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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From The Intervale in Burlington, Vermont, where Michelle volunteered in 2006. Happy Birthday, Michelle.

Reverence for All Life: Honoring Michelle Gardner-Quinn

by JOYCE on JANUARY 28, 2014
Montstream "Into the Intervale II"Planting treesEach year, we reprint Michelle Gardner-Quinn’s beautiful “This I Believe” essay on her birthday, January 28, in honor of her life, work and love of our planet. Please visit Michelle’s Earth Foundation to learn more about Michelle’s continued legacy, inspiring young people to care for our nature and each other. You can also watch a beautiful video featuring Goldie Hawn, Tipper Gore, Sheryl Crow, Meg Ryan, and other celebrities inspired by Michelle’s passion.
This I Believe
I believe in upholding reverence for all life. I believe that humanity has a responsibility to the earth and to the life that we share our experience with.
As a child, I found joy digging in the dirt, examining the miracle of life. Everything creepy-crawly was fascinating to me, and I spent countless hours in my backyard exploring what wonders lay beneath. Although some people might be repulsed by this notion, these creatures did not represent slimy pests to me. Rather, such experiences in the natural world taught me about the diversity of life that could be found in any microcosm. I felt attuned with the cycles of life, my favorite being the spring.
During these budding months, I could watch the egg sacs of praying mantises as they opened or collect robin-blue egg shells that had fallen from the nests. This was where I felt a strong connection to the natural cycles of creation. This connection has inspired awe in me that I feel strongly to this day. It is a feeling deep within me that has inspired my passions and pursuits as an environmentalist.
As I grew older, I discovered that this reverence for life was not shared by all of humanity. Rather than respecting the natural world as a community of life, the environment has been valued in terms of the resources that could be exploited. Industrialization has turned life into an industry, and systematically destroys the essential diversity that provides richness to the human experience. Our self-inflicted ecological crisis has reached such a point that we no longer endanger isolated bioregions. So many toxins have been spewed into the atmosphere as a result of our industrial greed that the climate of our planet is changing at an alarming rate. Climate change threatens all life forms by altering fundamental natural cycles, giving little time for evolutionary responses.
These detrimental impacts are visible today as polar bears lose their habitat of sea ice, the sex of sea turtle eggs is skewed, whales have less krill to feed on, and coral reefs are bleached, to cite just a few examples. Climate change also has a detrimental impact on cultures and humanity’s well-being as more people are becoming environmental refugees. Little is being done to curb this crisis and, within our lifetime the ecological functioning of planet earth will be forever altered.
I believe that my connection to all life forms prevents me from sitting back and watching this catastrophe. I believe that we should understand our place in our regional ecosystems and communities, as well as pledge our allegiance to the earth as a whole. I believe that all creatures, whether they are found in my backyard or halfway around the globe, should not suffer as a result of human greed. The reality of climate change is here and now; it is the environmental battle of our generation and generations to come. In honor of all life, I am dedicating myself to preventing this worldwide ecological crisis.
Michelle Gardner-Quinn, October 2006
This essay was reprinted with permission from Michelle’s Earth Foundation.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Michelle's Earth Foundation EventJan 24, 2014
MEF Logo 742
Michelle's Earth Foundation,  P.O. Box 5140 Preston King Station, Arlington, Virginia 22205
Donations are possible on Paypal or by mail.
Dear Friend of MEF, 

Four million of us drink treated Potomac and James River water, so let us be mindful of activities that can affect this water. Michelle's Earth Foundation is sponsoring a public meeting Monday night, January 27th, from 7 - 8:30 pm at the Arlington Central Library to consider the matter of horizontal drilling and fracturing for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest where the headwaters of these two major rivers begin. Please join us in reviewing this process and its possible consequences.  
Drilling and Fracking Risks to Drinking Water for Arlington, Fairfax, DC Metro Area 
Public Meeting January 27 on Potential Shale Gas Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing in George Washington National Forest
Major D.C. area water providers, local governments and conservation organizations have warned that an impending U.S. Forest Service decision on whether to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest could threaten a range of resources -- including the D.C. area's water supply. The Forest Service could make a decision to allow the practice this year.
Michelle's Earth Foundation and Earthworks are hosting a public meeting to inform citizens and policymakers about this impending decision. The meeting will be held Monday, January 27, 2014, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the auditorium at Arlington Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy St., three blocks from the Ballston Metro station.

The 1.1-million acre George Washington National Forest is located in western Virginia and West Virginia, and is the closest National Forest to Washington D.C. It contains the headwaters of the Potomac River that provides drinking water to more than 4 million people in the Washington area and the headwaters of the James River that provides drinking water for Richmond. About half of the forest sits atop the Marcellus shale, a vast natural gas-bearing formation that stretches from upstate New York to Kentucky.

