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Two stories came to my attention this week, related in a sad way, one true, the other maybe not.

For the past two years, in northern Vermont up near the Canadian border, there had been reports of an albino moose – a rarity, made even more rare by the fact that it had apparently survived into adulthood. And for the past several years, in the West Country of Britain, there were stories of a red stag so large and so magnificent that it was nicknamed ‘The Emperor’ and generally thought to be Britain’s largest would animal.

Both were reported shot and killed by hunters – legally.

In Vermont, it was moose-hunting season. The 744-pound albino moose with an antler spread of 45 inches was brought to a weighing station. The hunter was a teenage girl who was hunting with her father. All very legal. There are no restrictions to shooting an albino moose in Vermont.

Things are a little sketchier in England. The original story of the killing of ‘The Emperor’ touched off a wave of national hand-wringing. The problem is, there’s no proof that the animal is actually dead, shot or otherwise. Reporters trying to get information are running into dead ends. People supposedly heard shots, and haven’t seen the stag in any of its regular places since.

Some have even begun to doubt that the animal ever existed, on a par with the Loch Ness monster.

True or not, both stories pose an ethical question. Are there circumstances when a hunter should back away from killing a particular animal even though it would be legal to do so? Or do we have to burden wildlife officials with the task of coming up with regulations for every possible special circumstance?


For those of you who may not have heard of it, October 27 has been designated as Climate Fools Day. It was created two or three years ago in the UK by a group of people politely referred to as “Climate Change Skeptics” – mostly energy industry hacks and assorted quacks.

The day is meant to mark the passage of a climate change bill by Parliament. It’s an expensive and controversial law, aimed at addressing the problem of climate change through a variety of green initiatives.

It may not be a perfect piece of legislation, but at last it’s something, which is more than can be said for the US Congress and other major countries.

Debating the pros and cons of any environmental legislation is healthy. There has to be discussion about what course of action to take. We need to reach a consensus if anything is going to work. But continuing to deny that the problem exists is madness, and a dangerous madness at that.

It’s akin to saying we shouldn’t refer to the planet as a globe because some people still think the earth is flat.

The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, ostensibly a body appointed to reduce pollutants getting into the Blackstone River, has decided to take the federal Environmental Protection Agency to court for being required to reduce the level of pollutants going into the Blackstone River.

It gets weirder.

When this was announced, it received the whole-hearted support of the Worcester City Council, including one city councilor who seemed to imply it was un-American to try to clean up the river.

“The EPA has shown how out of touch it is with America,” declared Councilor Joffrey Smith, as quoted in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.It gets weirder still.

Pollution of the Blackstone River dates back to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Over the past two decades, at least, the impact of these decades of pollution has been documented, and one of the major sources is the area around Worcester. Currently, the EPA’s concern is the level of phosphorus, which is causing rampant plant growth downstream and in Narragansett Bay, disrupting the ecosystm there. So, the EPA has set some limits to the amount that can be discharged from a wastewater treatment plant in nearby Millbury, to be phased in over a period of time.

All the scientific evidence to support this doesn’t faze the city’s public works commissioner, Robert Moylan, Jr., who called the limits “without scientific basis and will not result in meaningful benefits.”

He didn’t happen to mention how he knows it. He might have gotten this from his Ouija Board for all we know.

Their concern is what they consider the exorbitant cost of upgrading the plant to meet the new standards. This, they claim will put a terrible burden on the city’s ratepayers. Seems fair enough.

However, the fact is that city residents have been paying next to nothing up to now in sewer use fees. According to one study, the average household might see an annual cost of $100 to upgrade the plant. That’s $2 per week.

If any of these people are like me, they have cellphone service and app costs, internet service costs, cable television fees. All of which are significantly more expensive.

Now their city council and this mysterious board are going to file suit in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. How much will this cost the taxpayers of the city? As taxpayers, they’ll be paying the costs for both sides as well as court costs – since the EPA is funded with federal tax dollars, and the board by local tax dollars.

Is this ridiculous, or what?

In searching for an explanation as to how massive amounts of radioactive tritium could turn up in monitoring wells at Vermont Yankee last January, the NRC has decided to step in to the Wayback Machine, blaming shoddy construction and bad housekeeping back when the plant first opened in the 1970s.

