Eco-heroes honored

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

Auntie Ruth had a delightful time at Environmental Council of Sacramento’s fall festival, held in late October, which honored five local Environmentalists of the Year: Neighbors Advocating Sustainable Transportation and ECOS president Eric Davis for defeating Caltrans’ planned expansion of Highway 50; Carol Witham, president of the California Native Plants Society, and attorney Keith Wagner, for challenging a plan that would have threatened critical vernal-pool habitats in Rancho Cordova; and LJ Urban for its green-housing project in West Sacramento.

The Environmental Defense Fund filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to update emissions standards for hundreds of landfills. The agency is required under the nation’s clean-air laws to update standards at least every eight years, but it’s gone the last 12 years without doing so. Landfills are the nation’s second largest source of man-made methane pollution, accounting for roughly 25 percent. Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and this potent gas contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, better known as smog. Exposure to this pollution has been linked to respiratory illness among millions of Americans; however, extracted methane can be used to generate electricity and replace fossil fuels in industrial and manufacturing operations.

Frequent words heard on the eco-scene: cumulative impacts. This term refers to the accumulation of pollution from multiple sources—refineries, freeways, dry cleaners and so on—in a given geographical area. This term is a mouthful for Auntie Ruth, and a hot topic of discussion among environmentalists, industry folks and regulators. At issue is how to develop regulations that protect communities burdened with multiple sources of pollution, which tend to be low-income communities. Current regulation and permitting processes measure emissions from one specific source of pollution, while failing to take into account pollutants from other nearby sources, an ineffective method for those living in the real world. Environmental-justice advocates have been arguing this for years, and regulators now seem to agree. A group with the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment held its second meeting at the Cal/EPA headquarters in Sacramento last week to discuss the effects of cumulative impacts on public health and quality of life.