Thursday, June 27, 2013

Coal: “I Owe My Soul To The Company Store”

I grew up in Hawaii with no idea what I was singing about when rumbling along with Tennessee Ernie Ford in my deepest pre-teen bass voice to the lyrics of Sixteen Tons--

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store"

I still don’t have much of a first-hand experience with coal except for seeing some in a dusty basement in an old Portland rental. I’ve watched How Green Was My Valley and Coal Miner’s Daughter and used the expression “canary in a coal mine.”

I’ve heard of the somewhat surreal story by Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal, and pondered whether children in Europe who got a lump of coal at Christmastime were being punished or rewarded. On one hand, the Dutch tradition was punishment for bad behavior; on the other, coal was a valuable fuel that warmed you. Maybe punishment or reward depended on whether you were rich or poor.

This past week we had to think about the implications of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deciding that effects of climate change would not be included in the scope of the environmental impact study for the coal export facility proposed to be built in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and pondered the implications of the multi-pronged avenues of the President’s policy to reduce the impacts of coal burning on climate change.

On the one hand we aren’t going to assess the impact on climate change of a major action regarding coal; on the other hand, we are going to take action on the impact on climate change by reducing how we and the rest of the world uses coal.

I was reminded that decision like the one announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were long in the making and made at the highest levels of the Administration. In late February of this year, Bloomberg News reported in White House CEQ Meetings on Coal Projects Seen Indicating Major Policy Issues at Stake:

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has convened a series of meetings with federal regulators over the past nine months as the Obama administration shapes environmental impact analyses for the building of terminals to export coal to Asia. While CEQ downplays its involvement in the deliberations, a former CEQ official and other analysts suggest the White House role highlights the sensitive policy issues at stake, as the administration is under pressure to assess the possible climate change impact of burning U.S. coal in Asia.
At issue is how broadly the government should extend its analysis: whether to consider the impacts of each of the Pacific Northwest export terminals through narrowly tailored individual environmental impact statements or to assess their cumulative effects together, which would allow for a comprehensive analysis of possible climate change impacts.
Trains carrying coal north to British Columbia are the closest those of us in Western Washington get to coal these days. I think it would help make talking about coal much more real if, every time someone wanted to say something pro or con about coal, they had to hold a piece of coal in their hands. Sort of like a talking stick.

This past week, I suggested to an activist organizer she could use coal in a more tactile way but there was no easy way short of derailing one of those coal trains to get some coal to have and to hold. But we have Eocene rock formations in Western Washington out of which coal has been mined, giving us names like Coal Creek, Newcastle and Black Diamond.

I asked geologist Dan McShane if he’d written about the coal in his blog, Reading the Washington Landscape, and Dan generously shared some of the articles he’d written.

Dan’s article, Park Store - Sometimes Zoning Does Not Matter tells of, among other things, the 1890 opening of the Blue Canyon Mine located above the east shore of Lake Whatcom. The high-quality coal was barged to the north end of the lake, then sent by rail to ships on the Bellingham waterfront.

Coal in Whatcom County: Glen Echo Mine tells of the 1918 opening of the Glen Echo Mine on Anderson Creek.

Dan writes about coal mined in the 1870s in downtown Bellingham in A Patch Over Bellingham's Void and near the Bellingham Golf Course in When Bellingham Had Coal Piles.

Bellingham and Whatcom County’s coal, as well as King County’s coal, was small potatoes compared to the amount of coal coming via locomotives whose lights we see coming our way in the dark tunnel. There are a lot of folks more than happy to owe their souls to the company.

Me? I don’t sing Tennessee Ernie’s song any more. Nowadays, I think about who wins and who loses. Anytime I need to be reminded, it's time to listen up to John Prine singing Paradise --

And daddy won't you take me back to Mulenberg county
Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay
Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away
--Mike Sato

(Note: Eric de Place at Sightline gives some real scary numbers about the amount of oil coming our way by rail, What You Can Do About Oil-By-Rail in the Northwest, to go along with my earlier blog, Greased Rails for Oil and Coal )

Monday, June 24, 2013

Who Reads Newspapers Anyway?

