Tuesday, August 18, 2015

EPA’s gross negligence at Gold King

Fear-mongering, pollution standards and negligence rules don’t apply when EPA is at fault

Paul Driessen          

On August 5, an Environmental Restoration company crew, supervised by US Environmental Protection Agency officials, used an excavator to dig away tons of rock and debris that were blocking the entrance portal of Colorado’s Gold King Mine, which had been largely abandoned since 1923. Water had been seeping into the mine and out of its portal for decades, and the officials knew (or could and should have known) the water was acidic (pH 4.0-4.5), backed up far into the mine, and laced with heavy metals.

But they kept digging – until the greatly weakened dam burst open, unleashing a 3-million-gallon (or more) toxic flood that soon contaminated the Animas and San Juan Rivers, all the way to Lake Powell in Utah. To compound the disaster, EPA then waited an entire day before notifying downstream mayors, health officials, families, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and kayakers that the water they were drinking, using for crops and livestock, or paddling in was contaminated by lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.

Three million gallons of turmeric-orange poisonous water and sludge is enough to fill a pool the size of a football field (360x160 feet) seven feet deep. Backed up hundreds of feet above the portal into mine adits, stopes, rooms and other passageways that begin at 11,458 feet above sea level, the flash-flooding water had enough power to rip out a road and propel its toxic muck hundreds of miles downstream. (You can review EPA’s incompetence and gross negligence in these project photos* and post-disaster images.)

Anyone who follows mining, oil spill and power plant accidents knows the EPA, Obama White House and Big Green environmentalist rhetoric: There is no safe threshold for chemicals. They are toxic and carcinogenic at parts per billion. The water will be unsafe for years or even decades. Wildlife will die. Corporate polluters are criminals and must pay huge fines. We will keep our boots on their necks.

This time the White House was silent, and Democrats and eco-activists rushed to defend EPA and shift the blame to mining and mining companies. EPA officials made statements they would never use if a private company had caused the blowout: EPA had simply “miscalculated” how much water had backed up. It was just trying to stick a pipe into the top of the mine to safely pump liquid out for treatment. We were “very careful.” Contaminants “are flowing too fast to be an immediate health threat.” The river is already “restoring itself” back to pre-spill levels, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy insisted.

The evidence strongly suggests that EPA never studied or calculated anything, had no operations plan vetted and approved by state officials or mining experts, was not trying to install a pipe – and was grossly careless and negligent. Toxic sludge was carried and deposited along hundreds of miles, contaminating water and riverbeds, where it will be stirred up for years during every heavy rainfall and snowmelt.

Mining engineers told me the prudent approach would have been to push or drill a 4-inch pipe through the rubble into the mine, to determine the water pressure, toxicity and extent of water backup in the mine – and then build a strong cofferdam below the portal – before proceeding. Simply removing the debris was stupid, dangerous and negligent, they said. It will take years now to correct the damage and assess costs.

A week after the great flood, EPA finally built a series of retention ponds to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals. But the August 5 surge and sludge are still contaminating Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico rivers, in arid regions where water is scarce and precious. The Navajo Tribal Unity Authority says meeting EPA standards for clean drinking water could double the tribe’s costs for building a new treatment plant and cost millions more in testing and operating expenses.

EPA says it will pay for testing, property damage, human injuries and hauling safe drinking water. But will it pay to truck in safe water for livestock and irrigation, and pay for crops and livestock lost because there is no water in the meantime, and cover millions in lost incomes for outfitters and hotel operators during what would have been their peak tourist seasons? Exxon paid such costs after the Valdez spill in Alaska; BP did likewise after its Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico; so have coal companies.

Shouldn’t EPA do likewise, instead of asserting “sovereign immunity” despite its gross negligence? Shouldn’t it cover these costs out of the millions of dollars it uses for employee bonuses and to pay environmental activists and public relations firms to promote its image and agenda – instead of sticking taxpayers with the tab via special appropriations? Will EPA reimburse state and local governments and private charities for assistance they have already rendered? Will it fire the irresponsible officials, or at least demote and discipline them? Will Environmental Restoration pay its fair share?

