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Groups urge state to protect last wild Atlantic salmon in US

Groups urge state to protect last wild Atlantic salmon in US

A new push to protect the final remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S. is unlikely to land the fish on a key state endangered listBy PATRICK WHITTLE Associated PressJuly 24, 2021, 6:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePORTLAND, Maine — Maine is home to the last wild Atlantic salmon populations in the U.S., but a new push to protect the fish at the state level is unlikely to land them on the endangered list.Atlantic salmon once teemed in U.S. rivers, but now return from the sea to only a handful of rivers in eastern and central Maine. The fish are protected at the federal level under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but a coalition of environmental groups and scientists said the fish could be afforded more protections if they were added to Maine’s own list of endangered and threatened species.State law allows Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher to make that recommendation, but his office told The Associated Press he does not intend to do it. The department has done extensive work to conserve and restore the fish, and the commissioner “does not believe a listing at the state level would afford additional conservation benefits or protections,” said Jeff Nichols, a department spokesperson.The environmentalists who want to see the fish on the state list said they’re going to keep pushing for it and other protections. Adding the fish to the state endangered list would mean conservation of salmon would be treated as a bigger concern in state permitting processes, said John Burrows, executive director for U.S. operations for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.“The state of Maine and a handful of our rivers are the only places in the country that still have wild Atlantic salmon,” Burrows said. “It’s something that should happen, and should have happened.”Atlantic salmon have disappeared from U.S. rivers because of damming, pollution and others environmental challenges, and they also face the looming threat of climate change. Nevertheless, there have been some positive signs in Maine rivers in recent years.More than 1,400 salmon returned to the Penobscot River in 2020. That was the highest number since 2011, the Maine marine resources department found. The Penobscot is the most productive river for the salmon. It averaged only about 700 fish per year from 2012 to 2019.Attempts to repopulate Atlantic salmon in other states have stalled. The federal government ended an attempt to restore Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River basin in 2012 after several decades because of lack of success.Getting the fish listed on the Maine endangered list has long been a goal of many environmental groups. The Maine Endangered Species Act includes 26 endangered species and 25 threatened ones. The list includes two fish: the endangered redfin pickerel and the threatened swamp darter.The list is designed to provide state-level protection to jeopardized species and is a complement to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A few species, including the piping plover, are listed on both.Environmentalists supported a bill in the Maine Legislature earlier this year that would have required the marine resources commissioner to recommend a state listing for any species that is federally listed as endangered or threatened. The proposal died in committee in June.A group of 19 organizations and 10 scientists and conservationists sent a letter to the state that said Maine is one of the few states that doesn’t mandate or recommend state-level listing of federally listed species. Dwayne Shaw, director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, said wildlife advocates will continue pushing for salmon protections.“There would be great symbolism in this, but there would also be direct implications, positive implications for the species,” Shaw said.

Pandemic garbage boom ignites debate over waste as energy

PORTLAND, Maine — America remains awash in refuse as new cases of the coronavirus decline — and that has reignited a debate about the sustainability of burning more trash to create energy.Waste-to-energy plants, which produce most of their power by incinerating trash, make up only about half a percent of the electricity generation in the U.S. But the plants have long aroused considerable opposition from environmentalists and local residents who decry the facilities as polluters, eyesores and generators of foul odor.The industry has been in retreat mode in the U.S., with dozens of plants closing since 2000 amid local opposition and emissions concerns. But members of the industry said they see the increase in garbage production in the U.S. in recent months as a chance to play a bigger role in creating energy and fighting climate change by keeping waste out of methane-creating landfills.One estimate from the Solid Waste Association of North America placed the amount of residential waste up as much as 8% this spring compared to the previous spring. And more trash is on the way. A 2020 study in the journal Science stated that the global plastic packaging market size was projected to grow from more than $900 billion in 2019 to more than $1 trillion by 2021, growth largely due to the pandemic response.That trash has to go somewhere, and using it as a resource makes more sense than sending it to landfills, said James Regan, senior director of corporate communications for Covanta, the largest player in the industry. The company currently processes about 20 million tons (18,144 metric tons) of waste a year to power about a million homes, and it could do more, he said.“If we’re going to reach climate goals by 2050, the waste sector really can and should be part of that story,” Regan said. “This is low-hanging fruit. So what are we waiting for?”Waste-to-energy plants are expanding in other parts of the world, as more than 120 plants have been built in the last five years. They’re concentrated most heavily in Europe and Asia. But the most recent new plant in the U.S. opened in 2015 in Palm Beach County, Florida.President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has put a premium on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and creation of more renewable energy, and while that push has focused heavily on wind and solar power, the administration has also acknowledged a place for waste-to-energy conversion. The White House said in an April statement that the U.S. “can address carbon pollution from industrial processes” by including waste-to-power in the mix.Any attempt to build more plants in the U.S. will be met with resistance, said Mike Ewall, director of the Philadelphia-based Energy Justice Network. The plants represent a threat to human and environmental health because they emit chemicals such as mercury and dioxin, he said. Communities have also opposed waste-to-energy plants because of concerns about airborne particulate matter that can have negative health consequences.“The notion that this industry is going to be building new plants is just ludicrous,” Ewall said.But the fact remains that creation of garbage has increased, and municipalities have to deal with it somehow. One study, published in the scientific journal Environment, Development and Sustainability, attributed the increase to factors such as panic buying and more reliance on single-use items. Medical waste has also increased due to the heavy use of personal protective equipment, the study found.As the pandemic has abated in many part of the country and the economy has reopened, commercial waste has increased, but residential waste creation has not slowed. In Portland, Maine, residential waste was up 12% and commercial was up 2% in June, said Matt Grondin, spokesman for ecomaine, which operates a waste-to-energy power plant.Converting all that new garbage to energy is the best available option, Grondin said.“It’s a lot of garbage. You can probably imagine with a lot of people at home, cleaning out, doing projects, that accounts for a lot of the increase,” he said. “It has to go somewhere.”Other communities have looked at garbage-to-gas production as a way to get energy from swelling amounts of trash. These plants use strategies such as compacting garbage and sealing it to capture methane that can be used as fuel.The garbage-to-gas program at the landfill in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, started as a way to get carbon credits by burning off methane, said Richard LeBouef, executive director of the parish Solid Waste Disposal District.Now natural gas from the landfill powers contractor Waste Connection’s 12 garbage trucks, the landfill’s five pickup trucks and six trucks for litter abatement teams. The district has put $2.7 million, plus maintenance, into the system.“What we’re saving monetarily is not super-substantial but in accordance with the green issue I think it’s a great thing,” LeBouef said.Waste-to-energy plants typically create power by burning the trash at about 2,000 degrees (1,093 degrees Celsius) and using it to boil water that is turned into steam, superheated and sent to a turbine to make electricity.Attempts to convert more pandemic garbage into energy are likely to be controversial, said Frank Roethel, director of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. But using the trash to make power beats letting it pile up, he said.“Here you have the Biden administration talking about climate change, and talking about strategies that could help reduce emissions,” Roethel said. “And waste to energy doesn’t necessarily get the recognition, but it could certainly reduce emissions.”———Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.———Follow Patrick Whittle on Twitter: @pxwhittle

