Wildlife rehabbers return birds to the sky in ChattanoogaRay ZimmermanThursday, 06 May 2021
Restoring wings to rise above the Earth again
“I think the most amazing and rewarding thing about raptor rehab is taking a bird that's literally at death's door to a full recovery and then releasing her back to her wild home." Alix Parks, Wildlife rehabilitator
Alix Parks became a certified wildlife rehabilitator 25 years ago. Her new career was sparked by a class in wildlife rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga taught by Debbie Lipsey.
Parks also counts Lynne McCoy and Katie Cottrell of the Clinch River Raptor Center as early mentors. At first, she prepared food for the animals and worked with any animal brought to her. She is now a certified rehabilitator and has specialized in birds of prey for 16 years.
Wildlife rehabilitation requires lifelong learning. Parks has attended symposia at Raptors on the River in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as symposia sponsored by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.
Her story reflects the missions of these organizations. It is a local story, but one with national and international implications.Read 183 times More...
Natural 911: Knoxville Native Plant Rescue Squad whisks threatened plants to safetyThomas FraserTuesday, 04 May 2021
Joy Grissom and Gerry Moll: Preserving East Tennessee's natural heritage with shovels and wheelbarrows
If there’s a massive ecological disturbance in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?
The Knoxville Native Plant Rescue Squad, of course.
Joy Grissom and Gerry Moll spent the past six years identifying, digging, hauling and muscling native East Tennessee plants to salvation from construction, grading and logging sites.
The duo has saved thousands of plants and their communities from certain demise. They have plucked plants to safety from areas ranging from a 170-acre logging operation in Cocke County to relatively small commercial developments in Knox County.
“We both love and appreciate the natural world, a lot,” Moll said. “We would see that where there is development, a lot of these native plants are just bulldozed under,” he said during an interview earlier this spring at the Knoxville Botanical Garden. Thus the genesis of the Native Plant Rescue Squad, which was organized 2015 and received its own official nonprofit status in 2018.
Most of the plants and trees are harvested in a “shovel and wheelbarrow operation” after an initial canvass of the property. Then they get organized by species in neat rows at the botanical garden: White pine saplings. Black-eyed susans. Blackberries. Elderberries. Pawpaw. Persimmon. The plants are fragile but safe. They are for sale on the cheap. They need homes.Read 334 times More...
In historic move, Tennessee Valley Authority finally swears off coal; are power replacements up in the air?Thomas FraserFriday, 30 April 2021
“Our intelligence and flexibility as a society will be tested as the financial and industrial giants all figure out what they’re going to do.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority intends to phase out its aging fleet of coal plants by 2035, potentially replacing the age-old carbon-rich power source with increased use of natural gas and refreshed, concentrated supplies of nuclear energy as the vast utility moves to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan emerged Wednesday, about a month after the Biden administration called on the U.S. power sector to eliminate pollutants linked to climate change by 2035.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest public provider of electricity in the United States. It provides wholesale power to every major municipal provider in Tennessee, as well as other metropolitan areas and smaller utility districts and cooperatives within its seven-state service area.
Coal represents 14 percent of TVA’s energy portfolio. Its other main fuel sources are nuclear (41 percent) and fossil gas (27 percent). Hydropower accounts for 13 percent of its generation, with solar, wind and efficiency programs making up only 5 percent of its current power portfolio, according to the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The consequential plan was introduced almost off-handedly on Wednesday by TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash, who appeared with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin during a live online international energy discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, a bipartisan global think tank.
The TVA plan as announced during the webinar was first reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and then relayed locally on Friday by Knoxville Compass. The Lyash and Manchin quotes and descriptions below were derived from the recorded seminar or a TVA transcript of the event passed to Hellbender Press by Compass.
Two TVA spokesmen didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday.Read 376 times More...
Cumberland Trail is nearing the end of its 50-year hikeBen PoundsWednesday, 28 April 2021
The Cumberland Trail is nearly complete between Chatty and Cumberland Gap. That's just the beginning.
Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on Tennessee's Cumberland Trail, which will run from Signal Mountain near Chattanooga to Tristate Point near Cumberland Gap.Read 212 times More...
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon's budget calls for $30m in environmental-improvement measuresThomas FraserTuesday, 27 April 2021
Mayor wants green for green; some otherwise supportive city residents already aren't pleased with some initiatives.
Mayor Indya Kincannon's proposed Knoxville 2020-2021 budget commits some $30 million to reduce city climate impacts, expand its use of renewable energy, invest in urban forest preservation and outdoor recreation assets and improve bus and bicycle travel in communities across the city. The budget also provides money for revitalization of the Burlington District, a historic pedestrian center of Black commerce in East Knoxville.
The city's net budget is $384 million, which includes a $253 million operating fund.
The budget is just a recommendation to City Council at this point.Read 144 times More...
City to add new sidewalks and other measures to promote walkability on South Knoxville waterfrontThomas FraserWednesday, 24 March 2021
Walk it out: Knoxville plans $10m in streetscape, transportation improvements along Tennessee River in SoKno
The city announced March 24 it will soon embark on part of an ultimately $10 million project to improve walkability and pedestrian safety in the burgeoning South Knoxville waterfront community.
The improvements aim to better connect Sevier Avenue with the waterfront, and include sidewalk construction on main neighborhood streets, better lighting and curb and drainage work near Suttree Landing Park, according to a release from the city. It's part of a long-term plan to install and improve sidewalks and bike lanes and generally make the area less dependent on automobiles. Aesthetic improvements such as the relocation of overhead utilities are also planned.
