Hundreds more systems are at risk of not being able to meet drinking water standards.
Farms housing thousands of animals are one of several sources contaminating the Pine River and dividing a mid-Michigan community.
State confronts challenge of affordable, reliable sewer service for some of its poorest communities.
DON’T CONSIGN POOR COUNTRIES TO WILD STORMS AND FLOODING
BY HUGH SEALY ON 10/15/17 AT 6:50 AM
Hurricane Maria is still wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico, weeks after making landfall.
Officials announced last week that several people may have died from contaminated water supplies caused by the storm. And with one-third of the Puerto Ricans still without running water, more deaths may follow as people turn to streams.
Climate change has made hurricanes like Maria more intense and destructive -- and has exacerbated the public-health crises that hurricanes can unleash. These crises, fuelled by invisible killers, can be far deadlier than the physical destruction caused by extreme weather.
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More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, according to a new World Health Organization report. That's over one-fourth of the globe's population.
Climate change is making this problem worse. That's because climate change influences the "frequency, intensity . . . and timing of weather and climate extremes," as a United Nations report makes clear. More than half of the major extreme weather events between 2011 and 2015 were linked to human-caused global warming.
These extreme conditions threaten water supplies. Intense precipitation causes flooding that overwhelms sewage systems and contaminates sources of drinking water with sediment, animal waste, and pesticides.
Consider what happened in the Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific, in 2014. Massive rainstorms caused flooding that contaminated water supplies throughout the archipelago. More than 2,100 people developed flu-like symptoms. Nearly 4,000 people suffered from diarrhoea, and ten children died.
People walk across a flooded street in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 as the country faced dangerous flooding and an island-wide power outage after Hurricane Maria.
Eileen Natuzzi, a public health researcher who studied the disaster, noted that the illnesses and deaths underscored the "significant health impacts from our changing climate."
Or consider hurricanes like Maria, which have become more frequent and severe because of rising ocean temperatures. Dominica's Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, made an impassioned plea at the recent UN General Assembly, calling the situation in his country, which was hit hard by Maria, "the frontline in the war against climate change." The Prime Minister lamented, "While the big countries talk the small island nations suffer."
Last October, Hurricane Matthew dumped huge amounts of water onto the Dominican Republic. After rivers overflowed, leptospira bacteria -- which can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, and liver failure -- permeated the water supply. Seventy-four people died.
Rich nations bear some of the blame for these climate-change-fuelled crises. The richest 10 percent of people are responsible for half of global fossil-fuel emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere and thereby warm the planet. The poorest half of the world's population accounts for a paltry 10 percent of emissions.
Yet richer, higher-emitting countries are also fortunate enough not to bear the full consequences of climate change. A warming climate will have less impact on their levels of economic growth and mortality. By that standard, 11 of the 17 countries with the lowest levels of emissions are "acutely vulnerable" to the negative effects of climate change, according to a recent Scientific Reports study.
In other words, wealthy nations caused the problem but are not doing enough to solve it. In March, for example, the White House announced it would scale back several emissions-cutting measures -- like limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants and a ban on new coal leases on federal land.
Meanwhile, in Europe -- where leaders have chastised the United States for pulling out of the Paris climate agreement -- only three of 27 countries are set to meet their carbon-cutting pledges.
One bright note is the announcement in June by France's Ecological Transition Minister Nicolas Hulot that France, one of the three EU members in compliance with the Paris Agreement, will stop issuing licenses for further oil and gas exploration.
The rest of the developed world must urgently follow France's lead. It is irresponsible and immoral to continue to emit such high levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Rich, developed countries need to acknowledge this -- and take urgent action to correct their emitting ways.
Otherwise, future Marias could lead to even greater losses of life.
Hugh Sealy is a professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at St. George's University in Grenada.
EPA approves plan to remove San Jacinto Waste pits from river
Superfund site that leaked in Hurricane Harvey will be cleaned up
By Lise Olsen Updated 9:08 pm, Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff
IMAGE 1 OF 18 The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site sits under floodwater as members of the Army National Guard travel to Beaumont in Chinook helicopters to deliver hay to cattle stranded by Tropical Storm Harvey ... more
The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday approved a plan to permanently remove tons of toxics from the San Jacinto Waste Pits - a Superfund site that was heavily flooded and began to leak cancer-causing dioxin into the river after Hurricane Harvey.
The plan, which comes after years of litigation and citizen activism that built public support for permanently removing the pits from the San Jacinto River, includes installing cofferdams to prevent release of the pollutants before excavating and removing an estimated 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material.
The decision comes only two weeks after the EPA confirmed that a concrete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak during Harvey's floods. An EPA dive team found dioxin in sediment near the pit in a concentration of more than 70,000 nanograms of dioxin per kilogram of soil - more than 2,300 times the EPA standard for clean-up.
The extent of damage caused by that release remains unknown. But flooding of the Superfund site prompted the EPA's Scott Pruitt to visit the area and move up a decision on the proposed clean-up plan that had been pending for about a year. The estimated cost is $115 million, the EPA announced.
Hundreds of families in riverfront neighborhoods east of Houston fear that massive flooding has poisoned their land and fouled their wells with sewage, industrial pollution and toxic sediment from the region's most notorious Superfund site - the San Jacinto Waste pits. (Drone video taken by: Greg Moss)
Media: Houston Chronicle
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan says finding that dioxin was exposed at the waste pits during the flooding was frightening proof that the EPA needed to act.
"And let's be clear: What we had from Hurricane Harvey was a rain event. Had the storm hit closer to Harris County, we would have experienced high winds and storm surge."
Jackie Young, an organizer and grass-roots activist who has spent six years fighting for clean-up, described the decision as an "enormous victory and we are sincerely appreciative that the EPA has chosen the only option that is protective of public health and the environment."
It appears though that rather than a final solution, the plan will only unleash additional litigation from at least one of three companies that are responsible for the clean-up. A spokesman for McGinnes Industrial Maintenance announced Wednesday that company will oppose removal.
"We cannot support a plan for the site that provides less protection to all affected communities than the existing cap already has provided," the company said. "We are deeply concerned that the decision announced today could result in a release to the San Jacinto River and downstream areas. We disagree with EPA's claim that the local or downstream areas can be protected during removal."
