President Donald Trump announced last week that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be resigning at the end of 2018. And while even ardent supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to praise any move by the current administration, the end of Secretary Zinke’s corruption-riddled tenure at the helm of the Department of Interior is, perhaps, cause for brief, though bittersweet, celebration. America—and the world—is better off with Zinke out of office. Why? For one, over the two short years Zinke has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has continually treated his office like a personal piggy bank by making ridiculous purchases and indulging in a penchant for unnecessary private jet travel, all at taxpayer expense. Worse by a mile, however, is the fact that Zinke has also been hell-bent on using his position to perpetuate environmental destruction. Tasked with overseeing and maintaining roughly one-quarter of America’s land area, Zinke has instead transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a bargain bin thrift store open exclusively for the country’s grifting oil and mineral moguls. Under Trump’s direction, Zinke has scrapped Obama-era regulations and opened up for exploitation formerly off-limits public lands at break-neck speed. As a result, business is booming for the world’s extraction industries in America, indigenous rights have been superseded, deadly carbon emissions are on a precipitous rise, and environmental safeguards for clean air, water, and soil have been trampled. Under Zinke, America is having a going-out-of-business sale with public lands across the country on the auction block. A few examples: In Utah, the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were drastically shrunk and partially sold-off; in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest pristine landscape in the country, are being opened for oil exploration; and off the nation’s coasts, roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf was also approved for resource extraction. All along, the plan has been to reduce environmental regulation and protections so that public lands can be mined, probed, and drilled for private profit. With global climate change reaching a new cataclysmic phase as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, one must question why these approaches were taken at all. But as America joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others in a new “axis of climate evil,” the scheme becomes quite clear. To paraphrase and update a recent report from The Atlantic, cruelty—and private profit—drive many of the administration’s policy decisions. At the Department of Interior, Zinke has presided over a radical shift that has transformed the federal government into an instrument of business, stripping it of its historic role as a steward of public landscapes and, by direct extension, of the public itself. This administration’s profit-driven and deleterious impacts on our national parks and monuments have been particularly vile and will likely take generations to repair. Given ever-increasing estimates of the potential destruction that could be wrought by climate change, however, it’s unlikely whether repair will even be possible if the administration’s “America First” energy policy comes to fruition. This approach has not been without controversy, of course: Reports cite Zinke’s escalating ethics crises as a main driver for his resignation. So, although Zinke famously arrived for his first day in office on horseback, he leaves Washington running with his tail between his legs as an ascendant Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives threatens to set its sights on one of the administration’s most blatantly corrupt individuals. The outcome proves what while it takes a supreme level of nihilistic cowardice to steal from the future only to then run from the repercussions, Trump’s administration is filled with individuals willing to do the same. Zinke’s disgraceful tenure, like those of ex-EPA head Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the current grammatically-challenged Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, proves that this particular basket of deplorables was all picked from the same rotten tree. To put it simply: If you care at all, even slightly, about the need to preserve and venerate the country’s iconic landscapes, about the public’s right to access public lands, or about the freedom to breathe clean air and drink untainted water, then Zinke’s tenure should fill you with dread and disgust. Under Zinke, the Department of Interior became a middleman between gluttonous extraction industries and the federal government’s land bank, plain and simple. Pristine landscapes have been sold off, soiled, and laid waste, indigenous rights have been superseded, and America’s vast territorial legacy has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme by an administration that sees personal profit as a professional virtue. It’s sad. There’s no silver lining, either, because Zinke’s replacement will likely pick up where the now-disgraced Montana politician is leaving off.