“Connectivity and walkability on and near the South Waterfront are important,” said city Deputy Chief of Economic and Community Development Rebekah Jane Justice. “Here on Waterfront Drive, a privately-developed apartment community is planned, but these public sidewalks and other upgrades will benefit the entire community. It’s a step in the right direction toward making it easier for pedestrians to get between Suttree Landing Park and Sevier Avenue,” Justice said in a press release.
"In the coming few years, the city will be investing $10 million in a streetscape overhaul of Sevier Avenue – relocating unsightly overhead utility lines and adding bike lanes, improved sidewalks, street lighting, on-street parking and a new roundabout at the Sevier Avenue, Island Home Avenue and Foggy Bottom Street intersection," according to the release.
Here's the rest of the announcement from the city:
"By the end of the year, new sidewalks will be constructed on sections of Waterfront Drive, Langford Avenue, Dixie Street and Empire Street – a $733,263 project that also will add new streetlights and drainage, curb and utility upgrades in the area near Suttree Landing Park on the South Waterfront.
Knoxville City Council last evening on March 23 authorized Mayor Indya Kincannon’s administration to execute an agreement with Design and Construction Services Inc., the company submitting the lowest, most responsive bid to do the Waterfront Drive Roadway Improvements Project.
Work on Claude and Barber streets in the vicinity will be undertaken as funding becomes available.
This type of project, Justice said, is a good example of the City investing strategically to advance one of Mayor Indya Kincannon’s core priorities – building healthy and connected neighborhoods.
Oneof those planned private investments is South Banks, an apartment community that Dominion Group hopes to construct by next year off Waterfront Drive.
Connecting the Sevier Avenue commercial corridor with Suttree Landing Park by improving public infrastructure between the two points is a short-term city objective. It’s the first of much more to come."Read 225 times
Being fire: Volunteers help preserve a classic East Tennessee cedar barrenThomas FraserWednesday, 17 March 2021
Volunteers play the part of fire to maintain the native grasses and wildflowers at an Oak Ridge cedar barren
OAK RIDGE — It’s called a barren, but it’s not barren at all. It’s actually a natural Tennessee prairie, full of intricate, interlocking natural parts, from rocks and soil to plants and insects and animals.
There’s lots of life in these small remaining unique collections of grasses and conifers that are typically known, semi-colloquially, as cedar barrens.
Many of these “barrens” have been buried beneath illegal dumping or asphalt, but remnants they are still tucked away here and there, including a small barren in Oak Ridge owned by the city and recognized by the state as a small natural area.
The seven-acre cluster of cedars, large hardwoods and small open patches of native grasses such as long stem, blue stem and Indian grass, used to be much larger. A large portion of the original barren now lies beneath medical facilities, commercial development and a community college campus in the area of Fairbanks Road and Briarcliff Avenue.
These unique ecosystems need fire to thrive, and modern firefighting practices, road building and development have stopped this semi-regular natural cleanse of woody plants, shrubs and natural and exotic invasives, which encroach upon and can ultimately overcome the natural plants in these vanishingly rare grasslands.
In many instances, humans have replaced fire to ensure these special places don’t disappear.
That’s why three dozen people showed up on a chilly but sunny Saturday in early March to strip shrubs, saplings and even larger trees from the small but classic barren adjacent to Jefferson Middle School. The goal: Help its small grassland expand and avoid terminal encroachment from incompatible vegetation.
Cedars take well to the shallow, rocky soil that is characteristic of these communities, but the most important features of these vanishing places are native prairie grasses and accompanying rare plants and wildflowers and their associated insect and animal species.
“We are doing what nature used to do with the occasional wildfire,” said Tim Bigelow, a board member of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, which organizes the barren weed wrangles several times a year.
Natural and intentional low-intensity ground fires historically nurtured such landscapes, eliminating woody plants and ensuring there was enough open space and sunlight for the associated grasses and flowers to thrive in a prairie environment.
And yes, there are prairies in Tennessee. Historically, most of these barrens were on or near the Cumberland Plateau or along the KentuckyRead 328 times More...
Park service introduces permit system to protect Whiteoak Sink wildflowersThomas FraserTuesday, 09 March 2021
Park managers hope new rule will limit trampling of the flowers people flock to photograph. Meanwhile, there's sad news about the sink's resident bats.
Large groups of spring visitors to the geologically and ecologically unique Whiteoak Sink area near Cades Cove will have to obtain permits in an ongoing effort to prevent damage to the sink’s plant and animal habitats.
The sink is home to vivid wildflower displays in the spring, and the 5,000 people who come to see the annual spectacle stray off trails and destroy or damage some plant species.
“The intent of the trial reservation system is to better protect sensitive wildflower species that can be damaged when large groups crowd around plants off-trail to take photos or closely view blooms,” according to a release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Whiteoak Sink is off the Schoolhouse Gap Trail between Townsend and Cades Cove.
“This trial project will allow managers to determine if better coordinating group access can reduce trampling and soil compaction around sensitive plant populations.”Read 243 times More...
The coal plant next door: The sad and long legacy of coal ash in GeorgiaProPublicaMonday, 22 March 2021
This story from ProPublica is shared via Hellbender Press under a Creative Commons license. Click here for the entire ProPublica story, including illustrations and photos.
By Max Blau for Georgia Health News
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
Series: Sunken Costs
Coal Ash in Georgia
Mark Berry raised his right hand, pledging to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The bespectacled mechanical engineer took his seat inside the cherry-wood witness stand. He pulled his microphone close to his yellow bow tie and glanced left toward five of Georgia’s most influential elected officials. As one of Georgia Power’s top environmental lobbyists, Berry had a clear mission on that rainy day in April 2019: Convince those five energy regulators that the company’s customers should foot the bill for one of the most expensive toxic waste cleanup efforts in state history.