Extracting the gas from the shale would require horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a process that is expected to involve up to five million gallons of fluid injected into each well including toxic and unknown chemicals, up to 4,400 truck trips to service each well pad and millions of gallons of wastewater that may be contaminated with significant levels of radioactive pollutants from the naturally radioactive Marcellus shale.

Three local water providers including Fairfax Water, DC Water and the Washington Aqueduct have urged the Forest Service to prohibit horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the forest. In April 2011, as part of a draft update for the forest's 10 to 15-year management plan, the Forest Service recommended against horizontal drilling in the forest citing water quality concerns as one of the reasons. However, after lobbying by more than a dozen drilling companies and trade associations including the American Petroleum Institute, Halliburton Energy Services Inc., and XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., the Forest Service is reconsidering its position.

For more information, please contact Gail Fendley, President, Michelle's Earth Foundation at 703-868-1833/ or Dusty Horwitt, Senior Analyst, Earthworks at 202-887-1872 x117/ Arlington-based Michelle's Earth Foundation and Earthworks, a national nonprofit, work to protect communities from the negative impacts of oil and natural gas drilling. 

Proposed VA Fracking Could Affect DC Water Supply

Read More:  City News DCVirginianewswater
Perhaps you’ve heard of fracking and dismissed it as something that occurs in rural areas far away – I know I did. There is a chance, however, that its effects could now be coming to a faucet near you.
It turns out that there is a huge deposit of natural gas inside something called the Marcellus Shale. Because the natural gas it holds is relatively easy to get to and the shale is located close to population centers along the East Coast, drilling has already begun in places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That same shale also extends a little bit into the very eastern portion of Virginia, into land that is currently occupied by the George Washington National Forest.
The Forest Service, which oversees the G.W. National Forest, periodically drafts plans on what to do with their lands. In 2011, they presented a draft plan for the G.W. National Forest that more or less banned fracking. Proponents of fracking flipped out, and the Forest Service has agreed to look over their plans again.
The problem, other than allowing a company to drill in an otherwise pristine National Forest, is that the river that runs through the G.W. National Forest is a major contributor to the Potomac. Washington D.C., as well as many of its suburbs, gets its water directly from sources, then, that could be majorly affected by G.W. National Forest fracking.
The process of fracking involves shoving massive amounts of water and chemicals into the underground shale in order to push the goodies out – in this case, natural gas. While companies say the process is more or less safe, they don’t have to disclose what sorts of chemicals they’re shoving into the ground because it’s deemed a trade secret.
While I am no opponent of big industry, and I enjoy the benefits of cheap natural gas, I am naturally dubious of anybody who stands to make a large profit – especially when it could affect my drinking water. I think I’d prefer to pay more for my energy and drink cheaper, higher-quality water.
Want to see the worst-case scenario of what fracking might do? Check out this video of a woman lighting water coming from her kitchen sink on fire:

Will Obama allow fracking to endanger his own water supply?

Washington Monument and Potomac River
Just imagine the Washington Monument were a fracking rig …
Could we soon be seeing flammable water coming out of the White House taps? The federal government is considering allowing hydraulic fracturing near the Potomac River’s headwaters, which could make the dark side of fracking all too real for an administration and Congress that have been gung-ho for natural gas exploration.
George Washington National Forest, straddling the border of Virginia and West Virginia, is home to the hills where the Potomac, Shenandoah, and James rivers start forming. This watershed is the source of drinking water for 4 million people in greater Washington, D.C. It also sits above part of the Marcellus Shale, a massive store of natural gas.
In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees GW National Forest, proposed banning fracking in it, as part of its next 15-year management plan. The fossil fuel industry and its flunkies in public office such as Virginia’s then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) criticized the move. So the Forest Service has been reviewing its proposal and is expected to release a final plan shortly.
Biden, Obama, and water
Pete Souza/The White House
Watch what you drink, Joe.
Natural gas fracking operations may contaminatenearby water sources with methane. That’s why fracking in the region is opposed by the agencies responsible for overseeing the safety of D.C.-area drinking water: the Fairfax County Water Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the Washington Aqueduct. The aqueduct’s general manager is worried enough about the prospect of fracking that he sent a letter to the Forest Service pointing out the obvious: “Safe water supply is essential to life.”
It’s not only safe drinking water in the nation’s capital that would be at risk. As The Washington Post reported last year, “One hundred species of fish and mussels live in the shallow waters of the Cowpasture and Jackson rivers, which gurgle in the forest along the Appalachian spine. There are also 70 types of amphibians and reptiles, 180 species of birds and 60 species of mammals. The list of all the trees, plants, fishing areas, hiking trails and campsites could fill a book.”
And damaging the environment could also hurt the local economy. TheLos Angeles Times notes, “In Virginia, counties such as Augusta and Rockingham near George Washington National Forest boast some of the state’s richest agricultural land, and many towns benefit from tourism tied to the forest.”
The decision on fracking in the GW forest is coming just as environmentalist frustration with Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy has burst into public view. Last week, a coalition of leading environmental groups exchanged argumentative letters with the White House over President Obama’s enthusiasm for domestic dirty energy exploration. Environmentalists are worried that increased drilling on public lands and in the oceans will lead to environmental degradation and contribute to global warming. Ironically, in this case, one of the victims of the health, safety, and ecological effects of domestic drilling could be the president himself.
Ben Adler covers climate change policy for Grist. When he isn't contemplating the world's end, he writes about cities, politics, architecture, and media. You canfollow him on Twitter.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson
Opinion Writer