The dangers of the San Jacinto Waste Pits site, along the Interstate 10 bridge in east Harris County, were first recognized by local authorities in 2005 after the site flooded in Hurricane Ike. The pits were then added to the EPA's National Priority List in 2008.
In 2011, the site was capped with a concrete barrier. Yet over the years, dioxin has leaked out from the pits, county officials and researchers say.
Signs posted in the area warn people not to eat fish or crabs caught near the pits - which are near popular fishing holes and public parks in Channelview, Baytown and along the road that leads to the Lynchburg ferry. Research by the University of Houston's Hanadi Rifai found hotspots of dioxin linked to paper mill waste have traveled down the river and into Galveston Bay.
The pits already have provoked a series of civil lawsuits from area residents, fishermen and Harris County officials who fear that both the environment and area neighborhoods already have been poisoned. One pending case involves 600 area residents who live or owned property along the river in Baytown, Channelview, and Highlands.
Though the pits were originally on the riverbanks, over time the river has flooded the site numerous times. The pits were entirely submerged by a fast-moving wall of floodwater in Hurricane Harvey.
An unusual alliance of Houston area congressmen, Harris County officials and citizen groups had all united to urge the EPA to approve a plan to permanently remove of toxics from the site.
In one report issued about the dangers of the pits, Samuel Brody of Texas A & M University called the site a "loaded gun" with the potential to damage the entire Galveston Bay ecosystem.
The Harris County attorney's office said the EPA's decision will require the companies that deposited the waste to remove it at the companies' cost.
The approved plan would remove an estimated 152,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with dioxin at the I-10 bridge. An additional 50,000 cubic yards will be removed south of the bridge and all those materials will be deposited "into a secure, stable, inland permitted facility," according to a county press release.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will host open public meetings at Glen Jean later this month to discuss results of PCB soil and water samples taken around Minden and Fayetteville in May and June, Acting Regional EPA Director Cecil Rodrigues said Thursday.
Officials of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will be at the meeting to answer health-related questions, and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) agents will also attend, said Rodrigues, an attorney who currently heads up the EPA Region 3 Office in Philadelphia.
"Our desire is to get the information out to as much of the public as we can and to be available to answer any specific questions they have, especially health concerns," Rodrigues said.
Current test results show that, of 98 samples taken in Minden, four showed PCB contamination that is above the level of one part per million (1 ppm) that requires EPA action, agency officials said Thursday.
Of those samples, two were soil samples taken at private residences and measured 1.2 ppm and 1.3 ppm, while two sediment samples taken from Arbuckle Creek showed 50 ppm and 6.2 ppm. EPA agents conducted 41 soil samples and 25 sediment samples in Minden, along with water samples of Arbuckle Creek, agents reported Thursday.
Water samples showed no levels that present a risk, according to Rodrigues.
EPA agents shared results with property owners earlier this week.
Rodrigues said the contaminated Minden properties are rated as residential clean-up level, which triggers more investigation.
"Our next step is to do additional sampling to determine the extent of that contamination and to confirm the results of the sampling," he said. "Then, after we have done that, we'll determine what further steps need to be done."
An EPA clean-up such as removal of the soil and contaminated sediment is a possible solution, he said.
Agents plan to take additional soil samples within the next month but EPA agent Melissa Linden said that, due to winter approaching, there is not a definitive time line for the samplings.
A Court Street property near Fayetteville showed PCB contamination that does not require action by EPA, Rodrigues said.
Contracted EPA agents conducted a ground-penetrating radar at Fayetteville after residents reported a possible buried tanker. Rodrigues said the GPR showed a "septic-like" structure and that soil testing showed non-actionable low levels of PCB.
The type of Aroclor, or PCB, detected at the Court Street site was a different type than PCB from the Shaffer's site, he said.
The ppm EPA action standard for all types of PCB is the same.
Rodrigues said the EPA is finished at Court Street.
"For our purposes, it is closed," Rodrigues said. "We've referred the data to WVDEP, and if they want to take some follow-up action, they obviously can."
EPA agents are still taking samples of the soil at a former landfill site in Concho. Initial testing has shown low concentrations of PCBs, pesticides and dioxin in the sediment adjacent to the landfill but not further downstream of an unnamed tributary.
Metal contaminants such as lead have also been detected, but surface water was not impacted, EPA Region 3 Communications Officer Roy Seneca published in a press release Thursday.
Rodrigues said EPA is still collecting information on the Concho site. According to tax documents, the property is owned by Concho Land Co., which shared an officer with ACE Resort-owned properties.
ACE is the only major business in Minden and hosts a 1,500-acre resort at Concho, a cliffside area above Minden.
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Ten of the Minden samples were above actionable WVDEP levels, according to an EPA report.
Minden resident Annetta Coffman, 42, said she and her neighbors welcome EPA to return to Minden for additional testing.
"The two (contaminated) yards were several feet apart, and the houses in between tested negative," Coffman said. "I am certain that when they come back, we will have more exact levels.
"At least now we know that our suspicions were correct about the PCBs."
Residents had requested that EPA officials conduct the latest round of PCB testing. EPA was at Minden in the 1980s and 1990s, botching at least one clean-up effort. Residents allege that storage tanks of PCB were refused by a landfill in Raleigh County after the first EPA clean-up effort and were then shipped via train to Alabama, where clerks at the destination dump site also refused them.
According to residents, one of the tankers was buried at the Court Street site.
An EPA official said Tuesday that, based on its own record-keeping system, EPA would not have kept records of where the tankers had been shipped.
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Fayette Commission appointed Charleston attorney Mike Callaghan late last month to investigate illegal dumping in the county, naming Callaghan a special assistant prosecutor to Fayette Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah.
Callaghan, who is working on a contingency basis, plans to identify companies which polluted the county and to create a trust for cleanup by suing the insurance companies of responsible parties, Harrah said.
Rodrigues said that the EPA investigation did not uncover solid evidence of illegal dumping at Fayetteville.
"We did some interviews of the people who said there may have been disposal there, or illegal disposal there, and there really wasn't any information we found that would lead us to any conclusions," Rodrigues sad. "We have not found any concrete information that there was some kind of illegal disposal there.
"It seems to be a septic-like tank, but we're not sure."
Rodrigues said that some owners of contaminated properties are responsible for cleanup. If the contamination came from another source, the responsible party would be liable.