When Berry became Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs in 2015, he inherited responsibility for a dark corporate legacy dating back to before he was born. For many decades, power companies had burnt billions of tons of coal, dumping the leftover ash — loaded with toxic contaminants — into human-made “ponds” larger than many lakes. But after a pair of coal-ash pond disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina exposed the environmental and health risks of those largely unregulated dumps, the Obama administration required power companies to stop using the aging disposal sites.
Berry had spent nearly two decades climbing the ranks of Southern Company, America’s second-largest energy provider and the owner of Georgia Power. By the time he was under oath that day, company execs had vowed to store newly burnt coal ash in landfills designed for safely disposing of such waste. But an unprecedented challenge remained: Figuring out what to do with 90 million tons of coal ash — enough to fill more than 50 Major League Baseball stadiums to the brim — that had accumulated over the better part of a century in ash ponds that were now leaking.
Georgia Power would have to shut down roughly 30 ponds from the Appalachian foothills to the wetlands near the Georgia coast. After draining all the ponds, the company would have two options for disposing of the highly contaminated dry ash left behind: It could either move the ash into a landfill fitted with a protective liner, or pack the dry ash into a smaller footprint and place a cover on top — leaving a gaping hole in the ground that, in some places, would be the larger than Disneyland. The former would cost more but vastly reduce the possibility of toxic leakage; the latter lowered expenses but would perpetually risk contaminating drinking water in neighboring communities.
As scientists had grown more aware of the threat posed by coal ash, Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina had forced utilities to move ash into lined landfills. But Georgia was something of an outlier. The state historically was known as a coal ash capital, a place where lawmakers touted their pro-business bona fides by denouncing regulations, and Georgia Power had a track record of delaying or blocking efforts to regulate pollution. The company was lobbying hard for the cheaper option.
Of course, the $7.3 billion price tag wasn’t all that cheap. Sitting on the Georgia Public Service Commission’s witness stand, Berry and his top deputy spent hours arguing that the whopping costs of cleaning up Georgia Power’s coal-ash ponds should be passed along to its customers. If Berry could persuade the regulators that the costs were both “reasonable” and “prudent,” the company could tack a monthly fee onto the bills of 2.2 million residential customers for decades to come, which would work out to each customer footing $3,300 of the bill to clean up the company’s mess. If he failed, the commissioners could effectively force Georgia Power to eat those costs — a major blow to investors in a publicly traded company that has annual operating revenues of over $8 billion.
During Berry’s testimony, PSC commissioner Tim Echols said he has concerns about putting ratepayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up the ash ponds — and whether Georgia Power is spending more than it has to. “This is enormously expensive,” he said.
Berry didn’t mention that the cleanup costs could increase by billions of dollars if Georgia’s environmental officials adopted the safer standards used by neighboring states. Anticipating Echols’ next question, Berry said that Georgia Power’s $7.3 billion plan was the “most cost-effective way” to comply with coal-ash regulations.
“If we were to do something less,” Berry added, state environmental officials “would force us to go back and redo what we did not do right the first time.”
Had those five energy regulators swiveling in their chairs asked more pointed questions about Georgia Power’s waste-disposal practices, Berry would have been pressured to tell a long-hidden story about ash and avarice. In the second half of the 20th century, Georgia Power had saved money by building some of America’s largest coal-ash ponds without a protective liner underneath, despite knowing some of the risks of contaminating residents’ drinking water. It had also sought to do as little as possible to protect drinking water that’s now believed to be tainted by coal-ash toxins.
A yearlong investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica has revealed that Georgia Power and its parent company have spent millions of dollars on lobbying tactics to dodge billions in environmental costs. Thousands of pages of previously unpublished documents obtained by the news organizations shed new light on how Georgia Power leveraged political tensions to reduce a massive financial liability that could decimate its bottom line — and how it pushed disinformation to distance itself from patterns of sickness among people who lived near its coal-ash ponds.Read 442 times More...
The days the Earth stood still (Part 1): Covid cleared the air in the lonely SmokiesThomas FraserSaturday, 20 March 2021
The lack of regional and local vehicle traffic during the pandemic greatly reduced measurable pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is your Hellbender weekend read, and the first in an occasional Hellbender Press series about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural world
Great Smoky Mountains National Park shut down for six weeks in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recorded emissions reductions during that period in part illustrate the role motor vehicles play in the park's vexing air-quality issues. The full cascade of effects from the pollution reductions are still being studied.
Hellbender Press interviewed park air quality specialist Jim Renfro about the marked reduction of carbon dioxide and other pollutants documented during the park closure during the pandemic, and the special scientific opportunities it presents. He responded to the following questions via email.
Hellbender Press: You cited “several hundred tons" in pollutant reductions during an interview with WBIR of Knoxville (in 2020). What types of air pollutants does this figure include?
Answer: Carbon dioxide (CO2) would be most of the tons reduced from the lack of motor vehicles in the park during the park shutdown because of the pandemic. Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter are other emissions that were lower, but to a much lesser extent.
HP: During what time frame?
A: It was based on when the primary park roads were closed, for about a six-week period from March 24 through May 9 (2020)
HP: Was this based on data collected at the Look Rock air-quality monitoring station or monitoring sites throughout the park?