I’m sure it’s strictly a matter of coincidence that the current owner, Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, is trying to get a license renewal. The NRC has to this point demonstrated that they’re pretty much in the company’s back pocket, praising the company’s handling – or mishandling – of a host of problems throughout this year.

And once again, the NRC report is just a re-wording of a report handed to them by Entergy.

The document, “The Root Cause Evaluation Report” raises some interesting questions. If these problems date back to the dawn of nuclear power in Vermont, how come no one picked up on it earlier? And if the plant has so many fundamental flaws, doesn’t it make sense just to shut it down, rather than keep on running it?

If this report as intended as just another NRC whitewash, it seems they may have shot themselves in the foot.

The news this week that zebra mussels have been found in two more lakes in Connecticut is yet another example how we often seem to be working at cross purposes when it comes to controlling invasive species.

Native to Russia and Eastern Europe, these freshwater clams made it to the Great Lakes in the 1980s via container ships.

With all the global trade, this was probably inevitable. They quickly spread eastward, reaching the Hudson River Basin, and have spread even further.

While there is a certain amount of natural migration, that would not explain their rapid spread. That comes from boaters. The mussels hitch a ride from one body of water to another. As a result, wherever they appear, wildlife officials have mounted publicity campaigns to urge boaters to thoroughly clean their boats before leaving an infested lake.

A single female can produce between 30,000 and 1 million eggs per year. There’s no known way to get rid of them. All anyone can do is to try to contain the spread.

The presence of these mussels can alter the food chain of a body of water, by filtering out the plankton, depriving much of the other aquatic life of a major food source. And as they multiply, they clog drains and other piping.

Unfortunately, too many don’t care or don’t understand the problem, and so the spreading continues.

Just a month after keeping Bill McKibben and a group of environmentalists at arm’s length when they tried to convince the president to put solar panels on the White House, Energy Secretary Steven Chu yesterday announced that solar panels will be installed at presidential residence next year.

It’s clearly an effort to try to put some minimal substance to the lip service this administration has been giving to environmental concerns.

It’s a small step, to be sure, but at least it provides some useful symbolism. There’s some comparison with the vegetable garden Michelle Obama had planted at the White House. It was a nice thing to do, an opportunity for some good photo-ops with cute schoolchildren. I wonder how often she went out there for some weeding?

I’m a little bothered by the unnecessary snub of Bill McKibben and his group. It’s not as if he showed up at the White House unannounced asking for an appointment. The whole thing had been planned and announced ahead of time.

What is the administration trying to say here? On the one hand, energy-efficiency and alternative energy are good things, but it’s not good to be seen associating with environmentalists? What was he afraid of?

The NRC’s merry band of pranksters have been working overtime approving one nuclear enrichment plant after another. This past week, they announced that the new Areva plant in Idaho has passed a safety review, moving that project right along.

Areva is a French company with a long history of shoddy work and safety problems all over the world. Just the other day, government inspectors in Finland were refused entrance to the work site where an Areva nuclear plant is under construction.

There have been numerous complaints of labor and safety violations at the site.

That particular project is also running well behind schedule, and running up a huge cost overrun. Is anyone surprised?

At about the same time that the NRC was helping out their friends at Areva, geologists announced that an active earthquake fault runs a few miles away from where the plant will be located. In fact, Idaho is criss-crossed with earthquake faults.

I wonder if anyone told the NRC … not that it would make any difference.

They go by the name Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but it might as well be called the Nuclear Industry’s office of rubber stamping. Basically, they’ve done nothing to ensure that the public will be safe from the hazards inherent in the operation of nuclear power plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists last week issued a report finding that dozens of safety violations at the nation’s nuclear power plants have been routinely ignored by the NRC. The bad news is that prior to 2006 NRC enforcement of safety regulations is called “spotty,” but since then it’s become nonexistent. Despite more than two dozen known safety violations, not a single fine or sanction has been levied by the agency.

There are arguments for nuclear power as a source of energy, but not unless the two major issues of safe operation and spent fuel disposal can be solved.

The findings of the UCS have disturbing echoes of the problems surrounding the Gulf oil spill. The long-term environmental and economic effects of that disaster are still being evaluated. A major nuclear disaster would make the oil spill pale in comparison. A quarter of a century after the fact, animals in Germany and other parts of Europe are still showing up with high levels of radioactivity, the result of eating food still contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster in Russia.

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RSS The Ecocryptic

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