It’s a morning ritual: get up and let the dog out the front door and walk to the spot in the lawn where the morning Bellingham Herald’s been tossed in its bright red plastic wrapper. Sure, sometimes like this Monday morning, the paper’s about as thin as its plastic covering but having the morning paper in hand is a nice, familiar ritual.

Everett Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein captures the feeling well of what happens when the morning paper isn’t there in “Nothing replaces a physical newspaper”:

“....when the paper isn't there it's just an awful feeling. Something pleasurable and important is missing. The day does not properly begin. Coffee doesn't taste as good. It's an addiction, really, and it's common in my generation.”
Like Muhlstein, print newspaper readers of The Oregonian might begin having that “awful feeling” as the venerable publication goes to delivering the daily paper to home subscribers only on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Muhlstein reports that the newspaper will be published seven days a week and sold daily at newsstands and will have an expanded digital presence. This is all part of a business strategy by the publication’s owners who have made similar cuts in both publication and staff at papers in New Orleans and Cleveland.

It’s a business move that newspaperman Floyd McKay questions this morning in his Crosscut article, “The Oregonian: Going the way of all newspapers?”--
“If the paper does maintain its present staff size, it reflects the move to digital. There is some irony in this: The Oregonian’s strongest suit has been a talented staff of reporters and editors; its weakest link has been its web site,”
But maybe it is a generational thing shared by Muhlstein, McKay and me. According to an article in BBC News by Leo Kelion, the move to paying for non-physical, digital news is slowly gaining support in the UK. “Gains were also seen in the US, France and Germany, although Denmark bucked the trend. Those aged 25 to 34 appeared most prepared to pay, and men were more willing than women, the study suggests.” ( Online news is becoming easier to sell, suggests study  )
... "The data indicate, on average, 10% of people have paid for news in some digital form - about one-third higher than last year," said Prof Robert Picard, director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which carried out the study. “Public-affairs magazines are finding it easier to get the public to pay than newspapers, especially on tablets, because digital payments for magazines are becoming the norm and they offer news analysis and commentary in ways general news sources do not.”
So if the news business strategists are right, it will be the young who will pay and read the news in its digital form. Some of us will just have to explain why we are standing on the front lawn in the mornings. Then it will be up to the young to define the standard of what constitutes good news reporting— in whatever form it comes.

--Mike Sato 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Greased Rails for Oil and Coal

PHOTO: Globe and Mail/Canadian Pacific
Some of us remember the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74 when the foreign oil we depend on was cut back, resulting in cars lining up for gas and higher prices at the pump. The embargo also prompted a law outlawing export of our domestic oil to foreign countries. There have been several incidences since then of threats to our life styles due to dependence on foreign oil imports, prompting many words about the necessity of U.S. achieving energy independence.

Well, thanks to fracking technology advances, domestic oil production may outstrip refinery capacity within 18 months to three years, according to an analyst at FBR Capital Markets Corp. Net petroleum imports now account for about 40 percent of demand, down from 60 percent in 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department research unit. Output is putting the nation on pace to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer by 2020, according to Energy Department data.

In order to maintain the growth in domestic oil production despite the limits of refinery capacity, the law prohibiting export of domestic oil may have to be lifted by Congress. ( U.S. Considers Exporting More Oil for First Time Since ’70s  )

This puts Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, already in prime position to profit from transporting coal to be exported from facilities proposed in Washington and Oregon, in an equally prime position to profit from transporting oil to be exported— should the oil export ban be lifted.

The rail lines are already in place and BNSF since last year has been supplying the Tesoro refinery near Anacortes with a third of its crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota. You might have seen those 100-car shipments on their way to Anacortes; we can expect to see many more when Bakken crude oil deliveries by rail begin to the Phillips and Shell refineries as well as to the BP refinery in Ferndale, which currently receives Bakken crude oil via barge from a Clatskanie, Oregon, terminal until its refinery rail line is completed.