US lobster fisheries anxious over upcoming whale protections

US lobster fisheries anxious over upcoming whale protections

The profitable U.S. lobster fishery will soon have to contend with new rules designed to protect an endangered species of whale, and that could necessitate major changes for fishermenBy PATRICK WHITTLE Associated PressJuly 4, 2021, 2:04 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePORTLAND, Maine — The profitable U.S. lobster fishery will soon have to contend with new rules designed to protect an endangered species of whale, and that could necessitate major changes for people in the industry.The federal government is working on new rules designed to reduce risk to North Atlantic right whales, which number only about 360. One of the threats the whales face is entanglement in ropes that connect to lobster and crab traps in the ocean.The new rules are expected to be released late this summer or early in fall, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Early indications show that the changes required by the rules could be significant.Right whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but they were decimated by hunting during the commercial whaling era. They’ve been listed as endangered since 1970, but the population remains small, and in jeopardy. Recent years have also brought high mortality and poor reproduction among the whales.They’re also vulnerable to ship strikes, and face the looming threat of warming oceans. Acting NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Paul Doremus said in June that the U.S. and Canada, which also harvests lobsters, must “take and sustain additional efforts to reduce right whale mortalities and serious injuries.”The rules will focus on reducing the number of vertical ropes in the water, and they’re also expected to modify restricted areas of ocean, the government has said. A conservation framework released by the federal government in May states that the first phase of rules will be designed to reduce risk to the whales by 60%.Later phases, which could take effect by 2030, call for an almost complete reduction of risk to the animals. Members of the industry said that could make it harder to get lobsters to consumers.The lobster industry is prepared to do its part to conserve the whales, but a near complete risk reduction would require a total overhaul of the fishery, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.“The fishery as we know it cannot exist, absolutely not,” McCarron said. “We can’t solve this whole issue if whales are dying in Canada, or getting hit by ships. Everybody’s very anxious to know what the rules actually say.”The U.S.’s new whale rules will not go into effect immediately upon release, and it’s too early to say when they will go on the books, said Allison Ferreira, the NOAA spokesperson. She said the federal government will undertake a major outreach effort to help fishermen comply when the rules are available.“I think we will do a multipronged approach — from sending out papers, websites, meeting in person, and instructional videos — to help them understand the different components, because the different components will apply to different fishermen,” she said.The rules are arriving at a time when the lobster industry, based mostly in Maine but also active elsewhere in New England and New York, has been very successful despite numerous challenges. Maine lobster has been worth more than $400 million at the docks for seven years in a row after never coming close to that number in its history, according to state records that go back to the 1880s.Lobsters are also popular at the moment with consumers, who are paying higher than average prices for them this summer.The fishery has weathered high bait prices, the coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil with China and other difficulties in the last five years and managed to stay afloat. But whale rules represent a challenge that could make it more difficult to get lobsters to customers, said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.“When 700 fishermen are not on the water, there’s less lobster,” Casoni said.