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Washington Completes the First Fully Electrified Scenic Loop Drive

Travelers can now take 440-mile zero-emissions ride through the Cascades’ glacier-clad peaks and evergreen forests

One of the most scenic road trips in the nation, Washington’s Cascade Loop Scenic Highway leads travelers on a 440-mile journey through a wilderness of glacier-clad peaks, past towns that proclaim their Western heritage, amid lush evergreen forests, alongside thriving vineyards, and across islands jutting into Puget Sound. With the recent installation of the final charging station, travelers can now navigate the entire scenic loop drive in an electric vehicle. Whether it is a day trip from Seattle, a week-long adventure, or something in-between, the strategically placed charging stations make it possible for electric car enthusiasts to undertake green travel as they wind their way through Washington’s diverse landscape.

With more than 60 charging stations along the route, even cars designed for the urban commute can navigate the loop without losing their charge. A 2014 Nissan Leaf, with a range of less than 100 miles, was the perfect vehicle for a test ride.

CascadesPhoto by Craig Damlo View from Diablo Lake Overlook in the North Cascades National Park.

Everett, located 30 miles north of Seattle, is an ideal starting point for those on the western side of the state. Heading out from Everett, the Stevens Pass Greenway provides electric vehicle drivers their first challenge as it climbs from sea level to the 4,000-foot pass. Charging stations along the way offer the opportunity to enjoy the scenery of quaint mountain towns, and the ski area at the summit allows drivers to charge before heading down to the Wenatchee Valley with its multitude of recreation possibilities.

From the Wenatchee Valley, the route heads north along the east side of the Cascades, hugging the Columbia River past fruit orchards and vineyards and eventually climbing into the heart of the North Cascades. Charging stations are available in picturesque towns such as Chelan, on the shores of magnificent Lake Chelan, and in the old west theme town of Winthrop. The final charging opportunity before climbing the pass is the mountain resort village of Mazama. From Mazama the route climbs over Washington Pass, which, at an elevation of 5,476 feet, is closed in winter. West of the pass, a charging station in Newhalem provides the boost needed to make it back down from the mountains. The route continues into Puget Sound over the Deception Pass Bridge and along Whidbey Island. Scenic island hamlets …more

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50 Years Ago, the Anti-Nuclear Movement Scored Its First Major Victory in CA

An interview with Bill Kortum, who helped lead the opposition to a nuke plant at Bodega Bay

Fifty years ago, on October 30, 1964, the American environmental movement scored a major victory when California utility Pacific Gas & Electric said it was abandoning plans to construct an atomic energy plant at Bodega Bay, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.

photo of a rugged coastlinephoto by Woody HastingsBodega Head

The struggle to protect Bodega Head is widely viewed as the launch point of the US anti-nuclear movement. The mass demonstrations at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, the opposition to PG&E’s development of the Diablo Power Station on the California Coast, the long-running American Peace Test actions against the Nevada nuclear test, the massive Nuclear Freeze marches – all of them came in the wake of the struggle against building a nuclear plant outside this small fishing village that would soon become better known as the setting of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds.

To many Northern California residents today, it is amazing that such a proposal ever existed; that otherwise sane people thought it was a good idea to build a nuclear power plant at the Bodega Head. At the time, however, most Americans were pro-nuclear, including most self-indentified “conservationists” or “environmentalists,” a word that was just then coming into use. So it fell to an ad-hoc band of citizen-activists to raise the alarm about the power plant and to spearhead the opposition to it. If those concerned citizens had not risen up to oppose this ill-conceived plan, we would be living in a different Northern California today, saddled no doubt with an aging industrial forbidden zone on what had once been a beautiful rocky outcropping on the coast.

I had the chance to speak with Bill Kortum, one of the few people still living in Sonoma County who was involved. Although I had prepared a set of questions to ask for the interview, most of them were swept away by Kortum’s eagerness to just spill his thoughts and memories of the six-year “Battle of Bodega Bay.”

Today, the pit that PG&E started excavating for the planned power station, known locally as “the hole in the head,” has become a small pond on the ocean’s edge – evidence of how nature can heal itself when we stop our destructive practices and get out of the way.


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Missouri’s “Right to Farm” Amendment has Family Farmers Worried

New measure aims to preempt potential animal welfare and environmental regulations in the state

The right to farm. It sounds innocuous enough. Shouldn’t we all have some right to farm if we want to? Probably, but that isn’t exactly what Missourians were getting at when they passed a constitutional amendment this summer to protect the right to farm.