Pipelines like BC’s Northern Gateway to carry Alberta tar sands oil and Kinder Morgan to carry Canadian Bakken crude and the yet-to-be-approved Keystone pipeline are all still in play, but the oil transport games changed rapidly in the last year.

America’s energy boom has left the middle of the country awash in cheap oil. But as pipeline companies scramble to spend billions of dollars to build new pipes to tap these hot new fields, they’re discovering that railroads have beaten them to the punch. By laying a few extra miles of track and building new loading facilities, oil and gas operators are quickly connecting remote areas of oil production with the existing networks of big railroads such as Union Pacific and BNSF Railway. On the other end, they’re running tracks directly into refining complexes as far away as Philadelphia and Puget Sound. These rail projects can often be finished in a matter of months at a cost that’s usually in the millions, not billions.” Amid U.S. Oil Boom, Railroads Are Beating Pipelines in Crude Transport  
The Port of Grays Harbor which boasts itself to be “Washington’s only deep water port on the Pacific coast”, in hopeful anticipation of some boom times to come their way, dropped plans to develop a coal export facility and instead has been moving forward with a proposal to build a crude oil export facility served by rail.

Notwithstanding the Port’s declaration that the “oil industry is one of the most regulated industries. State and federal laws and policies will govern construction, operations and shipping protocols,” a coalition of Friends of Grays Harbor, Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Citizens for A Clean Harbor, Surfrider Foundation, and Sierra Club has concerns about putting nearly 100 million gallons of crude oil on the edge of the Grays Harbor Estuary. The coalition filed an appeal to the Substantial Development Permit granted to Westway Terminal Company, LLC by the City of Hoquiam and Department of Ecology. Citing failure to follow the law and errors in application of the law, the appeal asks the Shorelines Hearings Board to reverse the permit and the Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance and require an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. So has the Quinault Indian Nation.

According to Curt Hart at the Department of Ecology, the state has regulatory authority when oil is transferred over water, from land to ship or from ship to land. While the state cannot pre-empt federal laws and regulations governing shipping operations, contingency response plans for oil spills and equipment are required of transports over water. Washington state has a rescue tug at Neah Bay paid for by the shipping industry.

Not so for trains carrying oil or coal or your caustic chemical. As interstate commerce solely under federal regulations, railways don’t need to declare what they are carrying or when or where. Only after there is an accident must they declare their manifest to first responders. Each rail car of oil carries about 28,000 gallons; a spill in a rail yard is one thing; a spill along a waterway like the Columbia River or Puget Sound is another.

If the boom in oil and coal transport by rail is put into the equation of jobs vs. environment, constructive discussion tends to bog down, so I’d put the question in terms of asking who benefits from this boom in resource extraction and export and who or what is put at risk by this boom without benefit? It’s a rather selfish way of looking at what some might consider progress and others regress, but maybe by starting there, we can begin discussing how to share the benefits and the risks in an equitable way.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When Should We Eat More Fish?

PHOTO: Elaine Thompson/AP
Robert McClure at Investigate West wrote an update yesterday ( Story update: Inslee gets involved in water-quality rule changes ) about Governor Inslee forming an informal, advisory group to discuss water pollution rules and health standards based on fish consumption. The new group would include local governments, Indian tribes and businesses but no environmental groups. The formal update of the rules was quashed last year after former Governor Gregoire met with a key Boeing executive and a few days later with then-Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.

Regarding the new, informal advisory group process, McClure wrote: “Tribal interests and nearly all environmental groups – with the exception of Portland-based Northwest Environmental Advocates – have been boycotting the two-year Ecology 'stakeholder process' set in motion by last summer’s decision.”