A: No, it was estimated reductions in air emissions (tons) from using the park's emissions inventory for criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases coupled with the reduction in park visitation data for the period of the park shutdown.
HP: Was this a result of reduced auto travel in the park?
HP: A lot of emissions, of course, come from outside of the park. Was the improvement in air quality also a function of reduced pollutants coming from outside the park?
A: The documented reduction was with emissions, not air quality. Air quality analysis is still under way to look at changes in air pollutants.
HP: What do you think the primary reasons for the air quality improvements were?
A: If there were reductions in air pollutants (and that is still being analyzed by EPA and NPS Air Resources Division), it was due primarily to the reduction in motor vehicle emissions in and near the park (and regionally).
HP: Did you purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic’s effect on air quality, or was this an “accidental” discovery?
A: We did not purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic's effect on air quality. Monitoring efforts continued during the pandemic and provided a unique and unexpected opportunity to characterize the differences in air emissions (from park closures and limited motor vehicle emissions) and air pollutants (which will take longer to look at laboratory analysis after quality assured analysis).Read 345 times More...
KUB commits to solar power – and a controversial long-term relationship with TVATracy Haun OwensMonday, 22 February 2021
Last year, Knoxville Utilities Board committed to supplying 20 percent of its electricity through solar generation by 2023, through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Invest program. By 2023, KUB will provide 502 megawatts annually of new-to-the-grid solar power to its customers. This represents the equivalent of enough energy to power 83,000 homes. The $1.63 million cost will be paid by a credit provided by TVA as part of its 20-year partnership agreement with KUB.
The announcement was celebrated by solar energy advocates, including the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, but some environmental watchdogs maintain there are issues with the contracts that local power companies had to enter into with TVA to participate in Green Invest.
For the past few years, TVA sought 20-year rolling contracts with local power companies. KUB’s previous contract with TVA was for five years. In August 2019, TVA presented the Knoxville Utilities Board with a 20-year contract that would provide a credit of 3.1 percent on wholesale base rates and flexibility to allow up to 5 percent of KUB power to come from local sources.
Stephen Smith, who holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee, has served as the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) since 1993. Founded in 1985, SACE promotes responsible energy choices in the Southeast.
(Smith is on the board of directors of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is an independent project of FGS).
“Any time solar is being built, that’s a positive thing,” Smith said. But, he added, “It’s important to put it into context. What has [KUB] given up by entering into what we consider a Draconian contract?”Read 374 times More...
Zoo researchers raising hell(benders) in ChattanoogaRay ZimmermanThursday, 11 March 2021
New hellbender exhibit at Chattanooga Zoo will serve as a hub for cooperative research
Thanks to grants from two generous organizations, some oft-elusive hellbenders have a new home at the Chattanooga Zoo. The Hiwassee Education and Research Facility is nearly complete, and it features hellbender exhibits and a classroom. The exhibit includes juvenile hellbenders hatched from eggs collected from the Duck River in central Tennessee in 2015.
The zoo is also fabricating a stream environment exhibit that will house nine larger sub-adult hellbenders, each about 10 years old and 14.5 inches long. Visitors can observe hellbenders feeding in the completed exhibit, but it will be open only during limited hours. After the project's completion, the zoo plans to partner with researchers who hope to learn more about hellbenders.
"The Chattanooga Zoo is thrilled at the introduction of its new Hiwassee Hellbender Research Facility," zoo officials said in a statement to Hellbender Press.
“We believe that this new facility will open rare opportunities for guests to be educated on this otherwise elusive native species, and that the project would lead to important strides made in hellbender research.
“From all of this, our hope is for more conservation efforts made in our local waterways, also known as the eastern hellbender’s home.”Read 527 times More...
America's newest national park is wild and wonderful — and nearbyRick VaughanSunday, 21 February 2021
New River Gorge National Park preserves paddling and climbing paradise
When you think of national parks within a day’s drive of East Tennessee, what comes to mind? Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course. Or perhaps Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, or Virginia’s Shenandoah. You have a new option.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, created by Congress Dec. 27, 2020, by way of a pandemic relief bill, is America’s 63rd and newest national park. Located in southern West Virginia, the 72,186-acre park and preserve protects land along both sides of a 53-mile stretch of the New River, which is famous for its world-class whitewater. It’s walls rise up to 1,400 feet, attracting rock climbers from across the country.
The New River Gorge, known locally as “The New,” currently welcomes about 1.4 million visitors a year. It’s within a day's drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population, and is expecting an initial 20 percent increase in visitation this year because it is now a national park with national attention.
Local merchants and business owners are already touting the economic benefits, including new jobs in in-store retail and dining, two industries decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We're super excited about it," Cathedral Cafe manager Cassidy Bays said. She said the cafe, just minutes from the park, plans to increase staff and extend hours. "We're even building an outdoor patio to increase dining space," Bays said.
And this is not your grandfather’s West Virginia: Locavores can find locally sourced food and lean into a vegan juice bar. Several community-supported agriculture (CSA) and co-op farms are a main source of the cafe menu. "We actually cater to locavores. We are a farm-to-table restaurant" Bays said.Read 271 times More...
Help and hope for hellbenders ... and humansRob HunterMonday, 25 January 2021
Hellbenders get help in face of new challenges, increasing threats
Snot otter. Mud devil. Lasagna lizard. Allegheny alligator. For a creature with so many colorful nicknames, the hellbender is unfamiliar to many people, including millions of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Julianne Geleynse wants to change that. The resource education ranger is tasked with teaching the public about the natural wonders the park protects within its borders in hopes of mitigating damage to natural resources caused by the millions of visitors, young and old, who enter the park each year.