Washington is silent on W.Va.’s chemical spill

The drinking water in nine West Virginia counties has finally been declared safe, or mostly safe. But many people say they can still smell the licorice-like odor of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol — in the sink, in the shower, in the air, especially in neighborhoods close to the Elk River.
I say “mostly” because so little is known about the toxicity of the chemical, known as MCHM, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant womenin the affected area not to drink the water, at least for now. Unfortunately, this warning came after the CDC had already told residents the water was safe for everyone.
Eugene Robinson
Writes about politics and culture in twice-a-week columns and on the PostPartisan blog.
A bad taste in West Virginians’ mouths.
A bad taste in West Virginians’ mouths.
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More than a week since the chemical spill in Charleston, the state capital, contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people, there has been little solid information about the danger to human health — and little outrage from officials in Washington, who seem to expect West Virginians to take the whole thing in stride. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if this had happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in one of the wealthier Zip codes of Southern California.
Imagine living for a week without tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing, even washing clothes. Imagine restaurants having to shut down, hotels putting sinks and showers off-limits, nursing homes trying to care for patients with only bottled water at their disposal. Imagine learning that there was essentially no information on the long-term health effects of a chemical you could smell everywhere you went.
President Obama promptly issued an emergency declaration in the hours after the spill and the Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched tanker trucks full of clean water. But the Charleston mishap raises fundamental questions about the coal and chemical industries and thesafety of our drinking water — and on this larger subject, from the president and the leadership in Congress, we’ve heard not a peep.
For me, this is personal: My son, daughter-in-law and 14-month-old granddaughter live in Charleston — I should say lived there, since they evacuated on the day of the spill when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) issued the order not to use the water except to flush toilets.
This is what happened: An aging storage tank at a company called Freedom Industries leaked at least 7,500 gallons of MCHM, a “frothing agent” used in processing coal, into the Elk River. A little more than a mile downstream, in the middle of Charleston, there is an intake facility for West Virginia American Water, a utility providing service to much of the state.
Coal and chemicals are two of West Virginia’s biggest and most powerful industries, together employing about 90,000 residents. Officials there have powerful economic incentives to see this spill as an aberration. But there is every reason to believe similar episodes can and will happen again.
Excellent journalism about the spill, much of it appearing in the Charleston Gazette, has established that this emergency should not have been a surprise.
Officials knew that the coal industry uses dozens of chemicals that never have been thoroughly tested for their effects on human health. Officials also knew this was true of the segment of the industry that Obama and others call “clean coal,” which, I have argued, should be considered an oxymoron.
Officials knew that the tanks at Freedom Industries — which has already declared bankruptcy, in anticipation of lawsuits — were old and needed refurbishing. Officials also knew that having a chemical plant just upstream from an intake for the water system was a potential hazard. And while they still do not know what the long-term hazards of exposure to MCHM might be, they do know that symptoms of acute exposure include eye and throat irritation, vomiting, respiratory distress and skin rashes.
More than 400 people have gone to West Virginia hospitals complaining of these symptoms. Only a handful have been admitted, however, and most of these people may actually be suffering from anxiety. Unless more testing is done, we may never know.
The bipartisan consensus in the state seems to be: Move along folks, nothing to see here. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, told CNN that he is “not going to cast guilt on anybody” and defended the coal industry. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, told the Gazette she still believes the Environmental Protection Agency is guilty of “overreaching.”
How do the EPA and the White House respond? Please speak up. We can’t hear you.
Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. You can also join him Tuesdays at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A.

Proposed fracking in national forest meets broad opposition

The U.S. Forest Service considers allowing hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in George Washington National Forest in Virginia, stirring concern about risks to drinking water in the Washington, D.C., area.