Today, Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, resigned from the stakeholder group and, in a pointed letter to Ecology Director Maia Bellon, explained why:

Northwest Environmental Advocates

June 11, 2013

Maia Bellon, Director
Washington Department of Ecology
300 Desmond Drive
Lacey, WA 98503-1274 Via E-mail only: maib461@ECY.WA.GOV

Re: Water Quality Standards Triennial Review for Human Health Toxics –
Resignation from the Department of Ecology Delegates’ Table

Dear Ms. Bellon:

It is with regret that I submit this letter of resignation from the Delegates’ Table for the
Department of Ecology’s process to establish new toxic criteria for the protection of human
health for Washington’s waters. Fortuitously, the Governor has just announced the creation of
his own parallel “informal group of advisors from tribal and local government, as well as the
business community,” a group of advisors that omits the participation of environmental
organizations. Excluding organizations that represent the health interests of Washington’s
citizens and who have expertise in the Clean Water Act and pollution control is both stunning
and insulting. From our perspective, it appears to be yet one more misstep in a process positively
beset by missteps. And it raises the question: in which of these two processes is the real
discussion going to be had?

As you know, Washington’s current water quality standards for human health are established by
the now outdated National Toxics Rule, in which toxic criteria are based on a fish consumption
rate of 6.5 grams/day. Because that fish consumption level falls well short of reflecting current
national averages or the eating habits of Washington fish consumers, including the State’s tribal
members, the Department of Ecology has been discussing updating these criteria. However, as
has been painfully revealed in recent news reports, Ecology is under significant political pressure
from pollution dischargers to both offset increased fish consumption numbers, by changing other
variables used in calculating criteria, and to create new regulatory loopholes, termed in Orwellian
doublespeak “implementation tools,” to relieve regulated pollution sources from having to curtail
their toxic discharges.

Ecology has been wrestling to create a process by which to resolve these issues and, in particular,
it has increasingly sought to avoid making policy decisions up front. In what can only be
characterized as the agency’s lurching from one approach to another, Ecology has finally settled
on the idea of a “Delegate’s [sic] Table.” This group of stakeholders is intended to serve as
something more than a series of workshops but something significantly less than a full-on
advisory committee. Various environmental organizations, Tribes, and tribal representatives
were asked to serve on this Delegates’ Table and all have either declined to serve or chose to not
attend the first and only meeting of this group, held in October 2012. That is all, with the sole
exception of Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA).

After thoughtful consideration, we have decided to resign from the Delegates’ Table. We do not
make this decision lightly, particularly given that our absence will leave the group without any
non-polluting participants. Moreover, we believe Ecology can ill afford to lose our Clean Water
Act expertise and experience from our intimate involvement with Oregon’s intensive process to
revise its human health standards. However, we believe that Ecology has pandered excessively
to monied interests, failed to demonstrate a serious commitment to using the Clean Water Act to
control toxic pollution, and will use the outcome of this Delegates’ Table process to justify
taking politically expedient actions. We cannot lend our name to such an outcome.
The remainder of this letter will explicate these points in greater detail, thereby illuminating
NWEA’s decision to resign, as well as to elaborate on how we think Ecology should move
forward with this important and pressing task.

Ecology’s Flawed Process

It is our view that Ecology has bent over backwards to satisfy pollution sources concerned about
having to reduce their toxic discharges to Washington’s waters. As a result, Ecology’s approach
to decision-making on this issue has been and continues to be infected by a stated desire to “push
back” on the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) implementing
regulations, and federal guidance. The passage of time has demonstrated that Ecology has
thrown open the doors to consider any and every option to decrease regulation as the quid pro
quo for increasing the fish consumption rate. This has evolved in a series of steps, starting with
Ecology’s policy decision to re-consider each and every variable in EPA’s equation that
generates toxic criteria for the protection of human health. One of these variables is the risk to
which the State will expose its citizens, a policy choice long established in Washington as a onein-
a-million risk of cancer.1 The second step in this process was Ecology’s agreement to
establish inaptly-named “implementation tools,” by which it would let permitted dischargers of
toxic chemicals off the regulatory hook.2 While considering and addressing the practical realities
of making the State’s toxic criteria more stringent is a fair topic of discussion for rulemaking,
Ecology’s ideas for regulatory relief far exceed the types of regulatory loopholes that have been
tolerated to date under the Clean Water Act. For example, while variances – which are intended
to be short-term downgrades to water quality standards – are normally 3-5 years, Ecology seeks
to institute 20-year variances. But even worse was to come.

