing to pay for them.
–The Baltimore Sun

 Compliance with invasive rules is spotty
Many anglers still have a lot to learn about preventing the spread of invasive species to Minnesota lakes.

Compliance with the state’s new invasive species regulations during the first weekend of the fishing season was poor on some key lakes — including Lake Mille Lacs and Gull Lake.

Jim Tischler, a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who worked both lakes, was dismayed at the poor compliance and confusion among anglers. Both lakes, among the most popular in the state, are infected with zebra mussels.

“People are getting the idea of pulling their drain plug, but they just don’t really understand the requirements for draining their bait water, and having other water with them if they want to keep their bait [when they leave the lake],” Tischler said.

 The law says boaters must drain their boats, live wells, bait wells and bilges when they leave any water, and they must also drain portable bait buckets when they leave infested waters.
–The Star Tribune

Christmas Lake homeowners want mussel inspections
In another grass-roots attempt to stop the spread of zebra mussels from Lake Minnetonka, homeowners on nearby Christmas Lake are angling to have a code-activated gate installed on the lake’s solitary boat ramp.

 “There are huge numbers of lake homeowners who don’t feel the Department of Natural Resources is doing enough,” said Joe Shneider, president of the 140-member Christmas Lake Homeowners Association.

 “We can’t just do what we have done in the past, which is monitor and communicate and educate, because it’s just not enough.”

Christmas Lake is one of the cleanest, clearest lakes in the metro area because it is deep, spring-fed and gets no farm runoff.

 The lake’s boat ramp on Hwy. 7 in Shorewood is a stone’s throw from Lake Minnetonka, where zebra mussels were discovered last summer. Many boaters take a ride or fish on Lake Minnetonka and then, without having to be inspected for unwanted aquatic plants and animals, go on to Christmas Lake, Shneider said.
–The Star Tribune

 Glacier park steps up invasives inspections
Glacier National Park will step up its boat inspection and permit program this summer in response to the rapid westward migration of aquatic invasive species on recreational watercraft. The consequences of such an infestation could be devastating to the Park’s ecosystems and the local economy.

Visitors can still launch most motorized and trailered watercraft in the Park, but a thorough inspection is required upon every entry to the Park. Hand-propelled watercraft are not required to obtain a permit, but Park managers encourage all boaters to thoroughly clean, drain and dry their watercraft or fishing equipment before coming to the Park.
–Hungry Horse News

Colorado begins 62-mile water pipeline
As much as 100 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water trapped in a reservoir for southern Colorado and downriver states is about to take a left turn — to Colorado’s biggest water project in decades.

 Construction crews began work on the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System. It is designed to pump water uphill and north from Pueblo Reservoir — through a 62-mile pipeline — to sustain Colorado Springs, which owns the rights to the river water, and other growing Front Range cities.

 The cities embarked on this project because water supplies have emerged as a constraint on population growth.

 Three 15,000-horsepower pumps are to propel the water through a pressurized 66-inch-diameter steel pipeline. Moving water to the planned end points — two 30,000 acre-foot reservoirs to be built east of Colorado Springs — requires an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.
–The Denver Post

Pennsylvania told to oversee  ‘fracking’
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked Pennsylvania to do a better job sampling, monitoring and regulating Marcellus Shale wastewater discharges near public drinking water sources.

The EPA also has reminded the state Department of Environmental Protection that any new methods for disposing of drilling wastewater must comply with federal rules.

 The federal agency directed six of the major Marcellus Shale drilling companies in Pennsylvania to disclose, by May 25, how and where they will dispose of or recycle wastewater now that they can no longer use municipal sewage treatment facilities. 

Range Resources, Atlas Resources LLC, Talisman Energy USA, Cabot Gas and Oil CVorp.. SWEPI LP and Chesapeake Energy Corp. account for more than half of the Marcellus gas drilling in the state. 

