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Our Daily Planet: Pence fam sticks taxpayers w/$20mil bill, Wrangler saves the soils and Yosemite wildfires blaze
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, July 16th, 2018

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 Energy

A tank being torn down at a Kiel Bros. facility in Indiana. Photo: Brian Slodysko/AP
Pence Family Sticks Indiana Taxpayers with $20 Million Clean Up Bill

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the Pence family left taxpayers on the hook for over $20 million to clean up the environmental contamination at the sites of their former string of gas stations after Kiel Bros. Oil Co. declared bankruptcy in 2004. Most revealing from AP's investigation is that the state of Indiana, and to a smaller extent, Kentucky and Illinois are still on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states, including underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams and wells. Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site, according to an analysis of records by AP. And the work is nowhere near complete. Additionally, the federal government is stuck cleaning up a plume of cancer-causing solvent discovered beneath a former Kiel Bros. station that threatens drinking water near the Pence family's hometown.


Why This Matters: Vice President Mike Pence and his older brother Greg Pence--who was president of Kiel Bros. when it went bankrupt--have been outspoken critics of any action that raises public debt and spending. In fact, Mike Pence has previously justified America leaving the Paris Climate Agreement because it is an unnecessary burden on the economy while Greg Pence is running for Congress in Indiana's 6th district on a platform that prioritizes fiscal responsibility. Neither of them will answer questions about the Kiel Bros. clean up scandal and their underlying hypocrisy when it comes to use of taxpayer dollars. 

VP Pence's spokeswoman Alyssa Farah called AP's findings “a years old issue” that the vice president has addressed before but wouldn't elaborate any further. While Greg Pence spokeswoman Molly Gillaspie said that “Greg Pence has had nothing to do with Kiel Bros since 2004. This is another attempt by the liberal media to rehash old, baseless attacks.”

When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana he vehemently opposed the Obama Administration's tightening of environmental regulation all while knowing that his family's lack of adherence to regulation polluted communities and then forced them to pay for the cleanup--Hoosiers and all Americans deserve better!

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 Water

Photo: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
HABs Are Back -- From Ohio to Florida

Harmful Algal Blooms (aka HABs) are a side effect of pollution generally coming from agricultural runoff -- and they are an increasing annoyance to boaters and swimmers in places like Lake Erie.  Last week, Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich signed an Executive Order directing the State EPA to create new regulations aimed at reducing fertilizer, manure or phosphorous runoff from farming and agriculture because voluntary practices are not sufficiently addressing the problem, according to New5 in Cleveland.  NOAA reported that the toxic pollution that In recent years had not appeared until late July or early August appeared two weeks earlier this year because the western basin of Lake Erie reached 70 degrees during the last week of May, leading to the appearance of a small bloom.

But it's not just Ohio having its summer fun ruined.  In Florida, Axios reports that "[a]n algae bloom has taken over Florida's largest freshwater lake and spread to surrounding areas, turning waters green and threatening drinking water, as well as tourism and wildlife."  As a result, Republican Governor Rick Scott (now running for Senate) declared a five-county state of emergency on July 9th to bring more resources to fight it. Meanwhile, the state of Florida was forced to halt its normal Lake Okeechobee water release and keep water and thus the toxic algae in the lake, hoping that this will allow conditions in areas downstream to improve. When the state earlier released water into the Caloosahatchee River, for example, it resulted in this major toxic pollution spreading in that waterway as well.

Why This Matters:  Outdoor recreation on lakes and rivers and coasts is not just for fun, it is an important summer economic driver.  It means lost dollars to local tourism businesses during their high season.  And the health effects are significant too.  For example, in 2014, 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio were left without drinking water for three days in 2014 because of an algae bloom in Lake Erie similar to the one that has just started this year.  Thanks to NOAA and state agencies, outbreaks can be predicted and the worst health impacts prevented -- unless the Trump Administration stops funding these activities -- which is not out of the question.  
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 Forests

Yosemite Wildfire Showing No Signs of Containment 

A wildfire burning largely out of control on the western edge of Yosemite National Park has killed one firefighter and shut down State Route 140, a major access route into the park, according to AP and Fortune Magazine. The so-called Ferguson Fire has burned through 4,310 acres and was just 2 percent contained Sunday evening, fire officials said. The fire has degraded air quality in Yosemite and has also caused numerous power outages. Some 500 firefighters were working the blaze on the ground with support from aircraft. Tragically, 36-year-old firefighter Braden Varney, was killed while using a bulldozer to dig a trench intended to slow the spread of the fire.