In the October 2012 meeting, the agency made a further announcement that Ecology would leave
no stone unturned in revising policies that support its regulatory program. Specifically
mentioned were policies for determining whether Washington waters are impaired, that is
identifying those waters that fail to meet water quality standards, and the issuance of discharge
permits to toxic sources. For example, Ecology has specifically suggested removing impaired
waters from its list that were based on levels of toxic contaminants found in fish tissue but this
ignores the fact that fish tissue is the best medium in which to measure toxics because of the
technological limitations in measuring toxics in water. In short, NWEA found the sheer scope of
Ecology’s proposed regulatory rollbacks particularly shocking and disheartening.

Although eager to announce its willingness to gut the States’s water quality regulatory program,
Ecology has expressed no concomitant desire to control other sources of toxics to Washington’s
waters. An extremely superficial effort to paper over the problem of unregulated toxics was
made by a group that met a handful of times to generate a report in January 2013.3 The report
contains not a single recommendation for increased regulation of sources that Ecology does not
currently regulate and no proposals for rulemaking.4 But having produced a 30-page paper,
Ecology now perceives itself free to carry on with the task of de-regulating currently regulated
pollution sources.5

Finally, the purpose of this Delegates’ Table remains unclear, particularly in light of the new
Governor’s advisory group. At most, it appears the Ecology group will meet six times and serve
as a “sounding board” rather than an advisory committee. Because, with the exception of
NWEA, the participants are exclusively pollution sources or allied with pollution sources,
Ecology will be taking the pulse only of interests vested in an outcome that benefits their
commercial endeavors. Left out are those who represent the fish consumers and water users of
Washington, that is the vast majority of its citizens and those who bear the burden of pain,
heartache, and financial devastation of cancer and chronic diseases caused by toxic chemicals.

Moving Forward

It is NWEA’s view that the environmental and tribal representatives who have refused to
participate in Ecology’s latest lurch in the process would likely come to the table if Ecology were
willing to make policy decisions on the basis of what is best for the State’s citizens, not just its
business interests. This would be evident if Ecology first and very simply made certain major
policy calls – such as retaining the State’s current risk level for cancer – rather than throwing
everything open for change. Specifically, Ecology needs to make clear this bartering of increased
fish consumption and increased risk – the combination of which would generate a result equal to
or less protective than current standards – is a fraudulent game it is not willing to play. Likewise,
Ecology needs to, as Oregon did, settle on a fish consumption level that it believes is supported
by the evidence, rather than negotiate that level based on its regulatory implications for toxic

Second, having settled such fundamental matters of State policy, Ecology must make clear it
genuinely wants the community of interests to discuss regulatory solutions for dischargers that
are reasonable to all who make Washington home, not just business interests. This means an
explicit retraction of statements about re-examining and possibly overturning every single Clean
Water Act regulatory rule and policy in the State. It also means a commitment that Ecology will
reject, up front, approaches that will poke holes into the integrity of the Clean Water Act by, inter
alia, turning temporary regulatory relief into decades of noncompliance.6

Third, Ecology must commit to concurrently increase regulation of the numerous sources of
toxics – industrial, commercial, residential, agricultural, and silvicultural – that currently
contaminate Washington’s waters with limited or no controls whatsoever. If Ecology wants to
establish regulatory loopholes for permitted dischargers it must also commit to conducting
rulemaking to establish pollution controls on currently un- or under-regulated sources of toxic
pollution. There is no point in establishing new criteria if literally no pollution source is on the
hook to reduce pollution.