Regarding Shaffer's, he added, "Since the parties we're dealing with are all bankrupt or don't exist anymore, the agency will be funding whatever cleanup is necessary, if a cleanup is necessary."
EPA officials have suspicions that the current PCB contamination may not be coming from Shaffer's.
According to Linden, EPA agents were notified that an act of vandalism in 1997 had caused a fire at a portion of the site. After assessing the site, which is an EPA Superfund site but is not on the National Priority List (NPL), EPA conducted an assessment and asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a cap to cover one acre of the six-acre plot.
Linden reported that the Corps completed the cap in 2002. EPA officials said when they examined the cap over the summer, it appeared to have been effective in limiting the spread of PCB.
The most recent Minden samples, however, show that the highest contamination level is about a half-mile from Shaffer Equipment.
EPA agents will be investigating if there is another contributing contamination site in Minden, Linden said.
It's not the first time that EPA agents have questioned the source of PCB contamination in Fayette County.
Following two clean-up efforts and removal of contaminated soils from Shaffer's in the 1980s, EPA returned to Minden in 1989 after citizens reported that they did not believe EPA agents had fully cleaned the contaminants.
In May 1990, EPA agents took 70 samples from Shaffer's. Sixteen samples showed that seven additional sites hosted PCBs above the human safety limit.
In September 1990, EPA agents reported that the contaminated soil had been on the site for less than one year. In October 1990, EPA officially launched a criminal investigation to determine the source of the new PCB contamination.
No further information on the 1990 criminal investigation was available Thursday evening.
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The environmental citizens' group Headwaters Defense launched a petition last week to stop the planned construction of upgrades to Arbuckle Public Service District on the grounds that EPA testing isn't finished in Minden and that construction could disrupt PCBs.
Rodrigues said he did not want to speculate about the Arbuckle property but added that EPA has an established protocol for working with developers of a contaminated site.
Typically, developers conduct environmental assessments to ensure they are not causing the contamination to spread or be carried downstream.
"Developers do sampling and clean-ups as part of their development process, but if someone is interested in developing the property and it's where we're doing to be doing some sampling, we usually work hand in hand with state and local governments and the developer to make sure they have relevant information to make prudent choices," said Rodrigues.
The type of development is also a factor, he added.
"As it applies to the actual Shaffer site, if they're planning on running a sewer line through the property or near the property, usually we work very closely with whoever is doing that work to make sure it doesn't in any way impact the cleanup or the threaten the cleanup we've done," Rodrigues said. "If the plan is for somehow to cross the property line, then we'll work with them to make sure whatever they're doing is protective or work with them to suggest an alternative place to put the line, if what they're doing will impact the cleanup.
"Until they actually contact us and give us concrete plans about what they're doing, we can't comment on whether it is prudent or not."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., confirmed Thursday that Jenkins has expressed interested in the Arbuckle PSD project.
"The congressman is monitoring this issue and is receiving regular updates from stakeholdres and agencies," Evans' spokeswoman, Rebecca Neal reported.
Rodrigues expressed a desire to make sure Minden residents have all information available to them. He urged property owners to attend two open house sessions at the National Guard Armory, 409 Wood Mountain Road in Glen Jean.
The first session is set for Oct. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. and the second will run from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 28.
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LUNENBURG, N.S.—Standing on the bow of his fishing boat, Bill Flower only has to look down to see a thick brown sludge belch out of a municipal wastewater pipe and into one of Canada’s most iconic harbours.
The fetid material burbles across the rocks under one of Lunenburg’s busiest wharfs and flows into the sea, coating boats, their ropes and most anything that comes in contact with it in a sticky film.
For Flower, who also runs a tour boat company and often has his hands covered in the slime, the fact that sewage flows freely into the harbour of a picturesque town deemed a UNESCO world heritage site and home to Canada’s most famous sailing ship, the Bluenose II, is a maddening reality he’s vowed to change.
“It’s dangerous and bad for the environment and I’m handling it everyday — it’s disgusting,” he said in an interview. “We’ve had improperly treated sewage pumping underneath that wharf for 15 years and it’s gotten worse and worse as the volume of people increase, especially in the summertime when it stinks like hell.”
Flower has been a vocal critic of the town’s sewage treatment plant and the location of the outfall, saying the pipe should have been placed closer to the mouth of the harbour and away from the busy waterfront that features a fisheries museum and other tourist spots.
He cites recent test results posted on the town website that show the presence of elevated levels of fecal bacteria.
He says that over the years he has repeatedly urged Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey to do something about the pipe and the sewage treatment facility, which he argues is not adequate to handle the town’s load, particularly when there are heavy rains. As a result, he says raw sewage likely pours into the harbour at times.
People in the town also complain about a strong odour coming from the plant, which Ottawa has pledged to address with a promised $1.1-million biofilter announced last month.
But Flower says his appeals have not brought about any change in the town, about an hour and a half south of Halifax.
The long-simmering feud took a strange turn in recent weeks when Flower was charged with assaulting the mayor on Aug. 14 by allegedly smearing the foul sludge on her ankle following a confrontation between the two.
Flower said the mayor approached him on the wharf as he was preparing to head out on the water, and they had a heated exchange over his public comments on the sewage. He said she returned the following day and displayed her ankle, saying it was infected from the material.
Flower wouldn’t comment when asked if he touched Bailey. Court documents listing the charge indicate Flower is not to have any contact with Bailey.
Bailey issued a statement Wednesday saying that Flower’s account of what allegedly happened differs from her statement to police, but refused to offer any other details.
Bailey only said she stopped at the Inshore Fisherman’s Wharf, where Flower ties up, on her way home from a morning run and began a conversation with a person she does not name.
“During the course of what began there as a discussion, another person participating in the exchange put his hands on me in a manner that is unacceptable. I subsequently reported the incident to the RCMP,” her statement reads.
“Details of the incident described in media reports do not reconcile with the statement I made to the police which will be a part of the criminal proceedings.”
The mayor, as well as staff responsible for the wastewater treatment plant, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The municipality posted test results from five sites around the harbour, which show levels of enterococci — a fecal bacteria — that far exceed Health Canada’s guideline of 70 colonies per 100 millilitres of water.
On Sept. 6, a test at the Fisherman’s Wharf registered 3,873 colonies per 100 millilitres of water.