Posts tagged with "Environment":
The term ‘farm-to-table’ is one that is touted across New York City, but it’s a concept that’s hard to realize for normal city residents without access to farmland (farmers markets and Whole Foods don’t count). Cue Swale: a floating food forest that's built atop a 5,000-square-foot barge that is currently docked at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 and is looking to revolutionize the food industry in the city. Founded in 2016 by artist Mary Mattingly, Swale allows visitors to forage for their own fruits and vegetables. Acting as both a piece of interactive public art and as a means to provide fresh food, Swale encourages New Yorkers to reconsider their perceptions on edible landscapes—“foodways”—and their relationship to nature. With Swale as a test case, Mattingly aims to shift policies regarding edible landscapes on public land. While there are 100 acres of community garden space in the city, there are actually 30,000 acres of park space. Picking one’s own food is illegal on New York City public land, but it is technically legal on a barge due to waterway common law. “At its heart, Swale is a call to action. It asks us to reconsider our food systems, to confirm our belief in food as a human right and to pave pathways to create public food in public space,” said Mattingly in a press release. Last year, Mattingly transformed the old construction barge by filling it with soil, edible plants, and flowers. This year, thanks to a partnership with the apple cider company Strongbow, alongside other governmental organizations, the barge added apple trees and winding paths. Using edible forestry techniques that mimic natural ecosystems and require less human maintenance, the barge allows for unlimited foraging of anything from asparagus to artichokes to blueberries. After it’s stint at Brooklyn Bridge Park is over on June 30, Swale’s next stop is Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx from July to August. For more on Swale, visit its website here.
September 1st will mark the official launch of Architects Advocate Action on Climate Change. The group, composed of nearly 80 Chicago firms, has a mission of advocating for legislative action on climate change. Firms of all sizes have signed on as supporters, including Studio Gang Architects, John Ronan Architects, JGMA, Design with Company, Goettsch Partners, and UrbanLab, to name a few. Firms from related fields, such as engineers, architectural photographers, and videographers have also joined. The genesis of the project was initiated in the office of Chicago-based Krueck + Sexton Architects. The group positions itself between practice and policy: it will help shape legislative action with a united front. An Architects Advocate statement reads, “As architects dedicated to healthy and livable communities, and guided by scientific consensus and reason, we advocate for action on Climate Change.” The group will push for a healthy environment as a civil right. Though Architects Advocate's exact plan of action has not yet been released, supporters are encouraged to mark their participation with banners embedded in their websites. The group's web page also includes links to environmental advocacy resources including AIA Advocacy, Architecture 2030, and NASA. The launch of Architects Advocate coincides with the federal Council on Environmental Quality’s new guidelines for evaluating federal projects. These rules ask that any federal agency starting a project should quantify climate impact and consider alternative design solutions. “Indirect” emissions will also be included in understanding any project’s environmental impact. For example, building a new road may encourage more people to drive while replanting trees can reduce airborne carbon and erosion as well as provide wildlife habitat. The new guidelines are built on previous directives, including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Though some federal agencies have already been providing “Climate Impact Reports,” these new rules will help standardize and clarify a framework for climate action.
California’s ballot initiative system allows residents to propose laws as well as approve them by popular vote. In the past, this has resulted in drastically reducing property taxes and the approval of the country’s first law for medical marijuana. Recently, controversy has arisen due to the use of the system by developers to disregard state environmental laws and consequently hasten the pace of major developments, reports The New York Times. Using this popular vote system, plans were approved for several major development projects in Moreno Valley including “a stadium in Carson, a shopping center north of San Diego and a vast warehouse complex,” the article lists. This process of approval circumvents the California Environmental Quality Act whose rules would otherwise present obstacles for the developers. Another concern, addressed by The Times article, is that residents do not even have the opportunity to vote on the designs in question. In order for a project to be considered for special election or approval, a petition with the signatures of 15 percent of eligible voters is required. Local officials can then proceed to approve the project without a ballot to avoid the financial burden a special election would present. While the California Environmental Quality Act requires that developers “to identify and mitigate the environmental effects of their projects,” the law is not enforced by any government agency, only by lawsuits. Claims to sue “can range from destroying animal habitats to blocking a view,” The Times states. As a result, projects can be delayed and their costs exacerbated. Out of nine plans for new Walmart stores in California, eight were approved without a ballot. A California Supreme Court decision in 2014 addressed Walmart’s actions determining that elected officials can indeed approve projects without a ballot and therefore avoiding “environmental review.” Other developers have followed suit and projects across the state have attracted scrutiny and opposition for this reason, including a shopping center in Carlsbad and a proposed World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.