With a visitor-to-ranger ratio of around 170,000 to 1, communicating with visitors is an ongoing challenge that requires unique solutions. Feeding wildlife and littering are perennial problems, but sometimes new issues emerge. Such was the case in 2017 – and again in 2020.
In 2017, researchers in the park were alarmed to find that hellbender numbers in traditionally healthy populations had dropped. An entire generation of subadult hellbenders seemed to be missing. The most glaring sign of the problem was the presence of dead hellbenders where visitors had moved and stacked rocks in park streams. Moving rocks to create pools, dams and artfully stacked cairns may seem harmless enough when one person partakes. But when hundreds of visitors concentrate in a few miles of stream every day for months on end, the destructive impact is significant. Viral photos of especially impressive cairns can spread on social media and inspire an army of imitators.
Why does moving rocks harm hellbenders? These giant salamanders spend most of their lives wedged beneath stones on the stream bottom. They live, hunt and breed beneath these rocks. In late summer, when temperatures still swelter and visitors indulge in their last dips of the season in park waterways, hellbenders are especially vulnerable as they begin to deposit fragile strings of eggs beneath select slabs. Simply lifting such a rock nest can cause the eggs to be swept downstream and the entire brood lost. As the researchers observed in 2017, moving and stacking stones can even directly crush the bodies of adult hellbenders.Read 851 times More...
Help tip the scales toward environmental justice for all: Here's howAppalachian VoicesMonday, 10 May 2021
Make your voice heard for environmental justice
The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council is seeking public input on a series of recommendations to the Biden Administration to address environmental justice issues across the United States. Air and water pollution caused by coal mining, toxic coal ash spills, and natural gas pipelines are a few examples of such problems in our region. These issues often impact low-income people and people of color the most, and there is a strong need for communities impacted by fossil fuels to build vibrant, diversified economies.
This is a chance for you to communicate your concerns about how these environmental issues impact disadvantaged communities while important policy decisions are under development!
The council will meet on May 13 to discuss:
Environmental justice policy recommendations to Congress and the Biden Administration;
A new Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which will help identify disadvantaged communities and target federal funding;
Updates to a Clinton-era Executive Order (EO 12898) which directed federal agencies to address environmental justice issues in Black and Brown communities and among low-income populations.
Register to attend the meeting or submit your comment today!
Public comments will help to inform the future work of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and they will be incorporated into the record for federal agencies’ consideration.Read 63 times
Clean air activists praise TVA's coal decision; warn it's not enough to meet climate goalsThomas FraserFriday, 07 May 2021
SACE: TVA must also wean itself off natural gas and nuclear reliance
As previously reported by Hellbender Press, Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down its five remaining coal plants by 2050 and pursue a carbon-neutral future.
TVA board members spoke favorably of the decision at its regular meeting on Thursday.
"TVA CEO Jeff Lyash shared a vision of how TVA will continue to support the Valley for years to come with a commitment to sustainability. The board also endorsed a strategic focus on decarbonization and a commitment to providing a reliable, low-cost energy supply as TVA moves into the future," according to a statement released Thursday by TVA.
"TVA leadership issued a Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles document to provide direction for developing business strategies that provide reliable, resilient, low-cost and clean energy to the region. View the Executive Summary of the document.
"TVA’s new Carbon Report outlines TVA’s commitment and path to reduce carbon in the coming years without compromising the reliability and low rates the Valley has come to expect. The report outlines TVA’s leadership today in carbon reduction, our plan to achieve 70 percent reduction by 2030, our path to 80 percent reduction by 2035 and our aspiration to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050."
Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy generally lauded TVA's sustainability mission, but released the following detailed response Thursday afternoon:
"The agency’s intentions fall far short of the Biden Administration’s goal of decarbonizing the nation’s electric grid by 2035, a timeframe recommended by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
"During an interview on WBIR’s “Inside Tennessee,” aired May 2, Lyash stated the agency aspires to be net-zero carbon by 2050, with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035. Lyash’s statements follow his comments during a virtual forum hosted on April 28 by the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center that TVA intends to retire five coal-fired fossil plants still in operation by 2035. While a step in the right direction, being coal-free is not equivalent to being carbon-free.
"The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s latest report shows TVA plans to build 1,500 MW of fossil gas capacity to be online by 2023. Intentions to retire the five remaining active coal plants with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and aspirations for net-zero carbon by 2050 are not only out of step with the Biden Administration, but also potentially improbable if the utility plans to continue to build out fossil gas plants.
"In fact, SACE’s recent analysis shows that according to TVA’s latest resource plans and announced projects, and taking into account TVA’s history and projected rate of decarbonization, TVA is not on track to fully decarbonize by 2050. Without announcing formal resource plans that greatly increase utilization of clean energy like solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage that can be analyzed through an integrated resource planning (IRP) process, there is no guarantee TVA will reach net-zero emissions even by 2050.
"As the nation’s largest public power utility and as an extension of the Biden Administration, TVA has the ability and resources to lead by example and demonstrate the path to zero carbon by the Administration’s goal of 2035, not fifteen years later. Better yet, SACE has called on TVA to play a leading role by formally setting a target to be a carbon-free power system by 2030, ahead of the Administration’s 2035 goal," according to SACE.
"Utility sector decarbonization is achievable through a federal Clean Electricity Standard with robust clean energy investments and justice-centered policies, according to a report by Evergreen Collaborative, “A Roadmap to 100% Clean Electricity by 2035.”