“Those levels are definitely higher than the acceptable level . . . by today’s standards it’s bad,” said Bruce Hatcher, chair of Marine Ecosystem Research at Cape Breton University.
“This is a UNESCO heritage site and the world is watching and we really need to be seen to be taking care of these environments.”
The European Commission and the consultancy it hired to work on its draft nomination of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to the Stockholm Convention, have both refuted claims that it was inappropriate to use the consultancy and that doing so "created a conflict of interest cloud over the proceedings".
The Commission nominated PFOA, its salts and related compounds, in 2015, and has used Munich-based consultancy BiPRO to help draft its risk management evaluation (RME).
However, 19 NGOs have written to the EU executive expressing concern. They say the consultancy is compromised because it has clients – such as 3M and Saint Gobain – that make fluorinated compounds.
The company strongly denies a conflict of interest. Alexander Potrykus, BiPRO's senior managing consultant, told Chemical Watch it is independent and works "on behalf of both public and private clients, and it is crucial for us to provide science and fact based information".
The NGO signatories, including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Ipen, CHEM Trust, ChemSec and the Center for International Environment Law (Ciel), write: "It is not appropriate for the EU to select an industry consultancy that serves clients making and using fluorinated chemicals, to guide a process that results in global exemption recommendations for those same industries."
And the six-paged letter calls on the Commission to stop using BiPRO for any matter related to fluorinated compounds. It argues that the EU/BiPRO draft RME creates "the impression that the EU has simply hired an industry consultancy to advance its own industry's interests.
"That's a conflict of interest and not the kind of chemical safety leadership we expect from the EU."
EU sources have, however, sought to defuse the controversy, saying that BiPRO is just one of the consultancy firms that regularly provide independent services to the Commission, following a tendering procedure.
"BiPRO does not draft the risk management assessment itself, but it provides the elements on which the Commission bases its assessment," the sources say. "For the PFOA nomination, the Commission has produced a fact based, scientific assessment, taking on board the extensive comments received during the various stakeholder consultation rounds of the POPRC [POPs Review Committee] assessment process."
The row has blown up just a week before the Stockholm Convention's POPRC meets in Rome to discuss the substance's nomination.
PFOA has a wide range of applications, including as a water and oil repellent in outdoor clothing, fabrics and leather, in electric wire insulation, firefighting foam and floor waxes. The EU nominated it to be listed on the convention because it is very persistent in the environment, it bioaccumulates, is found in remote areas and is toxic, with some evidence it causes kidney and testicular cancer.
A listing on the convention results in either the elimination of, or restriction in production and use of, a substance.
The risk management evaluation stage of nominating a substance to the convention looks at socio-economic issues, alternatives, risk management options and possible exemptions.
It is on the last of these that much of the contention is focused. The Commission draft includes proposals for 11 exemptions to an outright ban on PFOA. These cover all the major uses of the substance, including uses in:
transport of intermediates; and
Exemptions under the convention can be either 'time limited' or 'time-unlimited'. The former allows production and use to continue for five years with an option for renewal. The latter allows production and use to continue indefinitely for "acceptable purposes".
The basis for the EU nomination is the regulation it published earlier this year that has ten exemptions.
Seven of the proposed exemptions in the draft convention document replicate the EU regulation. But three of the proposed exemptions would be converted from time-limited to unlimited exemptions.
And the Commission document adds another exemption for the use of perfluoro iodide in the production of perfluorooctyl bromide for pharmaceutical products.
According to Ipen's Joe Digangi: "The listing of PFOA in the Stockholm Convention will be a key decision point about whether production and use of this persistent, toxic substance will continue ... the upcoming meeting will make important recommendations that affect the lives of millions of people."
According to Dr Digangi, the Commission's use of BiPRO calls into question the objectivity of the RME, and the assessment of the need for exemptions and evaluation of alternatives.
"It is necessary for impartial POPRC members themselves or independent, unbiased consultants to prepare the RME in order to prevent conflict of interest," he says.
And, in its comments to the draft risk management evaluation, Ipen said the RME "must include an unbiased evaluation and justification for the need for each possible exemption and a full assessment of safe alternatives."
And several other commenters brought up the issue of exemptions, including Norway, which said:
"The document gives the impression that all requests for exemptions have been accepted and that no critical review of the exception requests that have come from industry or industry organisations have been made.
"It appears that most of the exceptions included in the EU Restriction are also included automatically, without a critical review of the needs for these globally. Even when alternatives are available, exemptions are suggested."
BiPRO's Mr Potrykus said it was "important to emphasise that ... we are not the drafter of the RME. The European Commission is the drafter. BiPRO assists the EU Commission in doing this according to its mandate from [them]."
It must also be noted, he added, that the draft RME was drawn up in a transparent process. "As a consequence, [it] includes information and positions from industry as well as from governments or NGOs or other interested parties and also takes due account of the views of the POPRC."
The information compiled includes the full range of options for possible exemptions, he said. This will serve as the basis for the discussions at the upcoming POPRC meeting.
Donald Trump’s negative environmental record in Scotland and elsewhere has conservationists concerned in Bali, where Trump firms are developing a major resort and golf facility known as Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali.
Another resort under development, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare facility including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, villas, condos and 18-hole golf course threatens the nearby Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of Java’s last virgin tropical forests.
Mongabay looked into Trump’s claims that he is an environmentalist, winning “many, many environmental awards.” We were able to locate just two — one a local New York award, and another granted by a golf business association. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests to list Mr. Trump’s awards.
Trump’s environmental record as president, and as a businessman, is abysmal, say critics. His attempt to defund the U.S. Energy Star program, they say, is typical of a compulsion to protect his self interest: Energy Star has given poor ratings to nearly all Trump’s hotels, which experts note has possibly impacted his bottom line.
Who doesn’t like a luxury resort and 18-hole golf course set atop a sheer cliff with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean? Revered Hindu Gods that inhabit the temple nearby, according to the local Balinese concerned over plans to open the Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali. Local environmentalists aren’t keen on the resort either.
The Balinese worry that the Trump development will loom over the centuries-old Tanah Lot, a temple that sits upon a rock off the west coast of the wildly Instagrammed and oft visited Indonesian island.