The EPA said it is getting involved in regulatory and enforcement actions usually overseen by the DEP because it wants to ensure that Marcellus Shale gas development and production are done in ways to protect public health and the environment.
–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Or just turn off the faucet
Budweiser is asking adult men across America to help save one million gallons of water by not shaving in the days and weeks leading up to World Environment Day (June 5).  As part of Budweiser’s ongoing commitment to water conservation, the Grow One. Save a Million. program allows consumers to get involved and save roughly 5 gallons of water for each shave they skip.

Consumers 21 years of age and older can visit Budweiser’s Facebook page to make a pledge and share the program with friends.  Participants can commit to a range of options, from a few days to multiple weeks.  Women can get involved by recruiting male friends or family members.  The page also features a daily tracker of the gallons saved to date.
–Budweiser news release

Web site predicts areas of water stress
Water services provider Veolia Water has launched GrowingBlue.com, a site that uses animated maps, infographics and case studies to help municipalities, businesses and consumers better understand water challenges in 180 countries.

The site includes water availability scenarios for 2050 and explanations of the link between water and economic prosperity, societal stability and environmental sustainability. 

According to new data presented on the web site, almost half of the world’s economy and 4.8 billion people, roughly half the world’s expected population, could be located in regions facing water limitations by 2050.

 In rapidly developing countries such as China and India, water scarcity will begin to materially risk growth. In these two areas alone, 2.7 billion people will live in areas of high water stress by 2050.
–environmental leader

DNR working on catfish management
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is looking for the public’s help in gathering data on catfish angling and consumption as part of a project to enhance management of the fish.

 The project includes DNR tagging catfish to get a better idea of their population and movement. It also will draw upon catfish anglers who are willing to answer a few survey questions and keep diaries of their angling efforts. The angler diaries will provide valuable information that is not typically obtained in standard creel surveys, because many catfish anglers fish at night.

 Two surveys are currently online. One survey, which is a statewide survey, asks 10 questions about anglers’ catfish consumption. The other survey is a continuation of an earlier 12-question survey launched in 2009 and aimed at catfish anglers who fish in the Twin Cities metro region.
–DNR News Release

Artist Christo’s project hinges on sheep
Nearly 20 years after the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, proposed draping a river canyon in southern Colorado in miles of translucent fabric, a federal thumbs up or down on the project may hinge on one factor above all others: the happiness of several hundred bighorn sheep.

 Crucial to the federal government’s decision, expected in August or September, will be a final environmental impact statement on the $50 million installation, known as “Over the River,” that federal land managers plan to unveil in coming weeks.

Some wildlife experts worry that sheep could be displaced or even harmed if the fabric is unfurled over 5.9 miles of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City. Last week the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to urge federal officials to reject the proposal, citing in part its concerns about the bighorn, Colorado’s state animal.
–The New York Times

 China acknowledges dam’s problems
China’s landmark Three Gorges Dam project provides benefits to the Chinese people, but has created a myriad of urgent problems from the relocation of more than a million residents to risks of geological disasters, the Chinese government said. 

The statement from China’s State Council, or cabinet, marked a rare acknowledgment of the issues that have shadowed the world’s largest dam, an engineering feat designed to tame the Yangtze River that snakes from the Tibetan plateau to Shanghai. 

“At the same time that the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention,” the statement said, which appeared on the government’s website.

Premier Wen Jiabao presided over the meeting that produced the statement, which also said problems existed for down-river transport, irrigation and water supplies.

DNR launches Facebook pages
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has launched four Facebook pages that will appeal to fans of fishing, hunting, the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, and Minnesota state parks and trails.

 The four Facebook pages represent the DNR’s desire to connect with the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

 With more than 500 million users worldwide, Facebook is an ideal tool for outdoor recreation fans to tap into the latest DNR news and interact online with others who click the “Like” button on the agency’s four pages. Facebook will give hunters, anglers and campers the opportunity to share their experiences with others who enjoy outdoor recreation.

 “Facebook is a great way for our hunting and fishing license buyers, readers of the Conservation Volunteer magazine, and users of our state parks and trails to learn about the outdoors and share their great experiences in Minnesota,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
–DNR News Release