Spring Corn PlantingPhoto by CAFNR Spring corn planting in Missouri. Amendment 1 opponents worry that measure will ease the way for large-scale farms to dominate Missouri’s landscape.

The amendment, known as Amendment 1, or the “right to farm” amendment, guarantees Missouri citizens the right to “engage in farming and ranching practices.” It seeks to protect farming operations from new laws, such as anti-GMO legislation or animal welfare regulations, that would change or ban practices that Missouri farmers currently used.

Amendment 1 passed by a slim margin; so slim that there was a vote recount in September. After all the ballots were counted, and recounted, the measure passed by 2,375 votes out of nearly a million ballots cast. As the tight margin suggests, the amendment stirred up quite a bit of controversy, not to mention confusion, in the state, embroiling family farmers, big ag, animals’ rights advocates, and GMO activists.

Amendment 1 opponents worry that the vaguely worded law will give industrial agriculture the upper hand when it comes to farming policy and regulation in the state, easing the way for large-scale farms to dominate Missouri’s landscape. They are also particularly concerned that the measure will be used to challenge existing and future animal welfare regulations and environmental measures, including confinement conditions for hogs and poultry, limitations on puppy farms, pollution controls, and potential GMO labeling laws. The amendment, they say, will hurt smaller-scale family farms.

photonamePhoto by CAFNR The right to farm amendment may be used to challenge animal welfare regulations.

“What I expect is that this sort of greases the shoot for corporate agriculture in Missouri,” says Richard Oswald, President of the Missouri Farmers Union. “It’s not going to be a dramatic change, it’s just going to more of the same, with more and more takeover of what used to be things that independent family farmers did.” Oswald believes it will also “nullify those family farmer friendly statutes that we already had on the books that did help protect agriculture,” …more

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Protecting the “Last Ocean”

Delegates from 24 countries and EU to debate massive marine preserve in the Antarctic

Earlier this fall, the Associated Press reported that a remarkable creature had been pulled from Antarctica’s Ross Sea. According to the article, the colossal squid was “as long as a minibus” with “tentacles like fire hoses and eyes like dinner plates,” and was still clinging to its dinner when fishermen on the San Aspiring toothfish boat, from New Zealand, hauled it from the water this January. The unfortunate cephalopod was then transferred to Wellington, New Zealand, some 2,000 miles north, and tucked into a freezer for later scientific examination.

PenguinsPhoto by John B. Weller Penguins walking in a line in Antarctica. This week and next, delegates from 24 countries and the EU will try to permanently protect the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica.

It was a fitting find for the icy waters that are often called the world’s “Last Ocean.” Located adjacent to Earth’s most remote continent and shut in by ice for 10 months of the year, the Ross Sea has so far escaped the grim fate of overfishing, pollution, and invasive species decimating Earth’s other oceans. Its frozen shores and crystal-clear waters teem with species adapted to the harsh climate: Adélie and emperor penguins, Weddell seals, killer whales, Antarctic petrels, and many more. It’s the sort of place that reassures us wilderness still exists, beyond our reach and full of mysterious creatures.

penguin mom and baby Photo by John B. WellerAn adult penguin with a chick. The Ross Sea teems with species adapted to the harsh climate,
including Adélie and emperor penguins.

As the presence of the San Aspiring suggests, however, that image is no longer entirely accurate.

“With increased technology over the last 10 years, more and more fishing vessels are looking towards the Antarctic oceans,” says Mark Epstein, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, a network of conservation NGOs focused on the region.

This week and next, government representatives from 24 countries plus the EU will attempt to permanently protect the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica from fishing and other threats by creating two huge marine protected areas (MPAs). Three times in the past three years, Russia, Ukraine, and China have blocked attempts to do the same. This time around, Russia’s troubled relationship with America and Europe could more

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Monitoring Environmental Destruction From the Sky

SkyTruth uses satellite imagery and data-crunching to track fracking, mountaintop removal, and oil spills around the world

The twenty-first century has been dubbed the "surveillance society," a culture where police departments increasingly deploy drones to spy from above, smart phones precisely track their owners' locations, and government agencies routinely record our emails and phone calls. In this new milieu, environmentalists have started to do some watch-dogging of their own, documenting industry's misdeeds by adapting newly available technology and tactics to fit their needs. 

Jonah Field, WyomingPhoto by EcoWatchWellpads, access roads, pipeline corridors and other natural-gas infrastructure in western Wyoming’s Jonah Field. High-altitude imagery allows SkyTruth to reveal the sheer scope of development as well as changes over time.