Finally, Ecology must commit to completing rulemaking by a date certain. And it must agree
that it will not adopt regulatory loopholes in advance of adopting new toxic criteria.
We believe these four steps would bring most of Washington’s stakeholders to the table.
However, in the absence of these actions, this entire process is at best an academic exercise.
Potentially much worse, it is one likely to move the state’s regulatory program backwards.


Even Ecology is likely to agree it has handled poorly the process of updating these toxic criteria.
But the problems are not limited to process. The agency has also misleadingly termed proposed
regulatory loopholes “implementation tools,” agreed to play a confidence game in which it might
increase cancer risks to eliminate any safety benefit that would accrue to the public from
increasing the fish consumption levels, and produced a fig leaf of a report to conceal its utter
disinterest in regulating currently unregulated sources of toxics, even as it seeks to let regulated
sources off the hook.

Washington citizens deserve better than this.

Until Ecology sponsors a discussion that is more than how to re-create the water quality
regulatory program to meet the desires of toxic polluters, NWEA cannot see lending its name to
the outcome. Naturally, we will continue to participate in the formal process and we hope that
our expertise in the Clean Water Act and pollution control will continue be of use to Ecology.


Nina Bell
Executive Director

cc: Governor Jay Inslee
Kelly Suswind, Ecology
Melissa Gildersleeve, Ecology
Angela Chung, EPA

1 See WAC 173-201A-240(6); 40 C.F.R. § 131.36(d)(14)(iii). Washington went so far as
to urge EPA to promulgate the one-in-a-million criteria nationwide and, if it did not, to urge a
federal rule to “specifically address the issue of multiple contaminants so as to better control
overall site risks.” 57 Fed. Reg. 60848, 60867 (Dec. 22, 1992).

2 At some points in the process Ecology announced it would develop these regulatory
loopholes prior to the new toxic criteria, leaving open the prospect Washington would have an
abundance of regulatory flexibility but not even new human health protection on paper. While
the timing of these two regulatory packages remains unclear, Ecology has not agreed they will be

3 Ecology, Washington Toxics Reduction Strategies Workgroup, Toxics Policy Reform for
Washington State, January 16, 2013 at

4 The paper has 12 recommendations, the strongest being a tepid recommendation that
Ecology be given limited authority to institute bans of certain chemicals. Oddly this group’s
recommendations also include the very regulatory loopholes being discussed by Ecology as socalled
“implementation tools,” not a single one of which is intended to reduce toxic inputs to
Washington waters.

5 Ecology’s website also includes some parting thoughts from Ted Sturdevant, its former
Director, in which he states that “[t]o break the impasse, we have to ask a different set of
questions: What is the simplest, least expensive and most effective way to address the root causes
of toxic pollution?” Ecology, Conversations on Washington's Future: Clean Water, Healthy
Fish and a Sound Economy at He then
describes a collaborative approach to phase out brake pads with heavy metals. Mr. Sturdevant
does not explain why one example of a collaborative approach is a justification for not regulating
the innumerable sources of toxic contaminants that remain.

6 While Washington certainly can explore ideas for providing regulatory relief for
permitted discharge sources, the reality is that there are only a few acceptable methods under the
Clean Water Act: e.g., short-term variances that can be renewed, compliance schedules where
sources can commit to an effluent-certain/date-certain outcome, intake credits, Use Attainability
Analyses, site-specific criteria, and combinations thereof.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Saving Puget Sound Shorelines One Property At A Time

You want to reduce speeding accidents, you have to talk to drivers, right? And if you want to save Puget Sound shorelines, you have to talk to shoreline property owners.

That’s not necessarily been an easy task around shoreline regulations, especially during the recent rounds of upgrading county and city shoreline master programs, and ending up telling shoreline property owners what they can and can’t do on their properties.

Now, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Department of Natural Resources are advertising for a consultant to learn how best to talk to shoreline property owners about voluntarily taking care of their properties. The contract is for a “Social Marketing Strategy to Reduce Puget Sound Shoreline Armoring.”

The project is worth $250,000 and here’s what we will get:

“This project will identify the barriers and motivators for landowners along marine shorelines of Puget Sound in choosing alternatives to shoreline armoring, so that the right combination of technical assistance, education, incentives, and other strategies can be used to achieve a reduction in armoring. It will describe how to motivate segments of the marine shoreline landowner population to voluntarily remove existing armoring or to forgo armoring where the shoreline is currently undeveloped. It will use existing information, as well as gather new data from target audiences, about actual barriers and motivators to choosing alternatives to armoring. Building on past lessons and successes of similar efforts, it will recommend education, incentives, messages, and other strategies that will be effective in influencing target audiences to actually remove or forgo armoring. It will provide clear, innovative, and realistic approaches for entities in the Puget Sound region to implement social marketing and behavior change campaigns.”
There have been several campaigns to engage shoreline property owners in stewardship. Island County Beachwatchers, People For Puget Sound and even the Puget Sound Action Team have spent time with property owners. Read the Action Team’s report from the 2005 Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Research Conference: “Educating Shoreline Landowners: Examples From King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Jefferson, Mason and Pierce Counties; A Perspective on Approaches and Effectiveness in eliciting on-the-ground change.”

I’m sure there are other past examples of trying to engage shoreline property owners the agencies and a consultant can learn from as well.

Two things come to mind:

There’s a power in demonstrating these alternatives that no amount of talk talk talk can accomplish. If the federal, state and local governments begin by engineering alternatives to shoreline armoring on our public properties, we might accomplish something by leading by example.

Second, engaging property owners is something the government most likely can’t do because a lot of shoreline property owners don’t trust the government. Just as with boaters, whoever is advocating stewardship has to be on the side of shoreline property owners, who have to come to see themselves as stewards of the shorelines.

If that were simply a matter of saying the right things, it would already have been a slam dunk. The Partnership’s recovery dashboard says how much farther we have to go towards achieving shoreline health and alternatives to armoring in Puget Sound, “Shoreline Armoring” --
“The amount of new shoreline armoring in Puget Sound was substantially greater than the amount removed for every year from 2005 through 2010 (Figure 1 in Latest data and maps section). Cumulatively, a net amount (new armoring minus removed armoring) of six miles of new armoring was constructed during this time frame, or on average, one mile of additional armoring per year. This pattern of net gain in armoring is the opposite of what is needed to meet the 2020 target. However, the net amount of armoring per year declined by roughly 50% over these six years....”
--Mike Sato

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

‘Tis the Season of Profligate Fecundity

Guests spent a few days in my cabin in the Lopez woods last week and reported that once the cabin got warm, the big black ants swarmed out of the woodwork.

Not quite so dramatic were the little winged ants in our bedroom last weekend coming from and going into the heater vent.

Outside, closing off the holes under the fence to keep the bunnies out of the garden made me feel like Elmer Fudd.

And I spent this past weekend picking tent caterpillars off the flame bush hedge and berry bushes. The trees and bushes will be fine; however, the little apple tree in the no man’s land between the road and the neighboring properties will be fortunate if it survives.

I love to hear accounts of the rivers being so full of salmon that you could walk across the waters on their backs. Of the skies being dark for an hour or two as the flocks of passenger pigeons flew over.

When the night waters in Hawaii used to turn red with the schooling ‘aweoweo (bigeye), the Hawaiians said royalty will die. We’d go down to the harbor with lanterns to fish and they’d even bite an empty, shiny hook.

I like fish and I like birds (although an hour of birds passing overhead would be a bit much for me). Insects? Not so much.

