The Daily Grist: March 19

Just Another Brick in the Wall
New Studies Suggest Onset of Sixth Major Mass Extinction

New evidence
suggests that the Earth is on the verge of its sixth major mass extinction -- the last one having occurred 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. This one is likely to be caused not by a meteorite, say researchers, but by habitat destruction resulting from human activity. Two U.K.-based studies in the current issue of the journal Science prompted the speculation. One was a study of butterfly populations in the U.K. involving more than 20,000 volunteers and data gathered over a 40-year period. The second was a study of plant biodiversity in U.K. grassland sites. Both studies came to similar conclusions: Species are declining and dying off like it's going out of style. While we haven't reached the 65 to 95 percent death rates of previous mass extinctions, the numbers are increasing rapidly. With regard to biodiversity, says grasslands study author Carly Stevens, "If you keep taking enough bricks out of the wall, the wall's going to fall down."

Jersey Cash Cow
New Jersey Economy Would Benefit from Clean Energy, Says Study

The false "environment vs. economy" dichotomy took another blow today with the
release of a study showing that shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the mid-Atlantic region would promote job creation and benefit the New Jersey economy. The report, conducted by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, claims that developing renewable energies like solar and wind would create jobs in manufacturing, installation, operation, and maintenance, reduce consumer energy bills, and funnel millions of dollars to rural landowners who lease their land for wind farms. The main obstacle is the substantial upfront costs; "renewable energy producers are financing 30 years worth of power all at once," the report says. However, the upfront costs are rapidly paid off by low-cost production and the kind of stability that fossil fuels can't match. "The sun and wind will never raise their fuel prices," notes the report.

Wont't You Clean My Neighbor?
North Carolina Petitions EPA to Force Neighboring States to Clean Up Air

North Carolina can't reach Clean Air Act targets on its own, so the feds need to force power plants in 13 neighboring states to sharply cut their emissions,
state officials said yesterday in a petition filed with the U.S. EPA. North Carolina has taken drastic steps to improve its air with its Clean Smokestacks Act, said state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), "but dirty air doesn't respect state borders." The state faces substantial financial penalties if it does not meet strict ozone limits by an April 15 deadline. The EPA has accepted similar petitions before, from northeast states, so North Carolina officials are hopeful. An EPA spokesperson said the agency was addressing the problem with its upcoming interstate air quality rule, which would gradually tighten emission limits through 2015. Cooper expressed hope that the EPA would nonetheless accept his faster-acting petition.

Watchdog Groups Accuse Army Corps of Promoting Boondoggles

Budget hawks and enviros are teaming up to criticize $12 billion worth of Army Corps of Engineers water projects that they say both
squander taxpayer money and wreak havoc on ecosystems around the U.S. A report released yesterday by Taxpayers for Common Sense and the National Wildlife Federation singles out particularly wasteful and destructive projects, including a $319 million irrigation scheme in eastern Arkansas, which, say critics, would do massive damage to two national wildlife refuges and destroy critical habitat for a large population of mallard ducks. The report also slams projects that barge salmon around four dams on the Lower Snake River in the Pacific Northwest and that aim to make the Upper Mississippi River more hospitable to barge traffic. Steve Ellis of TCS says the corps has gotten bogged down in pork-barrel politics and "become a scandal of an agency that needs to be reformed." The corps defends its record and says that all of the criticized projects have undergone rigorous public reviews.

Rotten to the Albacore
Feds Issue New Fish Consumption Guidelines

Today the U.S. EPA and the Food and Drug Administration
issued an official set of guidelines on eating fish, which attempts to balance the risks of mercury to children with the broader health benefits of seafood. Mercury can adversely affect children's mental development, so pregnant (or soon-to-be-pregnant) women and kids should avoid eating more that 6 ounces -- roughly one meal's worth -- of albacore tuna a week. They should also avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. However, the guidelines emphasize that seafood contains healthy proteins and nutrients and that shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish can play an important role in a balanced diet. Grist editors were going to come up with a snappy mnemonic device to help readers keep all of this straight, but, as it turns out, we're not that clever.

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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