Sunday, January 31, 2016 Blog

Plastic from China. Corn subsidies for Iowa. Coastal wind. A new park. A road build on sand. A road surprise.

by Andy Hollis


The Post and Courier’s Bo Petersen follows up on last week’s news about plastic microfibers in Charleston Harbor with an article this week on the worldwide plague of plastic pollution.  According to researchers in the U.K. and with the World Economic Forum, in 30 years there will be more tons of plastics in the ocean than there are tons of fish.  

It may seem obvious to some people how all of this plastic finds its way to the ocean, but it was not to me.  So I include this article, from the International Business Times, which explains the sources of plastic pollution.  China, the study concluded, is the worst offender, dumping more than 8 million tons a year, or almost a third of the world’s pollution stream.  The U.S. ranks 20th, contributing a quarter of a million tons of plastic to the problem annually.  

This raises a rhetorical question:  How can a supposedly wise (homo sapiens), relatively competent, allegedly moral species, presumably interested in its (our) long term preservation, allow this to happen?  It is unfathomable.  At the very least, we are fortunate to have the College of Charleston and the Citadel on the front line of this important research.

One thing we can do something about unilaterally, in this country, this year, is corn ethanol subsidies and mandates.  Jonah Goldberg, in the National Review, argues that we should do away with the Iowa presidential caucus because the candidates consistently pay homage to this economically harmful and environmentally fraudulent policy.  The federal requirement to add ethanol to gasoline was originally justified to expand the use of “renewal” energy in the transportation sector.  Since then, scientists, economists, environmentalists and politicians on both sides of the political spectrum (except the Iowa side of the spectrum) have argued, unsuccessfully, for abandoning the policy — soil and habitat not being “renewal” resources, and burning a large amount of our food supply in our gas tanks not being a wise economic choice.  

Wind energy, on the other hand, really is renewable, and with the appropriate caveats about identifying the right locations for wind farms, a worthy endeavor to promote energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Washington Post has been following the discussion about wind, and about offshore oil, in South Carolina.  This article, which quotes the Conservation League’s Hamilton Davis, proposes that the public dialogue in favor of wind and against offshore oil exploration and testing, with every coastal city and town now having weighed in, is emblematic of a national shift in attitude.  As South Caroline goes, so goes the nation!

Back to the ocean…  Bo Petersen (again) reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has expanded the area of focus for right whales along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.  This does not bring any additional restrictions, since the speed limit on ships has already been made permanent, but it does bring a higher level of scrutiny for projects that could affect this rare and beautiful animal — like offshore oil exploration and testing.

Charleston County got some good news this week.  Prentiss Findlay with the Post and Courier, reports that the County Council approved the purchase of 638 acres, called the Spring Grove tract, on the edge of the ACE basin. This permanently establishes the boundary for development to the south of Charleston, and simultaneously adds another excellent property to the county park system.  Spring Grove is part of the massive 72,000 acre WestRock holding called East Edisto, about which there will be additional news in a few weeks.

Another Charleston County park, Beachwalker, is threatened with development.  But the threat here is avoidable.  As Elizabeth Hagood — former director of the Lowcountry Land Trust, former chair of DHEC, formerly with the Conservation League, (and currently a great conservation ally,) — notes, Senator Paul Campbell’s amendment to the proposed beachfront protection act would allow a road to be built across Captain Sams Spit.  The Beachfront Blue Ribbon Committee, which Elizabeth chaired, was very clear about the importance of setting the “baseline” for development, not only to protect Captain Sams, but also beaches from Daufuskie to North Myrtle.  

And now for the transportation minute…  Cindi Scoppe, with The State, does not mince words (fortunately, nothing new here…) in this editorial about the importance of reforming the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the wildly political State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB).  She argues that the reforms passed in 2007, Act 114, failed to establish adequate safeguards to ensure the DOT spends tax dollars on true transportation needs. (She previously reminded us of the DOT’s decision to bond $300 million to build an “interchange to nowhere” for I-73.)  Cindi notes that the 2007 reform explicitly and deliberately exempted the STIB from the mandate to prioritize spending.

Cindi’s article is especially timely, with the DOT’s announcement that they plan to widen six miles of I-26 leading into Charleston.  This was a surprise to everyone.  Kathryn Basha, with Charleston’s regional transportation planning agency, said the first the agency heard about the project was from the DOT press release.  This does not inspire confidence in the DOT’s collaborative planning efforts.

I hope everyone had a chance to get outside on this glorious weekend!


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