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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for October, 2007

Not Moose and squirrel. . .


Canada geese and black bears are the fauna of the week at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to a couple of announcements.

First up, are the feathered folks. The DEC in November will hold two workshops on resolving Canada geese conflicts in the Hudson Valley.

As for bears, hunters have two extra days this year to hunt them in the Catskills. That’s part of an effort, the DEC says to stabilize an expanding population. No word on whether no action now will result in geese-like numbers for the bears . . .

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007 at 4:56 pm |
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$90 million for the Sound


Save the Sound had reason to celebrate this week as Connecticut legislators approved $90 million for the state’s Clean Water Fund, which pays for projects like improving sewage treatment plants and sewer lines.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell is “pleased with the bill,” but still has to look it over before deciding whether to sign it, one of her spokespeople, Rich Harris, told me this morning.

Here, in part, is the press release from Save the Sound, a project of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment:

“Connecticut is beginning to rebuild its clean water legacy,� said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “Our leaders are to be congratulated for working to resuscitate the state’s clean water investments. This $90 million general obligation bond allotment keeps alive a vision of clean rivers, safe waters and a healthy Long Island Sound.�

The federal government and the state of Connecticut set two critical goals when it promised the state’s citizens clean and healthy water. The agreement was to stop raw sewage overflows into rivers and Long Island Sound by 2020 and to restore the low-oxygen Dead Zone in Long Island Sound by 2014. To meet these goals our municipalities need a fully functioning Clean Water Fund – the primary mechanism for funding wastewater treatment and sewer projects in Connecticut.

“While $90 million in general obligation bonds over the next year is not enough to complete all of the state’s clean water projects, it is a significant influx that should put Connecticut’s goal to restore Long Island Sound’s “Dead Zoneâ€? back on track,â€? said Schmalz. “Due to the lack of state investment in recent years, we must invest even more in coming years to fully stop the annual release of 2 billion gallons of sewage overflow. We look forward to working with our elected officials and individual towns to ensure that Clean Water Fund financing is adequate to meet these basic clean water and human health objectives.â€?

“This $90 million investment is the highest general obligation funding level to date; it is not only an investment in the water quality of Long Island Sound, it is an investment in our future,� Schmalz said.

Posted by Ken Valenti on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007 at 11:34 am |
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Back to the drawing board on nuclear waste?


Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke today at a Senate Environment and Public Works Hearing, pushing for a completely new look at alternatives to storing the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Below is the transcript of her comments as released by her Senate office:

Senator Clinton: I want to begin by thanking Chairman Boxer for holding this hearing. I think it is particularly timely because we are nearing a critical stage of the process, which is the June 2008 date when the Department of Energy plans to submit a license application for Yucca Mountain to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

So I think it’s important that we use this hearing to get the Administration on record in response to some important, unanswered questions about how this process will work.

I want to start by stating what the available scientific evidence makes clear: Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store spent fuel from our nation’s nuclear reactors.

First off, Yucca Mountain is located in an area of considerable seismic activity. There are 32 known active faults at or near Yucca Mountain; there have been more than 600 seismic events registering above 2.5 on the Richter scale within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain in the last 30 years. In 1992, an earthquake registering 5.6 on the Richter scale occurred just eight miles away. And just last month, it was reported that the Department of Energy had to alter plans at the site after rock samples unexpectedly revealed a fault line underneath the proposed location of the concrete pads where waste would cool before going into the repository.

Looking forward, scientists have predicted that an earthquake registering 6 or more on the Richter scale is likely to occur in the next 10,000 years, given that Nevada is the third-most earthquake-prone state in the country after California and Alaska.

An even greater potential risk at the site is its history of volcanic activity. As an MIT geologist testified to this committee last year, and I quote:

“Though the likelihood of an explosive volcano erupting directly beneath the repository is remote, the outcome would be devastating, spewing radioactive material directly into the atmosphere. End quote.