At first glance, this may look like state-funded environmental pollution: New York's Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) regularly dumps unwanted subway cars into the Atlantic. However, these New York City subway cars are now a happy home for fish. The MTA aims to create artificial marine environments, similar to those created by sunken ships, that will foster aquatic life. While most of this activity has gone under the radar, the MTA has been dumping subway cars since the turn of the 21st century. To date, after ten years worth of dumping, 2,400 subway cars currently lie on the ocean floor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPzRibWesyo Man-made reefs are nothing new, either. U.S. fishermen have engaged in the practice since the 1830s using structures of logs joined together. Turning relics to reefs with other refuse quickly followed; now unwanted subway cars turn the barren stretches of the eastern Atlantic seaboard into thriving habitats. The subway car shells create surfaces upon which oysters, clams, barnacles, and vegetation can live and grow. They also provide useful hiding places for fish that would otherwise be easy prey in the open ocean, all of which is good news for local fishermen. The move from the MTA appears to be a stroke of financial genius, too. While dumping subway cars into the ocean is convenient, the nonprofit Ocean City Reef Foundation has also paid $600 per car to ship them 30-hours away from NYC and create the reef. So far, six states have jumped on the bandwagon, and Michael Zacchea, director of the MTA Artificial Reef Program, describes it as "the ultimate form of recycling." Additionally, Jeff Tinsman, Delaware's reef program coordinator, has stated that fishing activity has seen a 30,000 percent increase in the vicinity of the artificial reefs. Myrtle Beach is a hotspot for the subway cars: that's where the MTA unceremoniously dumps them off a barge with the help of a mechanical arm. Now at their final final stop, they'll lay there for approximately 40 years with some cars having been in service just 10 days prior. Despite the project's praise and apparent success, there has been skepticism, notably from the National Resources Defense Council. They say the scheme has "less to do with conserving fish than saving and making money. Sport fishers and divers have actively lobbied for artificial reefs for the fish and tourism dollars they can attract. And, by donating old equipment to the cause, private industries and governments save millions of dollars." "You can basically put anything in the ocean and call it a reef as long as it stays there," says scientist Kristin Milligan. It's also worth mentioning Osborne Reef catastrophe, which saw thousands of car tires dumped with good intentions, ultimately required cleanup by the U.S. military.
Shenzhen is undertaking a massive public works project that will transform trash from one of China's largest cities into energy—and it's going to be huge. The facility is planned to be a mile in circumference, making it the largest waste-to-energy power plant in the world. Unlike its Danish counterpart by Bjarke Ingels, China's circular waste facility won't be puffing out delicate smoke rings representing CO2. Designed by another Danish firm, SHL Architects, the project is estimated to burn 5,500 tons of litter every day—more than Shenzhen produces daily. While this may seem like a not-so-green solution, the alternatives, according to Fast Company, make it look comparatively greener. The issue for China isn't an environmental one—it's about space. Last December, a landfill in Shenzhen amassed so much litter that it collapsed, killing 12 people in the process. This proposal reduces the amount of space needed to store trash, making more room for housing development. Compared to a standard landfill, the waste-to-energy plant is significantly better for the environment. The former releases large quantities of potent greenhouse gases as rash decays and decomposes. “Burning waste naturally creates pollutants, mainly carbon dioxide—something in the region of one metric ton of CO2 per metric ton of waste," Architect Chris Hardie told Fast Company. “This does not sound great for sure, but when you compare it to putting the waste to landfill, one metric ton of waste will ultimately produce somewhere in the region of 60 cubic meters of methane as it decomposes—and this has more than twice the negative effect on global warming.” The Shenzhen plant isn't unique, either. China has 300 more litter-guzzling incinerators in the pipeline as it tries to prevent disasters like the one in Shenzhen last year and solve the country's waste problem. Like Ingels's plan for a power plant, this one also offers an unexpected feature of human interaction. A pedestrian pathway, hugs the interior perimeter, winding its way around the mile-long circumference. The roof has been designed to include 473,600 square feet of solar panelling.
[Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to an op-ed from the City Club of New York. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] There is a pressing need for new public open space and programming along the Lower Manhattan waterfront. When Hudson River Park’s Pier 54 closed in 2011, New York City lost vital parkland that had served both local community and citywide residents. The problem was that there was never enough public funding to support a new pier at that site. Pier55 will revitalize that waterfront space with nearly three acres of new public parkland, a unique design and new arts, educational and community programming. A public-private partnership between the Diller - von Furstenberg family and the Hudson River Park Trust will ensure Pier55 will remain sustainable for generations to come. As former City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has written, this use of a public-private partnership follows a long tradition that has supported other public parks across New York City, such as the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as public arts spaces like Central Park’s Naumberg Bandshell and the Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. That is all part of why Pier55 has received an overwhelmingly positive response from local families and park advocates who are excited about the future of the Hudson River Park. The project has also been through a rigorous and transparent environmental review process and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already determined that an Environmental Impact Statement is not required. Unfortunately, the City Club of New York disagrees. Instead of engaging the community — as the Hudson River Park Trust and Pier55, Inc. have done over the past year — the City Club continues to make false claims about Pier55 and its public process. The fact is that Pier55 underwent a comprehensive Environmental Assessment which found that the park would have no significantly adverse impact on fish and other aquatic wildlife. The Environmental Assessment remains publicly posted on the HRPT website to this day, and it was distributed publicly for a two-month comment period that went well beyond what is required by state law. Additionally, it has already been stated that pile driving for Pier55 will not occur between November and April, when wildlife like winter flounder and striped bass are found in higher densities in the area. The City Club has provided no actual evidence refuting the Environmental Assessment or proving why any further environmental review would be required. Pier55 will provide a diverse array of programming, but it should be noted that boating activities are already found at numerous other piers along Hudson River Park. Contrary to opposition claims, as determined by the United States Coastguard, Pier55 will not obstruct navigation in the Hudson River because that particular area has never been used for boating activities. Pier55’s commitment to public programming is also based on a commitment to public access. The park will remain open to the public all year round and the vast majority of events at Pier55 will be offered for free or at low cost. It must also be noted that Pier55’s 2.7-acre size is within the scope of what is allowed based on a 2013 law amending the state’s Hudson River Park Act. This amendment, crafted based on input from the local community board and other stakeholders, allowed HRPT to rebuild the former pier outside its original footprint. Aside from all that, it is odd to see the City Club argue that Pier55 — one pier among many at Hudson River Park — will block views of the river. The pier will provide park visitors with new and unique views of the Hudson River, and it will replace a fenced-off site that currently provides no public benefit. Overall, Pier55 is a public benefit that is being funded by necessity through a public-private partnership. Pier55, Inc. is not a corporation — it is a nonprofit organization. It will not reap profits from any events held at Pier55, and all programming revenue will go back into funding the park and serving the public. As New Yorkers for Parks and other supporters have noted, this public-private model will ensure that the new pier remains sustainable for generations, even in the absence of public funding. The City Club’s arguments against Pier55 may be numerous, but they are without merit and do not reflect the overwhelming community support for the project, which has only grown as more local residents hear what the new park will provide for their neighborhood. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders on making Pier55 a success for the community and the city. We hope the City Club will reconsider its inaccurate claims and join us in that effort. —Pier55 Development Team
Art has washed up on the banks of southern Indiana's White River. Converging south of Indianapolis near Columbus, Indiana, the river's two forks draw from a series of small tributaries, which an artist working with grant money from the National Science Foundation has chosen as the setting for an interactive public art series meant to provoke discussions on water, environment, and climate. New York–based Mary Miss and City as Living Laboratory kick off Streamlines on Thursday, ushering in “a multi-faceted project to foster science learning through the arts in the public realm” in five communities along tributaries to Indiana's White River. Miss’ StreamLine installations include sculpture, music, dance, and poetry, and will take place over two years. The work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Butler University Center for Urban Ecology.