This particular holy site is one of the most venerated temples of the “Island of Gods.” And while the Balinese are ever welcoming to tourists — important to the island’s economy —their religion, and laws, stipulate that all non-religious buildings not exceed 15 meters, or the height of temples, and more or less the height of a coconut tree.
The Trump tower, resort and golf course, now still in the planning stage, also pose environmental concerns. Suriadi Darmoko — Executive Director of the Indonesian environmental NGO, Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WHALI) Eksekutif Daerah Bali — believes the island does not need more hotel suites and jacuzzis.
A 2010 study by Indonesia’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, he notes, found Bali had a surplus of 9,800 hotel rooms. And according to a report by the HVS consulting firm, the average occupancy of upper luxury hotels in 2013 in Bali achieved only 60 percent.
Darmoko is especially worried about the Trump project’s plans to expand the property around the existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. The amount of “farmland in Bali drops” when land is transferred to “becoming tourist accommodations and supporting facilities” he told Mongabay. “What Bali needs is a tourism accommodation moratorium,” during which the government could “conduct a study to calculate the supporting capacity and supporting ability of the environment in Bali.”
The Trump tower project will be developed by MNC Group, Indonesia’s leading investment firm, and will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection. As reported by Reuters last February, Herman Bunjamin — the vice president director at PT MNC Land Tbk (MNC Group’s property unit) — has assured the Balinese that the company would follow local government environmental regulations, and respect the Hindu religion.
However, this is not the first time a Trump construction project has experienced a swirl of controversy around its potential environmental impacts. And that worries local Balinese communities and conservationists, even though Trump himself has claimed many times that he is an award-winning environmentalist — a claim we’ll explore in some detail later in this article.
Ever since the 70-year-old billionaire was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in January 2017, watchdog organizations have paid extra close attention to the past, and ongoing, international environmental record of Trump’s companies, especially considering that Trump has largely retained his ownership interest in his businesses.
Trump: mixing politics, golf and the environment
According to Investopedia, before becoming president, Donald Trump had amassed a net worth of an estimated $3.5 billion. The Trump Organization LLC acts as the primary holding for Trump’s firms, and serves as an umbrella company for his investments in real estate, brands and other businesses, ranging from golf courses to hotels.
Among its key executives are two of his sons: Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who last March told Forbes he will not talk business with his father in order to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, but will only pass financial reports to him. Ivanka Trump, the President’s elder daughter, resigned from her father’s company in January and today works as an unpaid adviser to him in the White House.
Golf is one of the many businesses that made Trump rich. According to the financial disclosure form published last June by the Office of Government Ethics, Trump’s golf courses alone reported $288 million in income from January 2016 through April 15, 2017.
In recent years the sport has increased wildly in popularity, and today golf is a multi-billion dollar industry: as of year-end 2016 there were golf facilities in 208 of the 245 countries in the world. However, the perfect manicured green color of the globe’s 33,161 courses comes at a high price to the environment.
A study by Kit Wheeler and John Nauright of Georgia Southern University found that golf course construction often consists in “clearing of natural vegetation, deforestation, destruction of natural landscapes and habitats and changes in local topography and hydrology” in order to roughly replicate the barren Scottish Highlands in which the game originated. That unnatural landscaping often leads to erosion and habitat loss, not to mention the fact that the maintenance of a standard 9-hole needs a great deal of synthetic chemicals — many deemed hazardous to wildlife — to keep it lush and green, including fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides.
The environmental problems associated with golf, the authors note, are particularly acute in Southeast Asia due to the sudden boom of the sport there and due the fact that golf course maintenance in the tropics is far more difficult than in other parts of the world because of the higher levels of rainfall, greater numbers of pests, diseases and weeds.
According to UNEP, golf course maintenance can also deplete freshwater resources — an average course in a tropical country needs 1,500 kilograms (3,307 pounds) of chemicals annually, and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. This astronomical use of resources is hard to justify in the developing world where competition for water and cropland, amid soaring populations, is intense. The problem is further complicated by weak environmental regulation and enforcement plus corruption, all too typically seen in developing countries.
Today, Trump Golf boasts a portfolio of 17 courses across the globe stretching from the jagged California cliffs to the (previously) barren desert of Dubai. This empire is expanding, and 2018 will see the opening of Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare (1,730 acre) development including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, luxury villas, condominiums, and, of course, an 18-hole signature championship golf course.
This new Trump-branded property will be set in the mountains of West Java, around 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Jakarta and beside the Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of the island’s last virgin tropical forests.
The project has become a major concern to RMI, the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment, an NGO whose goal is the promotion of community-based natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in the region.
“[T]here are major concerns from the local villagers on [how much of the] water supply that will still be available to them because the project is estimated to demand [lots] of water for their luxury facilities,” RMI’s Executive Director Mardha Tillah told Mongabay, pointing out that the Trump facility will be built in an important water catchment area.
After “a public discussion that was organized by local youth, the local sub-regency government officials stated that the environmental impact assessment was not complete yet, although some construction had been undergone — e.g. a reservoir,” she said.
The Associated Press reports, that the development is causing concern among Indonesian environmentalists, who fear for the nearby national park and its threatened animals, including the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), the Endangered Javan leaf monkey (Presbytis comata), the Vulnerable Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas), and Endangered Javan silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).
Tillah shares these fears. “I am very much keen on looking at the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] document that shows how this resort does not affect any wildlife in this area,” she said.
Considering the President’s abysmal environmental record and his anti-environmental pro-business views, it is hard not to imagine that this anti-regulatory philosophy permeates Trump’s companies. During the election, Donald Trump stated that, “[W]e’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Both Trump’s Balinese and Javan projects will be developed in partnership with MNC Group, who is also building the new Bogor-Sukabumi toll road, scheduled for completion at the end of 2017 which will provide direct access to Lido Lakes, reducing the drive time from Jakarta.
The highway, like tropical pavement around the world, is transforming the pastoral region. “The toll road has changed the landscape of rural areas of Bogor — paddy fields are replaced by the toll road projects,” said RMI’s Tillah. “If only it was not for this resort project, [the] toll road might not be constructed, because it was neglected due to lack of investors for more than a decade.”
“On the other hand,” she added, “improvement in [regional] train service and an increase of [operating] frequency [could] already [have served as an alternative] solution for [moving] people.”