"TVA needs to immediately initiate and update its integrated resource plan (IRP) and begin the proper procedures to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to accelerate 100 percent decarbonization of their grid by 2035 at the latest — not partially at 80 percent by 2035 or 100 percent by 2050.
Stephen Smith, the executive director of SACE, said in the release: “As an extension of the Administration, TVA executive staff and board leadership should embrace policies and goals in line with the Biden Administration to achieve a low-cost, highly reliable, carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. SACE believes that TVA could lead by example and reach the carbon-free goal by 2030 if they take the necessary action now."
"The current TVA CEO’s public statements are out of step with the Biden Administration’s goals. With accountable leadership, collaborative planning, and commitment, TVA has the opportunity to once again embrace the mission to be a “utility yardstick” of innovative environmental stewardship and job creation," Smith said.
(Smith also serves on the board of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is a self-supporting project of FGS).Read 8 times
Saving America's "Amazon" in AlabamaTara LohanTuesday, 13 April 2021
Alabama is home to remarkably diverse ecosystems:
They face dire threats.
This story was originally published by The Revelator.
When longtime environmental journalist Ben Raines started writing a book about the biodiversity in Alabama, the state had 354 fish species known to science. When he finished writing 10 years later, that number had jumped to 450 thanks to a bounty of new discoveries. Crawfish species leaped from 84 to 97 during the same time.
It’s indicative of a larger trend: Alabama is one of the most biodiverse states in the country, but few people know it. And even scientists are still discovering the rich diversity of life that exists there, particularly in the Mobile River basin.
All this newly discovered biodiversity is also gravely at risk from centuries of exploitation, which is what prompted Raines to write his new book, "Saving America's Amazon.".
The Revelator talked with Raines about why this region is so biodiverse, why it’s been overlooked, and what efforts are being made to protect it.
Question: What makes Alabama, and particularly the Mobile River system, so biodiverse?
Answer: The past kind of defines the present in Alabama.
During the ice ages, when much of the nation was frozen under these giant glaciers, Alabama wasn’t. The glaciers petered out by the time they hit Tennessee. It was much colder but things here didn’t die.
Everything that had evolved in Alabama over successive ice ages is still here. We have a salamander, the Red Hills salamander, that branched off from all other salamander trees 50 million years ago. So this is an ancient salamander, but it’s still here because it never died out.
The other thing you have here, in addition to not freezing, is that it’s really warm. Where I am in Mobile, we’re on the same latitude as Cairo. So the same sun that bakes the Sahara Desert is baking here.
But we also have the rainiest climate in the United States along Alabama’s coast. It actually rains about 70 inches a year here. By comparison, Seattle gets about 55 inches. It makes for a sort of greenhouse effect where we have this intense sun and then plenty of water. Alabama has more miles of rivers and streams than any other state.
Things just grow here.
The pitcher plant bogs of Alabama, for example, are literally among the most diverse places on the planet. In the 1960s a scientist went out and counted every species of flowering plant in an Alabama pitcher plant bog. He came up with 63. That was the highest total found on Earth in a square meter for a decade or more.
For a long time the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was thought to be the center of oak tree diversity in the world because they have about 15 species of oaks in the confines of the park. Well, two years ago scientists working in this area called the Red Hills along the Alabama River found 20 species of oak trees on a single hillside. It’s just staggering.
Why is Alabama’s rich biodiversity not well known or studied?
The state was never known for being a biodiverse place until the early 2000s, when NatureServe came out with this big survey of all the states. It surprised everyone because it showed Alabama leading in aquatic diversity in all the categories — more species of fish, turtles, salamanders, mussels, snails.
This blew everybody away because Alabama in everybody’s mind is the civil rights protests of the 1960s, the KKK, steel mills and cotton fields. But that’s not what’s in Alabama, that’s what we’ve done to Alabama since we’ve been here.
I think part of it also has to do with being a long way from Harvard and Yale and Stanford and the great research institutions that were sending biologists all over the world. Alabama just wasn’t really studied or explored.
Again and again, the story in Alabama is that nobody has ever looked.
That’s one of E.O. Wilson’s big messages about Alabama. He is our most famous living scientist, I would say, or certainly biologist. He grew up here, and now in his twilight years his big mission has become trying to save Alabama. And he describes it as less explored than Borneo and says we have no idea what miracle cures and things we may find in the Mobile River system, which is what I call “America’s Amazon.”Read 146 times More...
Crazy monkey love or amorous owls?Rob HunterMonday, 25 January 2021
February kicks off the season of love for region's barred owls
The frosty woods may be relatively quiet today, but soon the hilltops and hollers will echo with deep, resonant voices.
Barred owls (Strix varia) are our second-largest resident owl here in the Southeast, second only to the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). With their fluffier plumage, doe-eyed countenance and round profiles lacking ear tufts, barred owls don’t have quite the fierce appearance of their more formidable neighbors. They’re also generally easier to observe. Often active in the daytime and fond of low perches, barred owls occasionally make themselves visible to lucky woodland wanderers. More often, though, they are heard rather than seen. Their breeding season may extend into summer, but courtship generally fires up in February and peaks in March. This is my favorite time to seek them out on the woodland slopes, usually near water, that they call home.
Barred owls are not easy to find per se, but they definitely make themselves more conspicuous when looking for love. Their best-known call is an eight-beat hoot often verbalized as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y’all?” with the final “y’all” drawn out in a dramatically descending, tremulous wail. They sometimes give the wail alone or as crescendo following a series of ascending hoots.
