January 7, 2011

Ecology In Turmoil: Scandals Through The Years.

New York City during the 2010 snow storm.

During NYC’s recent snow problem, it became extremely difficult to clear the streets, take out the trash, and respond to emergencies. The real question here and what New Yorkers want to know is: why did it take so long? The fact is that this storm didn’t even touch the magnitude of the top 3 storms in the past. After much warring and aggravation in NYC, answers began to come out: “Snow slow down intentional,” said Councilman Dan Halloran. Then, five workers came forward and admitted to intentionally not cleaning up, as they were told not to. The reason: New York City budget cuts and job layoffs. Our fair town saw lost train service, roads unpaved, garbage left out, and cars stuck in the streets. The answer now? It was retaliation.

Adding to the mess, witnesses reported that 4 out of the 5 supervisors skipped out on their duties to drink beer in their cars. In addition, nearly 10% of the clean-up work force called in sick or claimed an emergency after the storm hit. How could it be that New York’s neighbor, New Jersey, declared a state of emergency, but all Mayor Bloomberg had to say was, “Broadway and Times Square are open; the shops are open.” I decided to dig deeper and give a friendly call to the NYPD Press Office to ask a few questions. Supposedly crime was “down 70% during the snow storm and the days that followed” and “there was extra force on duty during the whole storm, the time before, and the time after,” following that comment came “this phone call is over.” New York City put on extra cops, but nobody to clean the mess that was being made. Do you think this was a misuse of budgets? While it is great to have our streets protected, it would be wise to clean them first. What is next for us and the world? Let’s go through the problems and ecological-related scandals other cities faced.

In 2007, the American Lung Association reported that Los Angeles was the most polluted US city. The number of counties scoring an A grade for ozone levels increased from 82 to 145 from 2000 to 2007, but particle pollution levels show an ominous trend, with F grades nearly doubling in just one year. Yes, we all know Proposition 23 was defeated thankfully, and AB 32 will not be suspended. But what took so long for this to pass and California to move forward on the fight for clean air?

After Senate Bill 1402 was passed, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had some explaining to do about their grading process and was instructed to cite the specific code violation when they fine a company for a clean air violation. It turned out that the CARB pollution death count was rounded down. CARB released a report (using new methodology, according to the board) that about 9,200 Californians die prematurely each year because of exposure to PM 2.5, an ultra-fine diesel particulate. Before the new method was used, the death count was at 18,000. How is it possible that it was slashed in half with this so-called “new methodology”? Of course, the count is bad, 9,000 or 18,000. But are these really theoretical numbers? When numbers are high where they shouldn’t be, the governing authority suddenly cuts that number in half. For example of CARB’s dirty work, The Bay Area Air Quality Control District, CARB, the EPA, and The Port of Oakland put aside $22 million to help truckers meet standards, yet 1,300 were left out. Did the government not see enough warning? Do you think Proposition 23 was defeated thanks to the people? I think we certainly had a say in it.

According to a report by the American Lung Association, one-third of the U.S. population lives in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone. To give you a solid number on that, 99 million Americans live in counties with F grades for ozone.

During Hurricane Katrina, our very own genius, President George Bush and his armada thought our money was better spent removing Saddam Hussein and fighting the “Taliban” in Iraq. G.W. Bush was quoted saying, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” The fact of the matter is that in 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report clearly stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the most likely disasters facing the U.S. In 2002, because of George W.’s anti-environmental policies, more than 80% of funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was cut. These funds were to hold back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

In 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped major work on the levee system in New Orleans after Bush cut the funding. This was the first time work had stopped in 37 years. To top it all off, federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana was cut nearly in half in 2005, the year Katrina hit. With so much warning, why was nothing done to prevent that levee from breaking?

Because we just can’t shy away from this, let’s go back to the Gulf and delve a little into the BP Oil disaster. Still today, we still do not know the exact nature of this spill. It has been about 9 months, but seems much longer, especially to those who were directly impacted on the coast. Somehow, BP oil still has to raise $30 billion that it owes the U.S. government. During all of this, BP has blown through 2 CEO’s as they have shamefully resigned and left it at the hands of the hopefully-capable Bob Dudley.

In 2009 (the year before the spill), there were 28 major drilling-related spills, natural-gas releases or incidents in which workers lost control of a well at the Gulf of Mexico. It seems impossible that no warning signs reached either of the CEO’s about the well. This number was up 4% from 2008, 56% from 2007, and nearly two-thirds from 2006. Is that percent change not big enough for executives to take notice? The U.K. saw 85 serious oil and gas releases in 2009, which was up 39% from the past year. Similarly, Norway experienced a 48% increase in these mishaps from 2008 to 2009, reporting 37 in the latter year.

Did everyone just overlook signs and stop caring about the safety of these drillings? Just one year and one day before the BP Oil spill, a different Gulf drilling rig experienced a violent blast. Noble Corp.’s Lorris Bouzigard rig was working in more than 2,000 feet of water when a bubble of explosive gas raced up the well, pushing ahead of it heavy drilling fluid and knocking a two-ton piece of metal out of place. Workers were quoted, calling it a “deafening roar” and struggled to regain control as many of their co-workers rushed to lifeboats. “This accident was bound to happen,” said Nancy Leveson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and engineering safety expert who has studied the Deepwater Horizon disaster, “It might not happen on that day. It might not happen on that rig. But it was bound to happen.”

…Because of this:

-12,000 Louisiana residents have filed for unemployment.
-Clean-up costs reached $1.6 billion as of June 14, 2010.
-400 wildlife species have been threatened due to environment loss.
-30 species of birds are potentially threatened.

To wrap this up, and I suppose end my rambling, do not ignore the ecological problems in your city, state, or town. The potential effects are insurmountable. We can’t ignore offshore drilling and preventable natural disasters. Fight the good fight.

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