ABC revealed that Donald Trump personally lobbied for the road with senior Indonesian politicians in September 2015 at Trump Tower in New York, when he was both in negotiations over the Lido development and running for the presidency. According to ABC, the meeting was not authorized by the Indonesian Government, and was held with the direct assistance of Trump business partner Hary Tanoesoedibjo, President Commissioner and Founder of the MNC Group.
Tanoesoedibjo, a media mogul who created his own Indonesian political party in 2015, attended Trump’s inauguration last January. As the Nikkei Asian Review pointed out, he is the subject of a police investigation for allegations of intimidation and corruption, which he claims are politically motivated.
The Scottish saga
One of the best places to view the ongoing relationship between Trump’s businesses and the environment is in Scotland; the fact that golf originated there has done little to make that association run more smoothly.
For more than a decade, Trump’s golf course on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, has been at the center of a heated dispute between those who support and oppose it. Trump International Golf Course Scotland won planning permission in 2008, but conservationists objected to the project because it would radically transform large parts of one of the country’s rarest coastal dune habitats.
“The construction of Trump International Links has had an irreversible and unjustified impact on a fragile dune system, in particular a large area of the internationally important Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI],” Bruce Wilson, Senior Policy Officer of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, told Mongabay.
“Unfortunately this planning application was approved by the Scottish Government despite evidence that it was easily possible to build two world class courses on the Menie Estate without destroying the SSSI,” he added.
Trump has also been involved in a long-running row with the Scottish government over the impact of windfarms on his golf course.
Before his White House campaign, he sent letters to the then first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to urge him to withdraw his support for windfarm development. In this series of messages, obtained by the Huffington Post thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, Trump labeled windfarms as “monsters,” suggested without evidence that “wind power doesn’t work,” and told Salmond “your economy will become a third world wasteland that investors will avoid,” if the green energy alternative was embraced by Scotland.
Trump’s resistance didn’t end there. The U.S. president-elect exhorted the leader of UK Independence party (UKIP) Nigel Farage and key associates to lobby against the Scottish windfarms. However, none of this aided Trump’s crusade against the turbines, and in December 2015 he lost a Scottish Supreme Court battle against the installation of an windfarm located several miles offshore of his course.
Last July the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the country’s principal environmental regulator, also raised formal objections to the Trump company’s proposals for a second 18-hole course in Aberdeenshire. Now the organization will have to revise its plans to make sure its project does not violate sewage pollution, environmental protection and groundwater conservation rules.
A statement by Trump International Golf Links published by the BBC reads in part:
The recent correspondence between Trump International, the local authority and statutory consultants is a normal part of the planning process and the regular ongoing dialogue conducted during the application process. SNH and Sepa always reference a range of policy considerations and factors which is standard practice and nothing out of the ordinary. Our application is making its way through the planning system and this dialogue will continue until it goes before committee for consideration. The Dr Martin Hawtree designed second golf course is located to the south of the Trump estate and does not occupy a Site of Special Scientific Interest therefore is not covered by any environmental designations.
We are extremely confident in our proposal and that this process will reach a satisfactory conclusion acceptable to all parties on our world class development.
What’s good for Trump is good for the U.S. and world…
During his campaign Donald Trump said he wanted to get rid of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “in almost every form.” Now that he is President, Trump appears to be moving toward that goal, and some of his businesses are among the institutions that could benefit from a dramatic roll back in environmental regulations. A look at Trump’s attacks on the U.S. EPA, and the business rationale for those assaults, is enlightening when studying the actions of Trump businesses around the world.
For instance, Trump issued an executive order commanding the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) — a rule that greatly irks golf course developers.
Last March, Bob Helland, director of congressional and federal affairs of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), issued a statement that makes clear why his association opposes the Clean Water Rule as written: “Under the rule, golf courses could likely be required to obtain costly federal permits for any land management activities or land use decisions in, over or near these waters, such as pesticide and fertilizer applications and stream bank restorations and the moving of dirt. The impact on golf course management could be dramatic.”
In 2016, the GSCAA praised Trump as “a president who understands the value of the game of golf, both as a golfer and golf course owner,” who “is also familiar with the H-2B Visa program that a number of golf facilities utilize, including one of his own in Florida.” This visa program allows U.S. employers, or agents who meet specific regulatory requirements, to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. “This could lead to a breakthrough in the red tape that makes using the program so frustrating,” said GSCAA. These statements shine a bright light on the imbalance between the administration’s business, environmental and immigration policies.
World-class hotels form another cornerstone of the Trump financial empire. So when the president proposed cutting all funding to EPA’s very successful 25-year-old Energy Star Program, a program meant to save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, CNN launched an investigation to see how Trump businesses might benefit from its elimination.
It turns out that the government’s Energy Star for Hotels ranking process provides an assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to its peers, taking into account local climate, weather and business activities at the property. Energy Star claims these ratings can affect the value of a property — the media investigation discovered that Trump’s properties tend to receive low ratings.
According to CNN, “[t]he most recent scores from 2015 reveal that 11 of his 15 skyscrapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco are less energy efficient than most comparable buildings. On a scale of 1 to 100 for energy efficiency, Manhattan’s old Mayfair Hotel, which Trump converted into condos, rated a 1,” the lowest rating possible.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected the Trump’s administration proposal to eliminate Energy Star, but its spending bill for 2018, which came out in early July, proposed reducing funding by roughly 40 percent, a cut to $31 million.
Critics say that such a deep reduction will be significantly harmful to the environment. “We appreciate that the committee has rejected the administration’s proposal… but a 40 percent cut would be crippling as well,” said the President of the Alliance to Save Energy Kateri Callahan in a press statement.
In 2014, EPA estimated that Energy Star has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons since 1992, while also providing energy cost savings to consumers, hotels and other industries.
“I have to wonder where this is coming from,” Callahan said, stressing the fact that Energy Star is one of the most popular government programs in U.S. history and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was created under President George H.W. Bush.
Donald Trump, award-winning environmentalist?
Donald Trump has been claiming he is an environmentalist at least since 2011, when he told Fox & Friends that “I’ve received many, many environmental awards”.
“I am a big believer in clean air and clean water. I’m a big believer. I have gotten so many awards for the environment,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa. “I won many environmental awards, I have actually been called an environmentalist, if you believe it,” he repeated at a rally in Atkinson, New Hampshire.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross echoed that assessment on NBC’s Today show. Trump, he said, “is an environmentalist. I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s very pro-environment.”
