Stuff that matters

troubled waters

Yikes, 13 of Houston’s Superfund sites flooded during Harvey.

An AP reporter visited seven sites on Thursday, and found that all were underwater.

One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, Jason Dearen writes, was barely visible above the churning San Jacinto River, and “the air smelled bitter.” Nearby, “a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel.” At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits — which are full of dioxins and other hazardous substances — “the flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge.”

The EPA later confirmed that, using satellite imagery to check a total of 41 Superfund sites, 13 had flooded. Employees had begun inspections on Monday for damage and possible contamination, but have yet to release any findings. The agency also, bizarrely, put out a statement calling the AP’s story “incredibly misleading” and “inaccurate” — without contradicting any of its facts.

An Obama-era EPA report found Superfund sites are threatened by stronger storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. New EPA director Scott Pruitt has said he wants to double down on Superfund cleanup efforts — and that’s despite Trump’s “skinny budget” proposing significant cuts to the remediation program.

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lava affair

A volcano in Bali could erupt at any minute. More than 75,000 people have evacuated.

People are seeking refuge in camps, village halls, and relatives’ homes after fleeing the area around Mount Agung in Indonesia.

Mount Agung experienced hundreds of volcanic earthquakes on Monday and Tuesday, an indication that magma is moving toward the surface and an eruption may be coming. Local officials warn it could be just a “matter of hours.”

“Instrumentally we have never recorded such high energy or seismicity from Mount Agung,” Devy Kamil Syahbana, an Indonesian seismologist, told the Guardian. Authorities urged people to move out of the danger zone, an area within a seven-mile radius of the crater.

When the volcano last erupted in 1963, more than 1,000 people were killed. The explosion sent ash 12 miles high and spewed sulphur dioxide, which reacted with water vapor in the atmosphere to form droplets of sulphuric acid. The resulting haze in Earth’s stratosphere cooled global atmospheric temperatures by 0.1–0.4 degrees C.

There’s no telling exactly when Agung will go off again, but an eruption could have a similar, temporary effect on the atmosphere.

it's all your fault

Hurricanes have made Caribbeans the world’s latest climate refugees.

And officials from the islands haven’t held back in reminding the industrialized world who’s at fault here. (Hint: not island people.)

Over the weekend, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was unapologetic as he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. Hurricane Maria lashed his island before going on to destroy Puerto Rico. The Category 5 storm killed at least 15 residents of Dominica last week.

“While the big countries talk, the small island nations suffer,” said Skerrit. “We need action, and we need it now.”

It’s no secret that the developing world, especially island nations, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts — even though these places have contributed the least to global warming. And Caribbean leaders used their platform in New York City this past weekend to hammer this point home.

The country of Antigua and Barbuda is struggling to rebuild following landfalls by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Prime Minister Gaston Browne eventually made his way to the U.N. with sobering news: “For the first time in 300 years, there is no permanent resident of Barbuda.”

In case you hadn’t realized it yet, this is what climate change looks like.


News shows ignore the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

Millions of American citizens are without power, shelter, or clean water after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory last week. Yet, if you watched the news on Sunday, you would have heard hardly anything about it.

Five major political talk shows on Sunday spent less than a minute total covering the urgent crisis, according to a new report from Media Matters. Shows on ABC, CBS, and Fox all failed to touch on the situation. CNN and NBC mentioned Puerto Rico in passing, asking President Trump and viewers to help.

Meanwhile, Trump was picking fights with football and basketball players over their protests of police brutality and racism — a controversy that faced no shortage of media attention.

Over the past month, TV news shows have had trouble linking climate change to this year’s intense hurricane season, even while scientists had little problem connecting the dots.

Congress is working on a hurricane aid package for Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and the Virgin Islands, but House Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t anticipate its arrival until sometime in October. Though some short-term aid has already arrived, October may be too late for many Puerto Ricans, who are suffering through heat and lacking modern essentials like gas, food, and cash. Officials expect that people will have to wait months for the return of power and basic services.


Why does Ryan Zinke keep saying fracking is a sign of “God’s sense of humor?”

Interior Secretary Zinke loves domestic energy production, but not as much as he loves repeating weird, jokey assertions about domestic energy production. For example, he keeps trotting out the same line about fracking, a natural gas extraction process that he’s pushed to reinstate on public lands.

In a speech at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, on April 15: “God’s got a sense of humor. He gave us fracking. And all of a sudden, we have more energy than anybody. But we’re going to use it right.”

At the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, on May 1: “And, you know, I always say God’s got a sense of humor — he gave us fracking. And fracking is a game-changer — certainly a global game-changer.”

And today, at a press conference in Washington, D.C.:

We don’t get it?

Direct hit

Hurricane Maria has crushed Puerto Rican farmers.

The devastation wiped out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural production, according to Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega. The New York Times visited farmer José A. Rivera after the winds flattened his plantain, yam, and pepper fields.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Rivera, told the Times. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Food prices will surely rise on the island, although the loss of crops will not necessarily mean people will starve. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food. Even so, the storm damaged the infrastructure used to distribute imported food, like ports, roads, and stores.

On CNN, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló pleaded for aid from Congress. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America,” he said. FEMA and the Coast Guard are working in the territory.

Flores, the agriculture secretary, appeared to be looking for a silver lining. This may be a chance to rebuild the island’s agriculture so that it is more efficient and sustainable, he told the Times.

As climate change accelerates, we can expect the rate of disasters like this to accelerate as well.

get the memo?

EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

This week, workers at the federal agency attended a one-hour training course on how to prevent leaks to the press.

In response, they disclosed memos and slideshows from the course to multiple outlets, including The Hill, Reuters, and the Associated Press. Politico received a leaked memo about the class before it even took place.

The training was part of a wider White House crackdown on leaks across federal agencies. Though most EPA staff don’t handle classified files, agency officials wanted to prevent workers from sharing what they called “controlled unclassified information,” citing national security concerns.

Numerous leaks have come out of the EPA this year, beginning with the Trump team’s plan for the agency back in January. Since then, the media has obtained government reports on climate science, Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the agency, and more.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last month that anyone who leaked sensitive government information would be investigated and potentially prosecuted.

And yet, here we are. “It’s ironic that we have an anti-leaking story that is rooted from a leaked memo,” EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told the Hill.