In addition, the rock at the site has proven to be more porous than the Department of Energy once thought, raising major concerns about contamination of scarce groundwater less than 100 miles from Las Vegas. In recent years, scientists discovered that radiation from nuclear tests done in the 1950s had migrated downward with rain water to more than six hundred feet below ground—rates far faster than predicted by Department of Energy. This poses the threat of corrosion of the containers in which the waste would be stored, as well as the potential for much more rapid spread of contamination in groundwater.

Because of these many flaws in the geology of the site, the DOE has turned to what it calls “engineered controls� to try to contain the waste. In other words, the containers that the waste would be stored in are to be trusted to resist rusting for hundreds of thousands of years under intense heat and the presence of humidity.

Given these problems, it is not surprising that the Administration has been so opaque about the licensing process. As the testimony of Nevada’s Attorney General makes clear, the licensing process puts the cart before the horse. EPA has yet to finalize the radiation standards that [DOE] must prove it will be able meet in order to license the repository, and the NRC has stated they will accept the application even if EPA standards are not in place when it is filed.

Madame Chairman, does this make sense at all? Is this site and this process really the best we can do?

I know that some believe that Yucca Mountain is a referendum on the future of nuclear power, or that the waste accumulating across the country is imperative enough to override the clear problems with the site. I strongly disagree. That’s why I voted against the resolution overriding Nevada’s veto of Yucca Mountain in July of 2002, and that’s why I remain opposed today.

We do need to find a long-term storage solution for our nation’s nuclear waste. But Yucca Mountain is not the answer. It’s time to step back and take a deep breath. The twenty-five years since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act passed seems like a long time ago. But this is a decision that future generations will live with for hundreds of thousands of years—longer than any of us can imagine.

So we need to get it right. It’s time move on from Yucca Mountain. I believe we should start over, and assemble our best scientific minds to identify alternatives. In the meantime, we need to make sure we are storing waste safely and securely at the reactor sites where it’s located today. And we need to do better thinking about the massive challenge of transporting waste safely and securely from reactor sites to a permanent repository.

What we should not do is to push an incomplete application for a flawed site through a rushed and incoherent process. But unfortunately, it is clear from the testimony submitted by our witnesses representing the Administration that that is precisely the course of action that this Administration intends to pursue. I think we can do better, and I hope that we will get the chance to do that.

Posted by Greg Clary on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007 at 11:26 am |


Cut ’em off at the pass


I found my 13,000th letter from Capitol One in my mailbox yesterday, reminding me that I could have one of their credit cards by sending in an application. Thanks. I have all the credit cards I need (one) and have been routinely throwing their requests for new business in the trash along with all the other solicitations we get at our house. I’m in charge of little, but junk mail is ALL MINE.

I was frustrated enough to take do something about it immediately and tore open the letter to locate a customer service number to tell them to stop sending me something I wasn’t going to use. After all, why have them waste their money, right?

What I found was even better than I expected and is worth passing on: Call 1-888-OPT-OUT (678-688) and you can “stop receiving pre-screened offers of credit” from a bunch of credit card and insurance companies.

It’s a little weird because, of course, you never talk to a human and they try to get you to say your Social Security number over the phone. (I just said no over and over until they completed my request without it.) It is also a bit scary because if you call from your home phone, they already know who you are and what your address is. Convenient, of course, but still a little frightening in a “1984” way.

By the time you’re done, you can do it for yourself and your spouse (and children, though I didn’t try that) and you won’t be solicited for five years. Might as well get to the root of the problem and stop the mailings before they get to the post office, eh? Good luck. It seems like a good idea. I hope I don’t have to eat my words.

Posted by Greg Clary on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 at 3:43 pm |
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What you may have missed in Driver’s Ed


Football, colorful leaves, back-to-school sales and wildlife dead on the highway are just a few of the seasonal signs, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

The organization has mounted a “Watch Out for Wildlife” campaign, which includes tips on how to avoid car-animal collisions and what to do if you hit one. “Think like an animal” is one suggestion. Enlisting your passengers for assistance is another – kind of like riding shotgun without the shotgun.