Politifact found a grain of truth in Trump’s statements. A decade ago two local groups did award Trump for specific projects. In 2007, he received the Friends of Westchester County Parks’ inaugural Green Space Award for donating 436 acres to the New York state park system, and in the same year his Bedminster New Jersey Trump National Golf Course received the first annual environmental award of the The Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA).
MGA’s press statement reads: “Through the leadership of Donald J. Trump, [director of grounds] Nicoll has implemented an environmental strategy that has resulted in the preservation of a dedicated 45 acre grassland bird habitat on the property, as well as intensive erosion control and stream stabilization management plan. The impacts of golf construction and operations on this land have resulted in a significant environmental net gain from the previous land use. Trump National has made itself readily available to Bedminster Township officials by way of monthly meetings to keep them up to date on the club’s environmental monitoring activities.”
MGA also said that, while planning the construction of an additional course, the club integrated environmental awareness into their golf course maintenance and construction plans by maintaining more stringent standards than those required by state and local regulations.
However, critics note, if Donald Trump is an environmentalist, he is not an orthodox one. In his tweets, he has referred to global warming as “a canard,” something “mythical,” “based on faulty science and manipulated data,” “nonexistent” or “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and also as “a total, and very expensive, hoax,” not to mention “bullshit.”
Nor does he show his environmentalism in the associates with which he surrounds himself. When choosing someone to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump picked climate science denier Myron Ebell, who believes the environmental movement is “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” His EPA head is the former Oklahoma attorney Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic whose LinkedIn profile says he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt in the past sued EPA 14 times to block clean air and water safeguards, and recently denied that carbon dioxide causes global warming.
However, big business can save big bucks by being environmentally friendly, and that is something that did not go unnoticed at Trump’s environmental award-winning New Jersey golf courses. The Wall Street Journal reported that both of them qualify as a farmland because they are not only sports fields, but also home to activities associated to farming such as hay production and woodcutting. The Bedminster golf course is even home to a small goat herd that grazes overgrown grass. It is not clear exactly how much the tax breaks save Trump, but the Journal estimates the courses pay less than $1,000 in annual taxes instead of the $80,000 that would be standard for such properties.
Still, experts note, anyone saying that Donald Trump always puts profit and his assets ahead of the environment would be wrong. In truth, Trump’s policies could do serious harm to his businesses. As Buzz Feed News notes, Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement likely means continuing rising sea levels and more extreme storms, which both threaten his low-lying properties, including the Trump National Doral in the Miami suburbs, a luxury golf resort that could end up submerged. Indeed, had Hurricane Irma tracked east of Florida instead of west, as originally expected, it’s likely the storm, supercharged by some of the warmest Caribbean waters on record, would have made a direct hit on Mar-A-Lago, the so-called Winter White House.
Conflict of interest?
The U.S. Congress has exempted the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest laws Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code. This decision was based on the premise that the presidency wields so much power that virtually any possible executive action might pose a potential conflict of interest (COI).
Last November, during his first news conference since his election, Trump declared: “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is — I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t want to take advantage of something.”
Many watchdog organizations have been less complacent than Congress and the President concerning COIs — including those involving presidential power, the Trump companies, and the environment. These NGOs are watching to see if Trump international and domestic business deals have political implications, or if any policies promoted by his administration seem designed to benefit Trump businesses.
The President’s just proposed tax reforms are a case in point — watchdog groups, the media and financial experts began looking for COIs and policy points benefiting Trump’s tax bracket and his businesses within hours of the announcement of the merest sketch of a tax reform plan.
“Presidents have historically understood that there can be a conflict of interest even if the law doesn’t technically apply, and they have followed the same standards that apply to other federal employees,” Clark Pettig, American Oversight’s Communications Director, told Mongabay.
American Oversight (AO) is a watchdog organization that is investigating numerous COIs across the Trump administration. For instance, it sued EPA to force the release of communications between regulators and industry groups, and to uncover the role investor Carl Icahn has played in setting policy. AO has also launched a broad investigation of the administration’s payments to Trump-owned businesses, and has submitted FOIA requests for documents related to the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Pettig believes Trump clearly has a conflict of interest as he serves as President while also owning and profiting from a global business empire.
“Rather than “draining the swamp,” the Trump administration has brought unprecedented conflicts of interests to Washington,” he said. “From rolling back environmental regulations that could impact his golf courses, to using diplomatic events to promote his own resorts, President Trump seems determined to use his power to enrich himself and his business empire,” Pettig said.
Laura Friedenbach, Deputy Communications Director of Every Voice, a Washington-based watchdog organization whose aim is to reduce the influence of money in politics, is concerned as well. “When a public official is making decisions on behalf of the American people and also has a large personal stake in the outcome, it presents a conflict of interest,” she told Mongabay.
“The conflicts of interest facing President Trump and his cabinet raise real questions about where the Trump administration’s priorities lie,” Friedenbach said. “Are they doing what’s best for the American people, or are they letting their own interests and the interests of their business partners get in the way?”
“If President Trump and his cabinet are more concerned with boosting profits for companies they have a stake in, and personal ties with, including fossil fuel companies, then the result will be slowing down progress on combatting the effects of climate change,” she declared.
The Trump Organization, Trump Hotels, Trump Golf, and MNC Land did not reply to Mongabay’s multiple requests to comment for this article; nor did they answer questions sent to them concerning their projects’ environmental impacts, Energy Star ratings, Trump’s environmental awards, and steps to reduce project carbon footprint.
Sewage plants are leaking millions of tiny plastic beads into Britain's seas
The plastic beads used for filtering sewage are hard to spot and pose a risk to wildlife, according to a new report
Aerial view Dalmarnock Sewage Treatment Works in Glasgow
Microplastics used in wastewater plants could be contributing to the problem of plastic pollution in oceans, according to the report. Photograph: Sandy Young/Alamy Stock Photo
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Wednesday 11 October 2017 00.01 EDT
Sewage plants are contributing to plastic pollution in the oceans with millions of tiny beads spilling into the seas around the UK, according to a new report.
Dozens of UK wastewater treatment plants use tiny plastic pellets, known as Bio-Beads, to filter chemical and organic contaminants from sewage, according to a study from the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition (CPPC).
