The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Thomas Fraser

News Sentinel: Nun who served time after Oak Ridge weapons protest dies in Pennsylvania

Sister Megan Rice, who along with two others were prosecuted by the federal government after breaking into the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 10 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

Rice, a member of the order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, penetrated the secure perimeter of Y-12 in July 2012 along with two other Catholic activists for prayers and protests outside a bunker containing uranium, according to the Associated Press via the News Sentinel. The incident prompted numerous inquiries about the security of Y-12 and put the inherent danger of nuclear armament in the media spotlight.

The trio was charged with felony sabotage but served only two years of their federal prison terms.

"While testifying during her jury trial, Rice defended her decision to break into the Oak Ridge uranium facility as an attempt to stop “manufacturing that...can only cause death,” according to a trial transcript.'

“I had to do it,” she said of her decision to break the law.

“My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to speak what I knew in my conscience."

Published in Feedbag
Thursday, 14 October 2021 13:02

Requiem for the Lord God Bird

Movie footage from Louisiana, 1935 by Arthur Allen. Courtesy of Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
 

The ivory-billed woodpecker is officially extinct, and it strikes a chord in Knoxville

Clinging to a maple in the bayou, Jim Tanner finally had the rare nestling in his grasp. 

He fitted it with a numbered leg band and placed the bird back in its hole high off the ground. 

But true to its seldom-seen self, the juvenile ivory-billed woodpecker squirmed free and fluttered to the base of a giant maple tree in a southern Louisiana swamp owned at the time by the Singer Sewing Machine Co.

The year was 1936, and Jim Tanner was in the midst of doctorate research at Cornell University funded by the Audubon Society as part of a push to prevent the pending extinctions of multiple bird species, including the California condor, roseate spoonbill, whooping crane and ivory-billed woodpecker. Eighty-five years later, the regal woodpecker would be the only one grounded for eternity.

In the heat and rain of mucky, gassy bayous, Tanner compiled data on the range, population, habitat and prevalence of ivory-billed woodpeckers. He camped for weeks at a time in the swamps of the birds’ original range.

On this day, his only goal was to band the bird but he rushed down the tree and picked up the agitated but uninjured woodpecker.

He also wanted photographs.

Tanner took advantage of the moment.

He placed the bird upon the shoulder of an accompanying and accommodating game warden for 14 shots from his Leica.

They were probably the first, and perhaps the last, photographs of a juvenile ivory-billed woodpecker photographed by Tanner in its natural habitat. He named the bird Sonny, and he was the only known member of the species to be banded with a number.

The regal, smart, athletic bird, which peaceably flew over its small slice of Earth for some 10,000 years, was declared extinct last month by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Twenty-two other species also qualified for removal from the Endangered Species List — in the worst possible way.

The ivory bill inhabited the swamps of the Deep South, far removed from Rocky Top, but old visages of the departed were found in Little Switzerland in South Knoxville. The work of Tanner, who would go on to complete a rich ecological research career at the University of Tennessee, has been memorialized by a talented East Tennessee science writer.

And the Southern Appalachian region has other long-gone kinships with species that vanished from the Earth a long time ago. 

Published in News
Monday, 11 October 2021 13:17

Permafrost is a ticking methane bomb

Smithsonian: In Russia, even rocks emit greenhouse gases

The melting Siberian tundra north of the Arctic Circle released millions of tons of methane last year as regional temperatures rose to 11 degrees (F) above average.

Methane has a shorter effect than carbon dioxide on global atmospheric change but is still 70 times more potent than CO2 in its overall global-warming potential. Its accelerated release on such a vast scale represents an immediate challenge to restricting overall global warming to less than 3 degrees (fF) by the end of the century, which scientists agree is necessary to prevent dramatic climate change. Methane’s potent global warming potential is why many conservationists oppose the use of natural gas as an energy source.