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George Washington National Forest
In the past, the U.S. Forest Service has made it a top priority to preserve the purity of the water in George Washington National Forest, but the land also has vast untapped deposits of natural gas. (U.S. Forest Service / January 7, 2014)

BRIDGEWATER, Va. — The headwaters of the Potomac River rise amid the hills and hollows of George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Small creeks dart past oak, white pine and hickory, become streams that nourish farmland and towns, and create a river that courses through two states and the nation's capital.
About 4 million people depend on that water. For decades, the U.S. Forest Service identified preserving its purity as the top priority for the national forest. Now, the agency is considering allowing George Washington to become the first national forest to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The million-acre forest sits on the eastern edge of the Marcellus shale formation, whose vast deposits of natural gas have touched off a drilling bonanza in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
All across the country, fracking's risks and rewards have splintered communities. But the potential risk to George Washington National Forest's water has drawn widespread opposition, including from most of the towns and counties nearby, members of Virginia's congressional delegation and Washington's mayor. The oil industry says any natural gas could be extracted with little harm to the national forest and its waters.
The dispute mirrors dozens around the country as hydraulic fracturing unlocks oil and gas previously considered out of reach. But this time, it has stirred concerns not only about water in rural communities, but also about the drinking water of one of the nation's biggest metropolitan areas.
"The Potomac is our exclusive water source. We don't have anywhere else to go for our drinking water if there's a mistake or problem," said George Hawkins, general manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. "And if there is, it would affect everyone at the [Environmental Protection Agency], every member of Congress."
Neighboring West Virginia offers a preview of disruption when water becomes unusable, even temporarily. In that case, chemicals used to wash coal were found in the Elk River two weeks ago. For at least four days, nine counties could use tap water only to flush toilets.
In Virginia, counties such as Augusta and Rockingham near George Washington National Forest boast some of the state's richest agricultural land, and many towns benefit from tourism tied to the forest.
"Local governments here are aware that their most important natural resource is their water," said Nancy Sorrells, a historian of the region and former Augusta County supervisor.
On a mild winter morning, Sorrells and two lawyers from the Southern Environmental Law Center drove the narrow road that snakes up to the nearly 4,400-foot Reddish Knob, one of the highest points in Virginia. On one side of the windy summit, hardwood forest extends to the horizon.
If fracking were allowed, Sorrells and the lawyers noted, huge trucks would navigate the sinuous roads into the mountainous terrain, forest land would be cleared for pipelines and hilltops would be flattened for compressor stations.
Every decade or so, all national forests develop new plans to determine the best use of their resources. The draft plan released in 2011 for the George Washington forest would have effectively banned fracking.
After an outcry from industry, the Forest Service decided to reconsider. Aware of the complexity and contentiousness of the issue, the agency has delayed a final decision several times.
Fracking currently is permitted on only two Forest Service preserves, both in the West: Dakota Prairie National Grasslands in North Dakota and Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado.
"Minerals have always been a part of what we've been about, but we have to weigh if it's appropriate to develop them in this forest with this set of conditions," said Ken Landgraf, planning staff officer for George Washington National Forest. "The 'why' of considering fracking gets to the use of national lands. If we are developing energy in this country and making it more secure, shouldn't national lands be part of the solution?"
Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water laced with sand and chemicals deep underground to crack shale formations and unlock oil and gas. The process is exempt from some parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and energy companies do not have to disclose the chemicals they use if they consider them trade secrets.
Technological advances would allow fracking in the forest while protecting its water, said Michael Ward, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council. He noted that the Forest Service could keep the most sensitive areas off-limits.
"Though there are no leases in or around the forest now, it seems unreasonable to lock up that whole area for another 15 years until the next forest plan," he said.
Fracking's effect on water supplies remains in dispute. Yet recent studies near fracking sites have discovered water contaminated by methane, arsenic and chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer.
Sarah Francisco, one of the Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys who rode up to Reddish Knob, said the possibility of fracking in the forest raised unsettling questions: Would the gas companies compete with municipalities for the forest's water? Once it has been used in fracking, how would the highly contaminated water be disposed of, since local treatment plants could not handle it? Would methane from wells migrate into the water, as it has in parts of Pennsylvania? Would accidental spills of chemicals or wastewater taint the watershed?
The questions trouble Dave and Sharon Horn. Half of their 650 acres is wooded and merges into the George Washington National Forest. They raise beef cattle on the rest. They hike and hunt in the forest. A spring runs on the other side of Buck Hill by their house.
Like many of the area's residents, Dave Horn's family has lived by the forest for generations. He does not want the land and water disturbed, and the oil industry has failed to reassure him.
"They can say, 'We'll be very careful and do this and that,' but there's always potential for human error, and that leads to contamination," he said. "And all this will affect people downstream too."
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