It found that many millions of these pellets, which are only about 3.5mm wide, have been spilled and ended up in the environment.
Report author Claire Wallerstein said once the Bio-Beads had been released they are hard to spot and almost impossible to remove – yet can cause significant harm to marine wildlife.
“We are learning more all the time about the environmental impact of consumer microplastics in wastewater, such as laundry fibres, cosmetic microbeads and tyre dust,” said Wallerstein.
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“However, it now seems that microplastics used in the wastewater plants’ own processes could also be contributing to the problem.”
However, South West Water it said there was “no evidence that Bio-Beads are currently being released into the marine environment” from any of its sites. It said only nine of its 655 plants use Bio-Beads but did accept there had been spills in the past that “were subsequently cleaned up”.
A spokesperson added: “We worked with the authors to encourage evidence-based rigour to this well-intentioned report. However, in parts, it remains anecdotal rather than factual, some of its conclusions are not supported by evidence and it insufficiently differentiates between nurdles [tiny pellets that form the basis of most plastic products] and Bio-Beads.”
However, Wallerstein said samples had been analysed by a plastics expert who had been studying nurdles for 20 years and he had confirmed they were Bio-Beads.
The Bio-Bead system is used in at least 55 wastewater treatment plants around the UK, according to CPPC.
Wallerstein said the scale of the subsequent pollution could be far-reaching adding that in Cornwall Bio-Beads account for the majority of industrial plastic pellets found littering the beaches.
“We know that these Bio-Beads have now reached the coast of northern Europe as well as the beaches here in the UK. What we need is more research into the scale of this problem and for a concerted effort by water companies to do something about it.”
Industrial pellets and small bits of plastic such as Bio-Beads are mistaken for food by birds, fish, and other marine animals. These particles can kill animals, not only by causing digestive blockages, but also as a result of the high concentrations of pollutants, such as DDT and PCBs, which adhere to them in seawater.
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Plastic pollution can also enter the food chain. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.
Wallerstein said: “We understand that Bio-Bead plants have been good at improving the quality of the effluent discharged by our wastewater plants – but this should not involve the risk of polluting our seas and waterways with microplastics, which could have long-term and far-reaching consequences.”
Bio-Beads are used in the last step of the sewage cleaning process before treated effluent water is released back into rivers or straight into the sea. There is currently no mechanism in place to trap lost Bio-Beads in the event of a spill and the CPPC report details several spills and near misses in recent years.
Wallerstein said: “We believe that the Bio-Bead system is far too vulnerable to losses. We are calling for a range of safeguards to be put in place at all plants using it, and ultimately for water companies to phase out its use altogether.”
South West Water said it welcomed the report but called for more research.
“We commend the report’s authors in raising this subject but they insufficiently acknowledge other potential sources of small plastic pellets on South West beaches such as plastic manufacturing plants in the UK and abroad, or spills from container ships, all of which are worthy of further investigation.”
Extending the life of the Springvale coal mine will raise to "extreme" the risk of damage to upland swamps while locking in long-term pollution issues for Sydney's water catchment, according to evidence prepared for the Land and Environment Court.
Whether the court will hear such evidence is in doubt, however, after the Berejiklian government revealed on Monday plans to weaken laws protecting water quality.
New legislation to be introduced to parliament on Tuesday will nullify a ruling by the Court of Appeal in August that the mine extension approval was invalid.
Opponents of the mine, which is located near Lithgow and is the sole source of fuel for the nearby Mount Piper power station, planned to call six experts later this month to challenge claims advanced by mine owner Centennial and plant owner EnergyAustralia to support the extension.
"We're concerned not only about the pollution impacts on Sydney's water quality, but also the permanent and significant damage to the upland swamps," said Andrew Cox, president at the 4Nature group that has led the legal challenge since the mine's extension was approved two years ago.
Energy Minister Don Harwin said the government needed to push through changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment (EP&A;) Act to validate the mine expansion and keep Mount Piper supplying about 11 per cent of the state's electricity.
"We're doing what we need to do, and what's in the interest of NSW," Mr Harwin told reporters, arguing that waiting for the Land and Environment's resolution would risk sending electricity prices higher and heighten prospects of blackouts during this summer if Mount Piper ran out of coal.
A water treatment plant would be in place by mid-2019, so "you'll have no more discharge from the power station or the mine into the Upper Coxs Valley", he said. The Coxs is the second largest source of water for Sydney's main reservoir at Warragamba.
Mr Cox, though, said the government "has been deceived about the extent of the problem", with 4Nature planning to present proof existing coal stockpiles at the mine and power plant were sufficient to maintain generation through the summer and beyond.
4Nature also planned to highlight to the court findings earlier this year by the Independent Monitoring Panel that examined risks to upland swamps from subsidence caused by the underground mine.
The risk rating for the Gang Gang East Swamps above "has been increased to 'high', [and] it could be argued this should be raised to 'extreme'", the panel said.
The swamps are nationally significant and home to the threatened giant dragonfly and endangered Blue Mountains water skink that could be wiped out if the damage continued, Keith Muir, Director The Colong Foundation for Wilderness, said.
Mr Muir also noted the construction of a treatment plant left unanswered the question of who would pay for it once the mine closes.
"Who'll run it then?," he said."The mine water will still come out of the mine."
Centennial Coal, owner of the Springvale mine, welcomed the government's plan to rush through new legislation. It declined to comment on coal stocks, the impact on swamps and future water treatment.
Fairfax Media also sought comment on those issues from Mr Harwin, and from EnergyAustralia.
Adam Searle, Labor's energy spokesman, said the government had 10 weeks to sit down with the parties and seek a resolution, but had failed to act. Labor had to see the legislation before deciding its stance, he said.
The whole issue, though, "was a very good illustration of the state's over-reliance on coal-fired power" and the need to accelerate the introduction of renewable energy to diversify risks, he said.
Jeremy Buckingham, the Greens energy spokesman, said the government was "seeking to 'grandfather' all existing coal projects to allow them to keep polluting at their current levels, even if they expand or modify their mines".
"The legislation appears to go far beyond what was necessary to keep Mt Piper power station supplied with coal," he said. "They are essentially ripping up the important 'neutral or beneficial' test that is meant to protect our drinking water catchments."
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