But in Siberia, even the rocks are emitting methane. Scientists were surprised to find that limestone exposed by disappearing permafrost itself generated high levels of methane. Tundra fires have also accelerated the release of methane and other gases, and have come at great cost to the Russian government and the rural inhabitants of the vast region.

That means economical and practical means must be developed elsewhere, at least, for methane management.

But according to the United Nations Economic Council for Europe:

“Despite methane’s short residence time, the fact that it has a much higher warming potential than CO2 and that its atmospheric volumes are continuously replenished make effective methane management a potentially important element in countries’ climate change mitigation strategies. As of today, however, there is neither a common technological approach to monitoring and recording methane emissions, nor a standard method for reporting them.“

Published in Feedbag

Compass: ORNL mapping effort will aid rescue, risk assessment

Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists spent five years mapping virtually every structure in the U.S. and the data is bearing early fruit as it is used for response to disasters such as hurricanes and severe floods. 

Mark Tuttle and Melanie Lavardiere, the team leaders of the project, have mapped "virtually every single structure in the United States and its territories," Compass reports. 

The information is used by disaster responders from the FEMA level and down. During a hurricane, for example, authorities can focus response efforts on the most vulnerable areas using the building-mapping database. 

The database can also be used by insurers to charge rates more according to risk, and for structures covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, as is already happening.

But the data is most valuable for saving lives and determining the most likely location those lives will have to be saved. 

"After disaster strikes, the data can give a rapid indication of the scope of the damage and point responders in the right direction to assist in the recovery. Using the powerful computers available at ORNL, the team can process data quickly — producing in a matter of hours work that used to take months — and get it into FEMA’s hands for analysis," Compass reports.

Published in Feedbag

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Plans for new parkway segment were hatched long ago; project would also include improvements to Wears Valley park entrance

Just a few years after the "Missing Link" of the Foothills Parkway was finally finished following decades-long delays, the National Park Service now has its sights set on constructing a new 10-mile section of parkway on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that would extend from Wears Valley to the heavily traveled Gatlinburg Spur.

The leg of the roadway has long been included in a plan for full completion of the parkway. About 30 miles have been completed from Tallassee, Tennessee to Wears Valley. This section would extend from the current parkway terminus in Wears Valley to the Gatlinburg Spur near Pigeon Forge.

Park officials said in a press release announcing the opening of the project's public comment period that the unfinished section is the only stretch of incomplete, congressionally approved roadway in the U.S. 

Published in News

Knox News: Nearly 12,000 acres added to Skinner Mountain preserve on the Cumberland Plateau

The Conservation Fund and state wildlife and forestry officials reached a deal to conserve and manage thousands of wild acres in Fentress County.

The expanse was previously held by an out-of-state speculative investment company likely originally tied to timber companies.

The Cumberland Plateau and escarpments have been increasingly recognized for their biodiversity along with the Smokies to the east beyond the Tennessee Valley. The Cumberlands are along a songbird and fowl migration route, and host a niche population of mature timber, mosses, lichens, fungi, mammals and amphibians. Elk were reintroduced a decade ago, and black bears have begun to range across the Cumberlands and their base.

The area is pocked with caves and sinkholes, some containing petroglyphs and other carvings from previous populations.

"On the Cumberland Plateau, the key to maintaining biodiversity is to retain as much natural forest (both managed and unmanaged) as possible," a forestry expert told the News Sentinel's Vincent Gabrielle.

The Foothills Land Conservancy has also helped protect thousands of acres along the plateau and its escarpments in recent years.

Published in Feedbag

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UPDATED: Opponents of Pellissippi Parkway Extension hammer bureaucrats, unelected economic development officials at public meeting

(This story has been updated with this link to the Tennessee Department of Transportation recording of the Sept. 21 public hearing on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension project).

Raw emotions spilled over at a Tennessee Department of Transportation public meeting to collect citizen input on a nearly 5-mile, four-lane highway that would carve through creeks, forests, farms and homes in rural Blount County in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The meeting was held Tuesday evening at Heritage High School, not far from where the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension (which would originate at the terminus of the current parkway near Rockford) would abruptly bisect East Lamar Alexander Parkway, just to the west of Walland Gap and the Little River Gorge.

