Friday news roundup: Dwindling elk herds and the end of new coal plants?


With beautiful, unseasonably warm weather this week, the West's normally hungry news watchers had trouble keeping our eyes on the computer screens and away from the fruit trees blooming outside. Rallying our strengths, we found birds and elk did not fare well in Western news this week. Our cheer at the climate-conscious news coming from Environmental Protection Agency was tempered by disheartening reports on our immigration policies from Amnesty International. We will hope for continued fair weather and better news next week. Here is what caught our attention:

Energy and pollution
Arguably the biggest national environmental news this week was the Environmental Protection Agency’s release Tuesday of a proposed rule limiting the carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. Recently built natural gas powered plants will easily meet the new standards, unlike the pre-existing coal plants. The standards are expected to effectively spell the end of newly built coal plants. While Lisa Jackson told reporters that the EPA has no plans to regulate existing sources, that may, nonetheless, come in the future. Since CO2 and other greenhouse gasses are now legally considered pollutants, the EPA is obligated to regulate them. By the time that happens, though, the planet's bound to be quite a few degrees warmer.

Late last January, a tube carrying hot, radioactive water sprang a leak in one of the reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The plant has since been closed. This week authorities announced the plant will likely remain shut throughout the summer, until serious problems with the equipment can be fixed. For Southern Californians, who suffered blackouts last year, this is bad news. State officials are working on plans for avoiding power outages in the coming months. 

In other nuclear power news, the Department of Energy believes clusterable mini-reactors may be a future power solution. The Department recently announced $450 million dollars are available to support engineering and licensing.

On Animals
A rough winter, hunters and attacks from wolves, bears and mountain lions have been harsh on a major elkherd that migrates annually through Yellowstone National Park. The herd, which 20 years ago was about 20,000 strong, is down to less than 4,200 animals today. In the last year the population has dropped 10 percent, authorities say.

In Washington State, thousands of swans have died after ingesting lead shot, prompting an outcry from environmentalists. A hundred organizations in 35 states are asking the EPA to usher in an era of non-toxic ammunition. 

Also for the birds: The Department of the Interior recently released guidelines for helping wind energy developers to minimize the impact on wildlife, those with wings in particular. The guidelines are voluntary and address site selection, project design and operation. Wind energy is a key part of the Obama administration’s energy plans, said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior. “We’re committed to working with developers to ensure that wind energy projects are build in the right places and operated in the right way.”

On Humans
A new report by Amnesty International, a global watchdog for human rights, details rights violations caused by immigration enforcement in the U.S. Southwest. Federal and state policies have pushed undocumented immigrants into using dangerous routes, increased racial profiling, barred access to education and essential health care (including for children who are U.S. citizens) and targeted immigrant and indigenous communities for discrimination.

Wyoming is a risky place to work. Reports say it lacks a culture of safety and the leadership support to change it. The state 
routinely ranks among the highest in the nation for workforce fatality rates. This year, Wyoming families will lose an estimated 36 fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. The state legislature passed a bill this month that offers employers yet more grants and safety advice as a means of improving workers safety, but does little to monitor and enforce safety regulations, a move which has drawn criticism from longtime watchers of worker safety in the state.

On tap

Water, a perennial issue out West, travels through a complex infrastructure in sore need of upgrades. From the global water news site, Circle of Blue comes, a photographic slide show cataloging our aging aqueducts, water towers and sewer tunnels. For more on water, see our longstanding water coverage.

And with that, onward to the weekend...

Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News. 

Images: 1) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, courtesy of Rian Castillo/Flickr. 2) Installing sewer pipes under the roads of Kearney, Nebraska in 1889. The town economically boomed in the late 1800s due to the railroad, then quickly went bust. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society/Circle of Blue. 

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