Under standards that EPA and environmentalists apply to the private sector, Gold King was a disaster. However, the accident could also be an impetus for reflection and responsible regulatory reform.

Anti-mining pressure groups and factions within EPA will use this accident to press for new layers of mining rules, bonds, payments and liabilities. They are unnecessary – and will only restrict the jobs, expertise and revenues needed to ensure that exploration, mining, reclamation and repair of abandoned (orphan) mines are done properly. Modern mining, processing and pollution prevention methods are vastly superior to those employed even 50 years ago, and do not cause the exaggerated impacts alleged by EarthJustice  and others. Moreover, the metals and minerals are essential for the wondrous technologies and living standards, the health, housing, transportation and recreational pursuits, that we enjoy today.

The Gold King blowout was predictable and preventable. The mine was leaking slightly polluted water, but the problem was not serious and was being addressed, and the former mining town of Silverton, CO had repeatedly asked EPA not to intervene or make Gold King a Superfund site. Mining engineers and other experts were available, and some had offered their insights and expertise. EPA ignored them.

EPA – and all government agencies – should end their We-know-best and We-know-what-we’re-doing attitudes … and seek outside advice from real experts in the trenches. They should also develop careful operating plans, assess worst-case scenarios, and take steps to ensure that the worst doesn’t happen. Sometimes they just need to do nothing, get out of the way, and let the private sector handle problems.

But they should support Clean Water Act and other revisions to make it easier, less costly and less fraught with potential liability for companies or coalitions of dedicated parties to fix pollution discharge problems at the relatively few abandoned mines that are leaking contaminated water at worrisome levels.

EPA’s new view that these pollutants are not as toxic as previously claimed – and that nature can and does clean things up – is refreshing, even if self-serving. (My use of “toxic” in this article mostly reflects currently prevailing agency, activist and public health industry attitudes and safety standards.)

Standards for maximum contaminant levels and maximum safe exposures are often absurdly low, and the concept of “linear no threshold” (that there is no safe exposure or blood or tissue level for lead, cadmium, arsenic and other metals) is outdated and wrong, Dr. Edward Calabrese and other experts argue.

Pollution, exposure and blood levels are often safe at significantly higher levels than regulations currently allow. Moreover, low levels of exposure to radiation and many chemicals can actually provide protection from cancer, disease and pollutants. While this concept of hormesis is generally ignored by current regulations, we know that a little alcohol improves heart functions, whereas a lot causes multiple problems; an 80 mg aspirin can prevent strokes, but a bottleful can kill; and many vaccinations inject disease strains that cause a person’s immune system to produce antibodies and prevent the disease.

The Obama EPA is already using WOTUS rules on water and a Clean Power Plan on electricity generation and climate change to control virtually everything we make, grow and do. Congressional committees, presidential candidates, businesses and citizens need to get involved, debate these issues, ask tough questions, and work to implement appropriate reforms. Our courts and Congress must not allow another collusive sue-and-settle lawsuit – or a new regime of government controls and mine closures that would drive yet another nail into the coffin of western state and local economies … and cleanup efforts.

Gold King presents a teachable moment. Let’s make sure we learn the correct lessons.

* It appears that EPA deleted its entire photo album, so that people can no longer view them. We are trying to find a citizen archive of the images and will link to it, if possible. Again we have “the most transparent administration in history” (quoting President Obama) at your service.

Via email

Computer Games as Harmful as ‘Global Warming’? New Research Smacks Down Pseudo-Science Claim

Greenfield is a suck-up.  She got made a Baroness for peddling myths that the Left like to hear

New research published this week by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) demolishes a destructive pseudo-science argument mischievously marketed by a fellow at Oxford University that, without evidence, characterizes kids’ computer games as a pending health threat, “like global warming.”

The BMJ piece is entitled, The debate over digital technology and young people, and appears in the 12 August edition of the BMJ, one of the world’s most prestigious journals.

“Through appearances, interviews, and a recent book, Susan Greenfield, a senior research fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford, has promoted the idea that Internet use and computer games can have harmful effects on the brain, emotions, and behavior, and draws a parallel between the effects of digital technology and climate change,” write the authors Vaughn Bell, et al. “Despite repeated calls for her to publish these claims in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence, this has not happened, and the claims have largely been aired in the media.”

The article’s authors, furthermore, added the devastating declaration, “As scientists, working in mental health, developmental neuropsychology, and the psychological impact of digital technology, we are concerned that Greenfield’s claims are not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence, often confuse correlation for causation, give undue weight to anecdote and poor quality studies, and are misleading to parents and the public at large.”

Greenfield’s controversial book is called, Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving their Mark on Our Brains (Rider, 2014). “We think it is unfortunate that Greenfield’s media profile means her claims have an exaggerated impact on public debate given their limited evidence base,” the BMJ article’s authors wrote.  The scientist’s work, to be true science, “needs less shock and more substance.”


Decarbonize Yourselves First!

 Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser

The penultimate climate pow-wow is going to take place in Paris later this year. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference  (COP21) is widely touted as a “make-or-break” event to prevent a global climate catastrophe that’s supposed to be just around the corner. climate argument

Most likely, there will be over 10,000 government and UN representatives, all the NGOs in the world, some industry observers and a few others from all corners of the world. Even Pope Francis plans to attend and provide encyclical guidance. For the majority of the blessed, the goal will be to convert the imbeciles (like you and me) to the bad-carbon-footprint and need-for-decarbonisation belief. Will their sermons fall on eagerly listening ears?

Row, row, row your Boat

Oh, these wannabe savers of the world are not likely to arrive by trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific rowboat, nor by a wind-powered multi-mast “clipper;” those went out of style a hundred years ago. Of course, the attendees of the Paris event don’t need to spare any carbon whatsoever. After all, they are among the chosen few to tell the rest of the world what to do or not. The “new science” of how to save the earth does not apply to them, it’s just for the unwashed masses like you and me.

Basically, the do-gooders want you to “decarbonize” at all costs, everything, and most preferentially yourself. How else can you reduce the world population from 7 or 8 billion to fewer than one billion which Professor HJ Schellnhuber opines as necessary? He is the director of the Potsdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung,  (a German government-funded outlet for climate impact research, commonly known as PIK) who has all the answers. Oh, even the Pontiff appears to approve of them, why else would he recently have named Schellnhuber to the 400-year old institution of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS)?


Oil company funding

Judith Curry

This is too often used as an excuse to reject a climate scientist or their findings, even if the funding is very indirect and has nothing to do with the specific study.  For example, having accepted travel funds from a think tank that is in some way has some funding from an unacceptable industry group or individual can be game over for that individual.

In climate change research, there is no righteous source of funding – government funding can be a source of bias just as much as industry funding can, and there is A LOT more government funding out there.  The need for greater intellectual (and political) diversity in climate change research has been addressed in this previous post.

That said, funding is probably a smaller source of bias than peer pressure to follow a consensus and to defend your own hypothesis, not to mention political preferences, environmental proclivities and career pressures.

In climate science, the ‘bogey’ is funding from fossil fuel companies.  Well, regional power providers are also involved in wind power, solar power, geothermal and hydropower (not to mention nuclear, but not clear if nuclear is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?).  Not to mention providing power for all those computers running weather and climate models.  And where would the climate research elite be without fossil fuels to support their extensive air travel (its a badge of honor among them to be flying at least 100,000 miles per year).  And is  natural gas good, relatively good, or bad?

So . . . is funding from power and oil companies ok if it funds research related to wind, solar geothermal and hydro?  Better predictions of extreme weather events that hamper both energy supply and demand, whatever the source of power?  Or is it only a problem if it supports outreach efforts by a climate scientist to deny humans are the cause of climate change?

If independent scientists obtain funding from power and oil companies, would this help support needed intellectual diversity into climate science to avoid the massive groupthink we now see?

There is a lot we can learn by the extensive experiences and track record of the health/nutrition research interaction with industry funding.

At Georgia Tech, we are encouraged by the administration to interact with industry and get industry funding, particularly in this era of shrinking federal research dollars.  Georgia Tech gets plenty of money from oil and power companies, although not nearly as much as heavy hitters such as Stanford, etc.  [see Big Oil Goes To College]  So . . . is funding from oil and power companies ok, as long as it isn’t used for climate research?

You can see that there is a lot of hypocrisy and stuff that simply doesn’t make sense.  We need to have a serious discussion about bias in scientific research, and sources of funding is only one part of this discussion.

But witch hunts related to funding, even if unrelated to research, is a very disturbing trend


“A Disgrace to the Profession” The World’s Scientists own words on Mann and his Hockey Stick

The unstoppable Mark Steyn has collected illuminating quotes from Michael Mann’s peers about the value of the Hockey Stick and Mann’s work.  Steyn has both announced the book, and taken apart the critics like “Sir Charles” already. In fine form:

“…not a single amicus brief was filed in support of Mann by any scientist or any scientific body. As I say in the book, Mann claims to be taking a stand for science, but science is disinclined to take a stand for him”

Is there any writer more apt, more prosaic or more entertaining? There are cartoons from Josh too:

"A guy can’t sit around waiting for litigious fake Nobel Laureates to agree to discovery and deposition. So, with the Mann vs Steyn Trial of the Century currently stalled in the choked septic tank of the DC court system, I figured I might as well put some of the mountain of case research clogging up the office into a brand new book – all about the most famous “science” graph of the 21st century and the man who invented it.

Michael E Mann’s defamation suit against me for a 270-word blog post is about to enter its fourth year in the District of Columbia Superior Court, so I’m confident this little tome should be good for at least a third of a century.

As you know, Mann’s plan was to sue me into silence. I leave it to legal scholars to assess whether that’s working out quite as he intended. However, as Barack Obama likes to say, this isn’t just about me. It’s also about the perversion of science and the damage done by the climate wars in which Mann has played such an egregious part.

If you’d like to support my end of this interminable case, then “A Disgrace To The Profession”: The World’s Scientists – In Their Own Words – On Michael E Mann, His Hockey Stick, and Their Damage To Science: Volume One is a great way to do it, and have a few laughs along the way (courtesy of Josh’s cartoons)"

One of the people who inspired Steyn to start this project is Professor Jonathan Jones of Oxford University:

    "The Hockey Stick is obviously wrong. Everybody knows it is obviously wrong. Climategate 2011 shows that even many of its most outspoken public defenders know it is obviously wrong. And yet it goes on being published and defended year after year.

    Do I expect you to publicly denounce the Hockey Stick as obvious drivel? Well yes, that’s what you should do. It is the job of scientists of integrity to expose pathological science… It is a litmus test of whether climate scientists are prepared to stand up against the bullying defenders of pathology in their midst."


Australia: The Left's climate-change policy a one-way ticket to energy hell

If you want to know what the lead-filled sock of fate has in store for us, look no further than Labor's -climate-change policies.

With barely one per cent of global emissions, Bill Shorten would have us mandate a share of renewable energy two times greater than that aimed at by the world's largest emitters.

The threat that poses to consumers, who would face dramatic increases in power bills, is obvious; but the mere possibility of so -irrational a policy - which would squander an amount equivalent to the sum of the budget deficits over the forward estimates - must compound the sovereign risk that is already damaging Australia's international competitiveness.

Of course, the renewables lobby has beamed with joy ever since Shorten announced that "Labor's ambition is to see 50 per cent of our electricity energy mix generated by renewable energy by 2030". And however poor renewables may be at actually generating power, that lobby's capacity to generate spurious arguments would make the sun shine at night.

We have, for example, been told that far from raising prices, the Renewable Energy Target reduces them. However, that is only true for so long as the growing stock of renewables adds to overcapacity in the National Electricity Market, forcing prices in that market down to the cash costs of keeping plants going. In addition to being inherently inefficient (since it makes no sense to aggravate a capacity glut), any benefit to consumers must be short-lived, as prices will rise once the surplus plants leave the market.

But it is even worse than that. In most markets, when supply exceeds demand, it is the highest cost suppliers who get knocked out, cushioning the price increases associated with a return to balance. In this market, however, the exact opposite is occurring, as the renewables mandate ensures the costliest capacity remains while cheaper capacity is prematurely scrapped.

That process is already apparent, with expensive renewables accounting for 98 per cent of the 1100 megawatts of capacity added last year to the NEM, while coal plants, which have low operating costs, accounted for 90 per cent of the 4500 MW that have been withdrawn or whose withdrawal has been announced.

Were the renewables target nearly doubled, as Labor proposes, the distortion would be even more severe. Quantifying the impacts involves myriad assumptions; but a reasonable estimate (derived using a model developed for the Minerals Council by electricity specialists Principal Economics) is that increasing the renewables -- target would raise the costs of power by $86 billion, which amounts to $600 per household per year.

Given that the average family has an annual electricity bill of some $1600, adding $600 is hardly trivial. Nor could anyone claim $86bn is small change for the Australian economy as a whole: not only is it more than twice this year's budget deficit, but it exceeds the total deficits forecast over the period to 2018-19.

And since any abatement it buys could be obtained far more cheaply by other means, it would be wasteful even were cutting emissions worthwhile.

However, the economic costs of Labor's proposal don't end there. After all, Shorten also intends to introduce a tax on carbon. While the details have not been released, it is clear any such scheme would disproportionately raise the costs of the coal-fired generators, accelerating their exit, and so further boosting prices. And by piling a carbon tax on top of the tax associated with the RET, it could make the distortions caused by increasing the RET even greater than the $86bn cited above.

The extent of the additional loss will depend both on the precise nature of Labor's carbon tax scheme and on its rate. But Treasury's modelling of Julia Gillard's carbon tax suggests that, given a carbon tax, the additional loss from raising the RET would (on an admittedly rough estimate) be in the order of $38bn, taking the total cost of Shorten's renewables policy well over $100bn.

Not that the renewables lobby would ever accept those figures. Rather, it argues that the cost of renewables will plummet as their share in the energy mix rises. But those arguments are hopelessly flawed.

To begin with, as the Productivity Commission found in reviewing the original modelling for the carbon tax, Australia's share of global investment in renewables is so small that any scale economies from doubling that share would reduce costs by less than one-tenth of one per cent. Moreover, far from falling, the economic costs of increasing wind capacity are likely to rise, as many of the best sites have already been taken, forcing growth to occur where transmission costs are high and capacity utilisation low and intermittent.

And with massive demand in the developing world for coal and gas plants, technological progress in fossil-fuel generation is at least as rapid as that in renewables, keeping it highly cost competitive.

Little wonder then that in the US, states such as West Virginia and Kansas have now decided to scrap their renewable energy mandates altogether, while Ohio has deferred the steady increases its law originally required. And as data from the US federal Energy Information Administration shows, electricity is 22.9 per cent more costly in those states with renewables mandates than in those without, competition to attract footloose capital and labour seems set to accelerate the trend away from compulsory targets.

Such a move would make even more sense in Australia, given our uniquely abundant resources of brown coal that is costly to transport. Those resources, and the very low power prices they allowed, have long underpinned our prosperity; by throwing what little remains of that advantage away, Shorten's policy, were it ever implemented, would be a one-way ticket to energy hell.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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