“Pay attention to both sides of the road by scanning from side to side. If you have passengers, ask them to help you keep an eye out for animals.”

The first 1,000 drivers to take the WOFW pledge get a free car kit.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 at 2:09 pm |
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Bzzz on Silence of the Bees


Two things jumped out at me last night while watching “Silence of the Bees” on PBS, which took an in-depth look at the worldwide die-off of honeybee colonies.

The first was that without honeybees we’d pretty much be reduced to eating corn, rice or wheat, which are wind-pollinated crops. The second was how one researcher summed up the danger posed by Colony Collapse Disorder:

The future of our food supply rests on the tiny honeybee.

The Nature show will air again Saturday at 6 p.m. on Channel 13 if you want to catch it. Read a review of the “Silence of the Bees” here.

More from this blog about CCD and honeybees can be found here.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, October 29th, 2007 at 12:51 pm |
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State of green


New York came in at number 9 on the list of America’s greenest states, according to a study by Forbes magazine. Small living and working spaces in NYC, second lowest consumption of energy per capita and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions came together to place NY in the top ten. But, believe it or not, the Empire State couldn’t best New Jersey.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, October 25th, 2007 at 4:56 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

A fall scene


Need a moment of serenity? This one is bought to you by the Patterson Environmental Park, a slice of the Great Swamp steps away from Patterson’s train station.


Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 at 12:19 pm |

Sticky nose


What’s the blue bird with the “sticky nose”? That’s the question that floated down the stairs this morning as my daughter was in the midst of rushing through dressing for kindergarten. She knows what a blue bird looks like, so I knew that wasn’t what she spied through the window.

Then I realized by sticky, she meant like a stick, not tacky as in gummy or gluey. She talked about the bird having blue on its back and being white on its belly. I decided she must have seen a blue jay, which when you think about it, does have a stick-looking bill.

For another take on blue jays, read this.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 at 10:40 am |
| | 1 Comment »


Pretty Big Lakes?


If this keeps up, the “Great” in the Great Lakes may be a misnomer. Water levels in the Great Lakes are falling, which according to the story in today’s New York Times, is bad news for shipping. It also, when you stop to think about it, can’t be good news for all the wildlife that depend on the lakes, the tourism linked to fishing, those who get their drinking water from the lakes, etc.

Here’s how the NYT story sums up the cause:

Most environmental researchers say that low precipitation, mild winters and high evaporation, due largely to a lack of heavy ice covers to shield cold lake waters from the warmer air above, are depleting the lakes. The Great Lakes follow a natural cycle, their levels rising in the spring, peaking in the summer and reaching a low in the winter, as the evaporation rate rises.

In the past two years, evaporation has been higher than average, and not enough rain and snow have fallen in the upper lakes — Superior, Michigan and Huron — which supply water to the lower lakes, to restore the system to its normal levels, said Keith Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist at the Corps of Engineers’ office in Detroit, which monitors water levels in the lakes.”

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007 at 1:48 pm |
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About this blog
The Nature of Things provides a chance to talk about the wild denizens that share the Lower Hudson Valley with us and the natural settings that make this place home for everyone. From Long Island Sound to the Hudson River to the Great Swamp and beyond, almost anything related to the environment is fair game in this blog.


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About the authors
SBenischekJournal News staff writer Greg Clary writes Earth Watch, reporting on environmental issues in the lower Hudson region. Clary has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Journal News since 1988 and has covered police and courts, transportation, municipal government, development and the environment in the Lower Hudson Valley, among other topics.
Laura IncalcaterraLaura Incalcaterra covers the environment, open space and zoning and planning issues for The Journal News. A Boston College graduate, Laura grew up in Rockland, attended East Ramapo schools and has worked for The Journal News since 1993. Laura has written features and covered North Rockland, crime, government and a host of other issues.
SBenischekMike Risinit covers Patterson and Kent in Putnam County, as well as environmental topics touching on the Hudson River and the Great Swamp. Risinit has been a reporter at The Journal News since 1998.
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