Leading the pack is a small outfit, SkyTruth, run by four staffers and a handful of volunteers and interns from a single-story building tucked behind a small craft store in Sheperdstown, West Virginia (population 1,700). From this small-town setting, SkyTruth does big-data work, aggregating massive amounts of open source information about some of the world's most damaging and polluting industries.

SkyTruth was the first organization to fully map the mountains in Appalachia decimated by mountaintop removal, showing that over 2,700 ridgetops had been flattened across five states. This work, accomplished by comparing satellite images from the 1970s to 2009 and using digital elevation information to isolate mountaintop removal from other strip mining, helped prove that one out of every five streams in West Virginia had been harmed by mountaintop removal.

SkyTruth's operations extend far beyond Appalachia, reaching into the supply chains of some of the world's most globalized industries, such as deep-sea fishing in international waters. In the Kermadecs, an island chain more than 600 miles off the northeast coast of New Zealand labeled one of “last pristine sites left in the ocean” by National Geographic Society and Census Marine Life in 2010, fishing is strictly regulated. While most boats use beacons that transmit their location as part of a system to prevent ship collisions, illegal fishers often do not participate in this warning system or disable their beacons when they near protected waters. SkyTruth tracks ships to the edges of protected areas like the Kermadecs, then uses satellite radar to find fishing boats that have attempted to conceal their entry into the exclusion zone. They've also discovered fleets of boats from Spain, Ukraine, and China trawling the perimeter of the zone, creating a …more

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Protecting Wild Salmon and Wild Rivers

US Forest Service should place a mineral withdrawal on critical Smith River watershed

The Smith River, which originates in the wilds of southwest Oregon and flows through northwest California, is the only major undammed river remaining in California. Its free-flowing waters still provide the rare opportunity for wild salmon to make the epic journey from the ocean to the Smith’s headwaters to spawn, as salmon once did in rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife describes the Smith River as “irreplaceable” with respect to salmon population resiliency and biodiversity.

So it came as welcome news last week that Oregon’s Water Resources Department denied an application from a mining company — Red Flat Nickel Corporation — to withdraw water for mining exploration in the Smith River headwaters.  The Department concluded that the withdrawal wasn’t in the public’s interest, and that there wasn’t enough data to develop mitigation strategies to protect threatened and endangered fish species from likely harm.

White Pines National ParkPhoto by Zachary Collier The Smith River is the only major undammed river remaining in California.

Despite this initial victory, the issue is far from over. Red Flat Nickel — owned by a British investment firm — still seeks to develop a nickel strip mine on 2,900 acres of mining claims on public lands in the Baldface Creek drainage in Oregon, a key tributary of the Smith River. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Baldface Creek watershed provides near-pristine spawning and rearing habitat and high quality water on which the anadromous fishery of the Smith River depends. But while the Smith River is protected from mining in California as part of the Smith River National Recreation Area, the headwaters in Oregon are not.

"It's a major concern in every possible way: a threat to drinking water, salmon runs and the recreation-based travel and tourism industry that is the single largest part of our economy," says Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance in Crescent City.

Here’s the kicker. Under the federal 1872 Mining Law, a 140-year old law which still governs hardrock mining today, mining is prioritized over all other land uses, leaving federal land managers little authority to deny a project, regardless of a region’s value as a fishery, drinking water aquifer, or other important land uses. What’s more, under the outdated law, companies can stake an unlimited number of …more

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EPA’s Approval of Toxic Pesticide Ignores Health and Safety Risks

Dow Chemical's new line of GE seeds will drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical

It's official. Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved Dow AgroSciences’ new pesticide product Enlist Duo, a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate. Given that the US Department of Agriculture has already cleared the way for Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybean crops, this pesticide and seed combination can now be sold commercially.

Danger in the Cornphoto by Roger Smith, on FlickrDow Chemical’s Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry.

The move is bound to drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical linked to reproductive harms and cancer.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but also for food production in the US and across the world. The introduction of Enlist corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line, will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and control of our food system.

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly. And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant crops – one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will hit their farms once the Enlist crops are introduced, it is time for us to look forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values small farmers as much as industrial agriculture – and public health as much as corporate profit.

It's a set up

Dow Chemical's Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry from farmers, health professionals and communities across the country.

Dow, and the other "Big 6" global pesticide corporations, would have us believe that this was a drawn-out, rigorous approval process that once again proves the safety and necessity of genetically engineered crops. The reality is that the whole process was a tricky sleight-of-hand: Enlist passed the test because the test itself was set up to be a cakewalk.

From the beginning, opponents of 2,4-D-resistant crops have focused on three main objections:

    by Linda Wells – October 16, 2014

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