To hear any of these sounds echoing through a twilight woods can fill one with awe, but they give another vocal performance that is generally only heard when an amorous pair of owls meets up. This call, for lack of a better term, is often referred to simply as the “monkey call.”
A caterwauling cacophony of simian sounds explodes from a dense grove of hemlocks. Have chimpanzees escaped from the local zoo? Nope, just a couple of night birds seeking romance. People who hear these calls without knowing the caller are often understandably perturbed. More than once I’ve been awakened suddenly in my tent when such a liaison takes place in a tree over my campsite, and I can say it’s a bit unsettling, even knowing the avian source.
So when you’re walking in the woods over the next few weeks, keep an eye and an ear out for these lovebirds as they’re at their most vocal. And if you hear what sounds like a troop of monkeys hailing the setting sun, just remember that, more likely than not, you’re just hearing the music of owls in love.
Audubon has a 2-minute podcast for you to
'Hear the Many Different Hoots of the Barred Owl'Read 202 times
Your daily diet of environment and science news
100-year NOAA interactive climate map illustrates changes in temperatures, precip over time
The map produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that virtually all of the U.S. has higher average temperatures than 100 years ago. The precipitation data shows where rainfall averages have increased (East Tennessee and most of the Appalachian Mountains and their adjacent foothills and valleys) and where they fluctuated beyond average (California and the Southwest). Some of the data predates the regular government weather and climate record-keeping that began 90 years ago.
"Because the normals have been produced since 1930, they also say a lot about the weather over a much longer term. That is, they show how the climate has changed in the United States, as it has across the world, as a result of emissions of heat-trapping gases over more than a century."
EPA to announce stricter regulations on HFC emissions
Hydrofluorocarbons were used on an industrial scale to replace ozone layer-destroying chlorofluorocarbons used in refrigeration, cooling and other applications, but they turned out to be a powerful driver of climate change. Scientists estimate HFCs are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of their cimate-change role.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists continue research into zero-emission refrigerant technologies.
According to Times reporting: "In proposing a new regulation, Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, said the agency aimed to reduce the production and importation of hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning, in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years."
It's Epic: 7,500-acre Roan Mountain wild land donation largest in North Carolina history
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney donated 7,500 acres to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, an area described by an Asheville Citizen-Times reporter as "A high-elevation hideaway for birds, bears and salamanders, a massive piece of Western North Carolina’s famous mountains left unmarred, and a refuge for rare species in the face of climate change...
"The property includes the largest American Chestnut restoration project in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heath balds," according to Citizen-Times reporter Karen Chavez.
The land area is at least equivalent to the size of some highland state parks.
Frauenhofer tandem photovoltaic solar cell achieves record efficiency
Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems: Tandem Photovoltaics Enables New Heights in Solar Cell Efficiencies – 35.9 % for III-V//Silicon Solar Cell
The photovoltaic (PV) solar panels most commonly used for commercial applications today have an efficiency in the range of 16 to 22 percent. On the lower side of this range, one finds less-expensive panels, mostly made with poly-crystalline solar cells, while monocrystalline cells dominate the upper side.
The highest-efficiency panel presently on the market is SunPower’s A-Series residential panel, with a claimed 22.8 percent efficiency in converting photons to electrons under standard conditions. That's up just slightly by 0.73 percent from five years ago. Although many other manufacturers have caught up to offer panels rated at more than 21 percent, development progress of silicon-based monocrystalline PV toward the theoretical limit of around 30 percent has slowed to a crawl.
Over the same period, newer technologies for multijunction PV cells with thin subcell layers of gallium-arsenide and similar semiconductors, grown on top of silicon or perovskite crystalline materials, has been progressing rapidly and may be capable of exceeding 50 percent efficiency in the future. Lab results still require years of research and manufacturing development before panels come to market. Initially their high price will limit them to market niches where low-weight and small-surface per Watt will justify the cost, such as for aerospace applications or covering electric vehicle surfaces. The following links provide a good overview of such technologies and discuss their longer-term outlook.
Getting closer to catastrophic tipping points
This outstanding video summary by meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli explains why scientists fear further deforestation of the Amazon or collapse of Antarctic ice shelves would wreak ultimate havoc in coastal areas around the world.
Vandals deface 1,200-year-old Cherokee and Creek rock carvings in North Georgia
From the “this is why we can’t have nice things” file: Vandals violated ancient and sacred Cherokee and Creek art with scratches and paint in the Track Rock Gap area of Chattahoochee and Oconee national forests.
“It’s one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site located on public land in Georgia,” according to a National Forest Service Facebook post, the NYT reported. That post was later removed by the forest service, which cited the ongoing criminal investigation.
The rock carvings date to 800 A.D. The vandalism occurred at some point in 2020 or early this year.
There are at least 100 Native American petroglyphs in the north Georgia national forests. Some of the more prominent sites are fenced but allow people to view the ancient art.
Also from the Times report:
The Cherokee Tribal Heritage Preservation Office said in a statement that the Eastern Band of Cherokee people were “sad and frustrated” to learn of the vandalism.
“They are special sites for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and for all people as part of the Heritage of this region,” the statement said. “Whether through ignorance or malice — the result is irreparable damage to a unique site that connects us directly to the people of the past.”
Developer slams brakes on proposed Oak Ridge motorsports park
In a victory for local environmentalists, the developer who proposed and pushed for a motorsports park on the far western end of Oak Ridge has abandoned the project in hopes of finding a more "attractive" community.
The park would've been located in the Horizon Center industrial park and required the development of natural areas preserved via a city agreement with the Department of Energy.