Atlanta has staked a commitment on urban agriculture. The city is poised to hire its first Urban Agriculture Director this fall. Conceived by the office of Mayor Kasim Reed, the position is part of a strategy to eliminate food deserts in south and west Atlanta by promoting agriculture within the city limits. Urban food deserts are determined by a neighborhood's poverty rate, median income, and distance to groceries selling fresh produce. The USDA maintains an interactive map of food deserts, including those in Atlanta, here. Atlanta's Agriculture Director will be an advocate, consultant, policy analyst, and community liaison between gardeners and farmers and the resources they need to establish viable plots. The director will also consult on brownfield remediation, zoning and code inquiries, and any other issues surrounding access to, and use of, land. Interested candidates have until September 15th to apply for the position.
Save for the extreme examples—Beijing's “airpocalypse,” for example—air pollution is often an invisible problem. For at least a brief period, designers from Brooklyn and data scientists from San Francisco hope to change that in Louisville, Kentucky. Across the city 25 sensors gather data on air quality, including the concentrations of particulate matter and carbon monoxide, transmitting the data to a colorful, interactive kiosk on the corner of Fourth and Liberty streets in Downtown Louisville. Designers at Brooklyn-based Urban Matter, Inc. dubbed their project Air Bare. As the downtown screen displays real-time air quality data, they invite passersby to engage with the installation. Encased in bright orange, powder-coated steel, a video screen fills with bubbles representing particles of air pollution. Poke your head into the display and you can pop the bubbles, earning points and taking air quality quizzes. Urban Matter's Rick Lin told WFPL the playfulness is meant to inspire action:
A big part of the component of this piece is educational, so once we grab people’s attention, we want—without being too preachy—to give them some information to help them make better decisions every day.Urban Matter conceived the short-term piece with the Office of Civic Innovation, Louisville Metro Government, and San Francisco's Creative Commons. On their website, the firm said they hope the project “creates awareness, identifies sources of pollution and propels the public to take action.” Open in time for a health symposium attended by Prince Charles, the piece will be up for six to eight months.
The air in Beijing, China is dirty, and a new report suggests it won't be getting cleaner any time soon. Beijing residents received the grim news from the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection regarding the city's air pollution levels. Following studies done by the institute, researcher Pan Tao has estimated the return of safe air pollution levels in 2030. The World Health Organization has stated in the past that the concentration of PM2.5, particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less per cubic meter, should not exceed 35 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2013, however, the level of PM2.5 in Beijing measured 89.5 micrograms per meter.
Piles of dusty, black waste from coal and petroleum processing have been piling up on Chicago’s southeast side, angering residents and prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to weigh in on the contentious environmental issue. The Sun-Times has reported that Emanuel will introduce an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting banning new storage facilities for so-called petcoke—a byproduct of the oil refinery process that can be sold overseas. It’s a step back from an outright ban proposed in December by Alderman Edward Burke, whose constituents were outraged by black dust clouds wafting from uncovered piles of petcoke along the Calumet River. Southeast side communities like Calumet, South Chicago, and South Deering are no strangers to industrial zoning. The Illinois-Indiana border has long been a pastiche of brownfields, residential communities, natural areas, and heavy industry. But the swirling black dust incited a class-action lawsuit filed against three storage sites last year. Chicago’s Department of Public Health shares area residents’ concerns. “We know that petcoke is a respiratory irritant and the main concern is if the petcoke is inhaled,” Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times. “If you have somebody with asthma or other respiratory problems, inhaling petcoke would really lead to more problems…We are advancing this ordinance to protect our residents.” The anticipated zoning ordinance would prevent new petcoke storage facilities from entering the city, and would keep current outfits from expanding. KCBX, the largest such facility in the area, says the ordinance is unjustified, a sentiment shared by some business groups:
Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association called the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.” … The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also questioning the ordinance, calling it an “overreaction.” “We don’t understand what the mayor is trying to accomplish here. Petcoke and coal have been handled and stored in Chicago for decades with few issues. This seems like an overreaction to one incident – good policy rarely comes from overreacting,” Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO said.KCBX is an affiliate of Koch Industries, the business empire of brothers Charles and David H. Koch. Their company, Koch Carbon, came under fire last year for storing the same material along the Detroit River.