This fire is one of 56 wildfires that are active around the country and most concentrated in the West (California containing a high number alone). The costs of these fires are also astronomical: in 2017, though, the cost of wildfire damage was estimated at over $3 billion in California alone. Nationwide spending to fight wildfires, meanwhile, rose to more than $2 billion in 2017.​

Why This Matters: Scientists believe that climate change is increasing the likelihood that wildfires burn each summer. As the Union of Concerned Scientists explained, "Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snow-melt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire season, particularly in the western United States. These hot, dry conditions also increase the likelihood that, once wildfires are started by lightning strikes or human error, they will be more intense and long-burning."
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 Air

Photo: Trevin Shirey/Flickr

Pittsburgh's Dirty Problem

Environmental Health News reported that Pittsburgh is one of 10 major cities in the country to experience elevated levels of air pollution for more than 100 days a year, according to a new report from the Penn Environment Research and Policy Center. The study, which came out last week examined national air quality levels from 2016 in both urban and rural areas and found that amongst the most polluted cities, Pittsburgh ranked fourth most polluted, with 121 days in which half or more air monitoring locations reported elevated levels of particulate matter and ozone pollution. 

The finding means Pittsburgh has approximately four months per year when air pollution is above the level the EPA says presents "little to no risk" to human health. Other recent research indicates that the city is also in the midst of a childhood asthma epidemic. This isn't the first report to detail Pittsburgh's poor air quality. In April, Pittsburgh received all F's on the American Lung Association's annual air quality report card while during the same time the EPA threatened Pennsylvania with sanctions for failing to reduce soot pollution in Allegheny County which is currently being sued for using millions of Clean Air fund dollars to pay for an office renovation. EHN followed up on their story by reaching out to a range of regional and state politicians to get their response and what could be done to fix Pittsburgh's air quality going forward, less than half of the lawmakers they contacted were willing to give a statement. 

As Director for PennEnvironment Ashleigh Deemer stated, part of the reason air quality is so bad is that polluters violate permits all the time without being penalized and when they are don't have any financial incentive to change their behavior. A previous PennEnvironment report that found 70 percent of the region's air pollution comes from 10 just industrial sites!

Why This Matters: Air pollution is one of the biggest killers around the world and is responsible for 64 million deaths annually. It increases the burden of disease such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma especially in vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Cleaning up Pittsburgh's air is about more than getting off a list of dirty cities, it's about saving lives. 

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 Sustainability

Wrangler's Commitment to Healthy Soils

Everyone loves their jeans but cotton is one of the most environmentally-intensive crops to grow (not to mention what happens when denim moves down the supply chain with dyeing and shipping). That's why this year major denim brand Wrangler strengthened its sustainability strategy to conserve and promote the health of its producers’ fields, starting with three key practices: implementing cover crops to naturally increase soil nutrients; conservation tillage to reduce land disturbance; and crop rotation to better manage disease and pests.

Triple Pundit explained that according to the first volume of the company’s science and conservation papers, “Seeding Soil’s Potential,” the results can lead to reduced costs for growers, higher crop yields and higher soil and water retention, creating a clear benefit for growers and their most valuable asset. This new initiative aims to reduce the burden on farmland and waterways as human populations grow and place an increasing demand on agriculture. It also allows farmers to ensure the health of their soils for future generations of their family. Watch the video above to get a better idea of how Wrangler is implementing this program with its family farm suppliers.​

Why This Matters: As you read in our algal bloom story above, nutrient pollution is a big problem in America. Not only does it foul waterways and create dead zones it also threatens the safety of drinking water. Reducing the need for farmers to use fertilizer not only allows them to save money but also ensures that all that nitrogen doesn't make it into the watershed. For Wrangler specifically, this program helps make their cotton more sustainable and is also an impactful story to get people to think about where their clothes come from. 

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 Cosmos

One Astronomical Thing: Outer Space Particle Found In Antarctica

We are not rocket scientists, but last week some really smart ones reported that they found a tiny, high-energy cosmic particle called a neutrino, deep in the Antarctic ice using something called the IceCube detector.  Here is where it gets really cool -- these scientists were then able to trace this neutrino to another galaxy -- one with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar. This galaxy is really far, far away -- it sits to the left of Orion's shoulder in his constellation -- about 4 billion light-years from Earth.  CNN reported that Doug Cowen, a founding member of the IceCube collaboration and Penn State University professor of physics and astronomy, said in a statement, "[f]or 20 years, one of our dreams as a collaboration was to identify the sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, and it looks like we've finally done it!"  Way to dream big!  And thanks also goes to the U.S. government -- this research was funded by the National Science Foundation.  We highly recommend the whole CNN story or if you are really "up" to it, the NSF video discussion of the whole project -- what they are doing next is amazing!  This is what makes America great.  Just sayin!
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