As Hellbender Press has reported on the Pellissippi extension, many people aren't happy with the proposition of spending at least $100 million on a 4.5-mile stretch of highway, and people are uncomfortable with both the use of eminent domain to force them from their homes or seize portions of their property and the unavoidable and long-lasting environmental and cultural impact such a project would have on the rural areas of Blount County. The projected cost of the project has vacillated by millions of dollars.

East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321) terminates in Townsend; along the way are turnoffs to many valuable pieces of real estate and immensely successful high-end hospitality venues, such as Blackberry Farm. Hellbender Press reached out to Blackberry Farm through its Nashville-based public relations team about the nearby highway project and was simply told "we have no comment."

People who did not attend last night's meeting have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the TDOT website.
 
The comment period is open through Oct. 12.
 
Published in News
Friday, 17 September 2021 09:54

J.J. takes a bus down Electric Avenue

884E1F2D 2A2F 4F68 A15E 80F9458D1FB0Hard Knox Wire: City takes media and politicos on a spin aboard KAT's newest electric bus

The city demonstrated and offered rides aboard the Knoxville Area Transit's new electric buses at Caswell Park on Thursday. The city and KAT plan to acquire a total of 18 electric buses as part of a plan to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next thirty years. Five of the buses, built by Canada-based manufacturer New Flyer, have arrived.

“In the United States, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently climate change. Transit has the power to change that,” city transit director Isaac Thorne told Hard Knox Wire.

“By drawing new people to consider transit, reducing reliance on cars, opening up opportunities, and providing sustainable mobility choices, transit can make cities more livable, make the air cleaner, and help meet our challenging but achievable climate goals,” he said.

The city plans to have 18 electric buses representing 26 percent of KAT's fleet in regular operation by the end of next year. Another 41 percent of the existing fleet are hybrids, according to KAT.

The Knoxville Utilities Board is installing multiple chargers to service the electricity needs of the new fleet.

The new buses will undergo multiple trial runs before they hit the road with public passengers in January, probably along the Sutherland and Magnolia routes.

"KAT’s fleet of 71 buses carry around 3 million passengers each year on its 23 bus routes and three downtown trolley routes. There are 1,150 bus stops scattered throughout the city, and bus routes come within a half-mile of 80 percent of the population," Hard Knox Wire reported.

“Today marks a dramatic milestone for Knoxville – this is a major step on our path toward a more clean and resilient future for our children and grandchildren,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a news release from KAT.

“These high-efficiency electric buses are an investment in clean air, in healthy neighborhoods, and mobility for our residents."

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Hard Knox Wire: A brief history of Ktown's worst natural disasters

The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.

Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.

History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past. 

 

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Washington Post: Thousands of reports spill in about pollution following Hurricane Ida

It was a perfect storm of imperfect planning that led to southern Louisiana's prominent role as both a producer and transporter of fossil fuels -- and its vulnerability to storms such as Hurricane Ida.

Ida pitched one of the highest hurricane gusts (175 mph) ever recorded in the U.S. when it came ashore at Port Fouchon. Its storm surge also inundated and destroyed both residential neighborhoods and refineries, pumps, pipelines and petroleum storage facilities associated with the high-dollar, polluting petrochemical complex of southern Louisiana.

The Coast Guard is tracking 350 documented oil spills that have occurred since Ida's violent arrival on Aug. 29. Overall, the Washington Post reported "the Coast Guard has received 2,113 reports of pollution or contamination in the waterways to date, with plans to follow up on each.

"The most significant incident so far has been the oil spill off Port Fourchon, in a lease area known as Bay Marchand Block 5," the Post reported.

The Gulf Coast and gulf itself are littered with thousands of miles of abandoned pipelines and imperfectly capped wellheads. Ida ruptured many, but this is a common headline every time a hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast. It just seems to be getting worse.

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