Eco shorts

It’s not just some romantic fancy that leads us to classify these environmental-news briefs by the four ancient elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Modern physicists say four states of matter exist — solid, liquid, gas and plasma and four layers of the planet (geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and magnetosphere). Whatever terms you use, that’s four basic ways we can foul our environment … or fix it.

Water

Erosion control at home and on the job

Hiking on the fringes of developed areas in our mountains, you’ll find many a lost lake and silted-up stream. Here’s why: Storms pour rain on ground made barren by human activity (think construction sites and parking lots). Without plants and porous soils to absorb the water, it runs into adjacent lakes and streams, filling them with sediment and toxic runoff. The problem has grown so severe that the EPA has ordered state environmental regulators nationwide to institute stormwater-management programs by March 8, 2003. The top priority in those programs will be educating contractors, farmers, homeowners and others about environmentally sound ways to control stormwater runoff.

To that end, a broad coalition of local builders, environmentalists, and state and city officials is sponsoring a stormwater conference on Friday, May 31, at the N.C. Arboretum. The workshop will help builders and residents comply with the new regulations by introducing participants to available technologies for controlling stormwater and protecting water quality.

In the event’s “Industry Track,” experts will discuss subjects such as how to minimize impervious surfaces — large expanses of asphalt and concrete that may keep an SUV from spinning its wheels in the mud, but which also cause destructive flooding in streams and rivers by preventing the ground from absorbing rainwater. (Permeable pavement is one innovation that satisfies both needs.) Other topics will include how to control stormwater erosion by encouraging wetlands, stabilizing stream banks and limiting land clearing.

In the “Homeowners’ Track,” participants will learn how to control erosion and runoff in their own backyard habitats. If you live alongside a stream or river, for example, experts advise you to stop mowing your lawn all the way to the edge of the stream bank. Shrubs and trees planted or allowed to grow there will prevent the bank from being continually washed away. You may lose some of your view, but at least you’ll keep your yard.

Asheville Mayor Charles Worley will kick off the conference, which runs 8:15 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information or to register ($65 before May 1, $80 after), call 252-8474 ext. 114, or visit www.riverlink.org.

Earth

How to build it green

As long as you’re doing stream-friendly landscaping around that dream retirement home, why not take the next step and make the house itself environmentally sustainable, too?

The newly published 2002-03 WNC Green Building Directory tells how to heat your home with passive solar energy or run your appliances off hydrogen fuel cells. The directory also lists local contractors and architects who’ll build you an energy-efficient, feng-shui-conscious house, office building or church, using recycled materials. Or, if you’d rather do it yourself, the guide also includes suppliers of everything from triple-glazed windows to solvent-free caulking compound to wood beams salvaged from turn-of-the-century tobacco warehouses. A score of educational articles on green building methods, as well as case studies of local green-built residences, round out the directory’s contents.

The WNC Green Building Directory (printed with soy-based ink) can be ordered from the WNC Green Building Council (P.O Box 8427, Asheville, NC 28814) or downloaded as a .pdf file at www.wncgbc.org.

The news you didn’t get to hear at 11

When Fox News reporters Jane Akres and Steve Wilson tried to expose potential health threats connected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) — manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation and injected into cows on nearly every dairy farm in Florida, even though it’s been linked to cancer and banned throughout Europe — Monsanto successfully pressured Fox to pull the story. After the two Tampa reporters refused to include a statement about the safety of rBGH milk which they knew to be false in a rewritten version of the story, the manager of station WTVT fired them for insubordination. Nearly three years later, in August 2000, the husband-and-wife team won $425,000 in damages in a whistle-blower suit against Fox.

On Saturday April 27, Akres and Wilson will give the keynote address at “Our Food Our Future: Essential Facts About Genetic Engineering,” a public forum hosted by Carolina Partners for Pure Food at UNCA’s Owen Conference Center. The free event runs 1:30-5 p.m. and will also feature booths and educational displays by other nonprofits.

Other speakers at the forum will discuss associated issues affecting farmers, such as cross-contamination from GE crops, the potential for “super pests and weeds” to develop, lawsuits from corporations, the inability to sell contaminated crops, and the attempt by major chemical and biotech companies to monopolize the seed market.

A strategy session for activists will be held on Sunday, April 28.

For more information about the forum or to register for the strategy session, call (828) 656-2517 or e-mail salamandersprings@angelfire.com. To find out more about Akres and Wilson’s censorship struggle with Fox, visit www.foxbghsuit.com.

Air

Canary Coalition launches clean air petition

Despite enthusiastic public support and strenuous efforts by WNC’s representatives, the Clean Smokestacks Bill (S1078) foundered in committee during last year’s state legislative session. Even though environmental advocates and coal-burning electric utilities had reached an agreement that would have brought about substantial reductions of the chemical emissions that cause haze, ozone and acid rain, the bill was stymied by opposition from businesses that would have to pay the higher utility rates such a cleanup would entail.

The bill’s sponsors are determined to try again this session. To show the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Mike Easley how widespread support for the bill actually is, the Canary Coalition — a locally based clean-air advocacy organization — has launched a statewide petition. The introduction reads:

“We the Undersigned, as citizens and voters of North Carolina, respectfully request that you, our Representatives in Raleigh, truly represent us and Pass S1078, The Healthy Air bill (also known as The Clean Smokestacks bill), with the emission control standards intact. Utility cost sharing, reducing implementation periods and clarification of the ban on trading of pollution credits, are the only acceptable changes to this bill. The emission control standards have already been compromised to the lowest acceptable levels.”

“The petition signatures will be broken down by district and sent to legislators so they will know they’re hearing from people within their own constituency,” notes Avram Friedman, the Coalition’s Executive Director. It’s one part of what Friedman terms an “extensive and intensive effort,” including public demonstrations, to get the message through to North Carolina legislators.

To obtain copies of the petition, call the Canary Coalition toll free at 866-4CANARY, e-mail canarycoalition@earthlink.net or go to www.canarycoalition.org.

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