I was stunned when watching Samuel Orr’s short movie-in-the-works about the 17-year cyclic return of the cicadas in New England. Watch it and you’ll see what nature’s profligate fecundity is. OK, it’s about insects, lots of them, but it’s an amazing piece of work in progress: Return of the Cicadas

And our tent caterpillars? WSU Extension says that there’s a tachinid fly which parasitizes the larvae by depositing white eggs on the caterpillar's body. (I looked for any caterpillars with white eggs on their bodies and would have let them be if I had found any.)

In the next stage, I should be looking for cocoons in and around the plants. “The adult moths emerge in approximately 7 to 10 days. The moths are stout-bodied and light brown. They often fly in clusters around street or porch lights on summer evenings. After the moths mate, the females lay 100 to 350 eggs in a froth-covered band around small twigs or branches of host trees. The eggs mature in 3 weeks but do not hatch until the following spring.”

Now you know what I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks.

--Mike Sato 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Newsroom Lies Over The Paywall

Last month the Kitsap Sun set up their paywall and cut Puget Sound readers off from reporting by Christopher Dunagan, one of the few remaining environmental journalists covering Puget Sound water quality and habitat issues.

Sun editor David Nelson believes erecting the paywall to limit online access to print and digital subscribers will make the Sun a better publication. He wrote on May 11:

“A digital subscription covers all of our online coverage, but readers will always be able to access certain ‘free’ stories — our daily weather report, news with a public safety element such as fires or inclement weather. Certain other stories, such as government decisions that make a difference in your life, or sports scores, will be available to all for a limited number of hours before becoming “premium” stories only for subscribers.”
After “a limited number of hours” Chris Dunagan’s stories are pay-for-view at $10 a month.

I like newspapers and I like Chris’s reporting but I don’t think paying $10 a month is going to give me any more or better environmental reporting nor is it going to give Chris a bigger paycheck. David Nelson couches the Sun’s paywall decision as a decision about better journalism. It isn’t. It’s a financial decision and a last-ditch effort to boost paid subscriptions to sell advertising.

Subscriptions alone have never paid for reporters’ salaries and, in that respect, their product was and is in large part “free.” Advertising revenues paid for most of  the newsroom salaries and, in the days of shrinking ad revenues, newsrooms get slashed and fewer reporters now cover multiple beats.

 Last Friday, PR Daily reported that the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photo staff. The Sun-Times justified it not as a financial decision but as a journalistic one by writing:
"The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network."  
Readers won’t get better journalism. Sun-Times reporters will now take news photos. Will they get paid more and the journalistic product improved? Don’t think so.

The Sun’s paywall decision leaves only the Sound Publishing-owed Peninsula Daily News and The Herald of Everett as Puget Sound daily papers for now without paywalls. The Herald’s circulation had been dropping before the purchase last April by Sound Publishing. According to Greg Lamm in the Puget Sound Business Journal, “The Herald saw its average daily circulation — which included print and digital subscriptions — shrink 15 percent for the six month period that ended March 31, compared to a year ago. Sunday circulation declined 8.4 percent. The declining numbers suggest Sound Publishing will be focused not only on growing revenue through added readers, but also on looking for more ways to cut costs.”

Paywalls, anyone?

We live in a time of diminished expectations and shrinking baselines when it comes to news coverage on many issues like the environment in Puget Sound. I’ll risk sounding like an old guy by saying it used to be a lot more fun and a lot more interesting when there were many more reporters competing to get a story in print and on the radio and TV about an environmental issue or event.

I’m not sure what the price point is for paying for quality news reporting but I know what I’m paying for currently isn’t quality in coverage or depth. The Columbia Journalism Review reports that the Orange County Register’s investment is in hiring more reporters and giving readers good journalism— and charging them for it. Will it work? If we knew the answer to that we wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in. But if it does work, maybe the days of print journalism with its material costs will finally evolve into more cost-efficient and timely digital versions.

I never believed the civic line that we had to have big sports arenas and professional sports teams in baseball, football and basketball in order to be a world-class region. But I always believed that we needed to have quality news reporting to be a world-class region. Maybe we can have both.

--Mike Sato