Individuals and groups such as the Oak Ridge-based Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning said the proposal was inherently inappropriate for the site, citing the loss of diverse, mature hardwood forest, and noise pollution.
Babies born today may be unable to procreate without medical technology
The Guardian: Interview of Shanna Swan. 'Most couples may have to use assisted reproduction by 2045'
In her new book,“Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race,” Shanna H Swan, professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, provides more evidence how the wide use of plastics and other materials containing hormone-mimicking chemicals interfere with fertility and fecundity.
She advises how one may at least reduce exposure to these substances, to some degree, by making informed purchase decisions, such as avoiding processed food.
Knowledge particularly important for pregnant women!
See also, the ‘Plasticenta’ report referenced in the plastic pollution action alert.
It’s time we start wearing our hearts on our sleeves!
In the spirit of Thinking Globally, Acting Locally, consider what you can do to help Mother Earth and its inhabitants.
Adopting a more sustainable life style to reduce one's personal ecological footprint is easier to wish for than to accomplish. Some measures that would reap a significant environmental benefit, such as making a home more energy efficient, may require a substantial investment of physical effort, time and money that will pay back over time only.
Deliberate choice of clothing, however, is a simple course of action for anyone to start making a big difference in social justice, climate impacts and environmental conservation.
The fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than maritime shipping and international flights combined!
World production of clothing has doubled in the last 15 years. Until the 1950s, it was common for garments to be used until worn out after having been passed along to second and third wearers. Nowadays, that's a rare exception. Most items end up in a landfill within days or weeks after having been purchased and worn just a few times. Massive amounts of overstock items are routinely discarded, not having been used once.
Low prices — made possible by cheap synthetic fibers produced with fossil fuels and by sweatshops that churn out textiles under often inhumane conditions — contributed to this relatively new phenomenon of consumerism.
Along with single-use packaging, plastic fibers common in today's textiles are a major source of invisible microplastic fragments that float in the air we breathe and get into the water that leaves the washing machines. Some of these particles may absorb toxic chemicals and be taken up and accumulated by fish, livestock and, eventually, humans.
Sustainable Jungle, an Australian nonprofit, has an excellent article about the global predicaments caused by the fashion industry. This is a treasure trove of great ideas, practical suggestions, experiences and links to further how-to instructions. It will not only help you get off the fast-fashion treadmill, it will aid you in discovering or creating a style that accentuates your personality.
Sustainable Jungle: How to Avoid Fast Fashion
See also ScienceDirect: Plasticenta — First evidence of microplastics in human placenta
CTV Community Engagement Calendar
Many people still think it is necessary to have a TV cable connection to watch community TV programs. But that's old history.
One does not even need to be in the City of Knoxville or anywhere near it, nor have a TV set anymore.
You can watch all live coverage by Community Television of Knoxville — AND previously aired programs — on any device that has internet access, even on your smart phone.
(However, be careful to know about any data transmission caps and charges that may apply to your internet connection, and especially your mobile data plan if you're not using a WiFi connection.)
Knox CTV also streams Fulton High School's Falcon Radio WKCS-FM 91.1, which is one of only four high school radio stations in Tennessee; one among few nationwide, too.
Now CTV's improved Community Engagement Calendar provides information about both, date-specific events and the regular programs & services provided by nonprofit organizations.
“How has the river helped you during this time of isolation?”
Apr 29 submission deadline
Voices of the River Contest
Show Us What the River Means to You!
2020 Winners video
ORNL tips to run your
car more efficiently
Hellbender Press: The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia is a digital environmental news service with a focus on the Southern Appalachian bioregion. It aggregates relevant stories from across the news media space and provides original news, features and commentary.
Espousing the “Think Globally, Act Locally” ethos of FGS, Hellbender Press promotes the conservation and study of the environment and protections for air, water, climate, natural areas, and other resources that are critical to human health and a robust, resilient economy.
The Hellbender also champions civil and human rights, especially in matters of environmental justice, equity of access to natural resources and the right to a clean environment.
Hellbender Press is a self-organizing project of the Foundation for Global Sustainability's Living Sustainably Program. All donations made for Hellbender Press to FGS are tax-deductible. We offer a free environmental news and information site, but grants and charitable contributions are encouraged and needed to support our work. Much of the content is provided on a volunteer basis by individuals and organizations that share a common cause.
The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), a native salamander, is an indicator species. It requires clear, oxygen-rich water to respire, find its prey, and reproduce.
The presence of hellbenders in a stream is indicative of high water quality and an intact ecosystem.
Hellbender Press aspires to help you discover the degrees of resilience and sustainability of your community, our bioregion, and planet Earth.
Hellbender Press informs about what is beneficial for life — here and elsewhere.
It also points out where we must do better to save what may still be savable.
Foundation for Global Sustainability
FGS is a multidisciplinary, non-profit advocacy organization. It monitors and addresses social and environmental issues in the Upper Tennessee Valley and the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
FGS works to restore the balance between human activities and the natural life support systems of the Earth. Events, publications, special reports, and outreach by FGS inform and educate the public about vital regional and global issues and how they interdepend.
FGS fosters and supports conservation initiatives, including action committees that address egregious assaults on our natural heritage, for example, which require temporary assistance only; campaigns by other nonprofits, such as
- Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
- Endangered Species Coalition
- Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere
- Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center
- Tennessee Environmental Council
- Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning
- East Tennessee Quality Growth
- Technical Society of Knoxville
- Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation
as well as groups that want to address systemic problems in a systematic fashion. Among the latter, three evolved to establish themselves as independent 501(c)(3) organization: