The Politics of Energy/ Jeff Young
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Energy issues are front and center in the race for control of Congress. Voters are linking energy choices to the economy, environment, and national security and that has candidates of both parties talking up renewable and alternative energy sources. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington. (05:30)
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In Missouri, ethanol has taken center stage in the U.S. senatorial race. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates are touting their devotion to the corn-based fuel to woo the state’s farming communities. Host Steve Curwood talks with George Connor, associate professor of political science at Missouri State University about the race. (06:30)
Keep on Truckin’/ Shia Levitt
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There are now almost five hundred truck stops in the country that sell biodiesel fuel. The eco-friendly fuel blend has become popular among truckers; it’s even getting a push on satellite radio’s trucker station. Shia (SHY-yah) Levitt has our story. (07:00)
Latino Power/ Ingrid Lobet
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Much of the nation's environmental policy begins in California, and Latinos in that state have become influential in making that policy. But, as Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports from Los Angeles, Latino leaders are also hoping to make national environmental issues a priority on their community’s agenda. (04:30)
Riding the Environmental Justice Bus/ Monique Harden
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Lawyer Monique Harden helped organize a bus tour to raise awareness about environmental injustice in poor neighborhoods across the nation. Along the road from Port Arthur, Texas to Washington, DC, Harden meets the people fighting pollution in their communities and shares some of their stories in an audio diary. (05:00)
Emerging Science Note/Science of Desire/ Jennifer Percy
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Scientists have discovered the link between the hunger-sensing part of the brain and the region responsible for emotional and addictive behavior. Jennifer Percy reports. (01:30)
Foresaken Mermaids/ Philippe Cousteau
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In 1970, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau visited Blue Spring in Florida to film a documentary on the manatees that depended on its warm water for their survival. Boat traffic and harassment had turned their winter safe haven into a danger zone. Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, Philippe, brings us the story of the manatee’s new fight for survival in the face of development and Florida’s rising demand for water. (15:30)
Bird chatter among the cattails in a Florida marsh.
HOST: Steve Curwood
GUEST: George Connor, Monique Harden
REPORTER: Jeff Young, Shia Levitt, Ingrid Lobet, Philippe Cousteau
SCIENCE NOTE: Jennifer Percy
[LIVING ON EARTH THEME]
CURWOOD: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Winds of change seem to be blowing on Republicans this year, and not just with the dust of scandals and angst about the war. The GOP is changing direction on energy policy as well.
JENKINS: You see Republican candidates being very progressive in their view on what we should do on energy; that we need to move forward and have a forward looking policy that’s not reliant on oil and fossil fuels.
CURWOOD: Also. more than two decades after Jacques Cousteau fought to save the manatees, they’re still charming tourists.
HARTLEY: It’s just like people. Some manatee calves are very well-behaved and stay with their mother; other manatee calves are little brats who don’t come when they’re called and ignore their mother.
CURWOOD: But now Cousteau’s grandson says there’s another threat, the thirst for water.
This week on Living on Earth – stick around.
[MUSIC: Boards of Canada “Zoetrope” from ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ (Warp Records – 2000)]
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. While the nation talks about sex scandals on Capitol Hill, the War in Iraq and the jihad against America as big factors in the upcoming congressional elections, there’s another issue that’s playing heavily in many races: energy. It’s not just the pocketbook issue of high gas prices. Voters are voicing concern about how energy choices affect jobs, national security and the global climate.
Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has our report.
YOUNG: When gas prices topped 3 dollars a gallon Democrats said Republicans were responsible. Now that prices are dropping Texas Republican Joe Barton says turnabout is fair play.
BARTON: I’m taking credit for them going down because I was blamed when they
YOUNG: He’s only partly joking. As chair of the House energy committee Barton was a major force in passing last year’s Energy Act. The Act gave billions in subsidies for all sorts of energy development, but was especially generous to oil, coal and nuclear power. Barton says it’s starting to take effect and that’s something Republican candidates can use on the campaign trail.
BARTON: Really I think we can take credit because we believe in market forces and put things in play that let markets operate more efficiently. The energy policy act of 2005 is having a noticeable impact in a positive way and Republicans can certainly be very positive about it.
YOUNG: The House Republican leaders also pushed to open the Arctic Refuge and the nation’s coastal areas to oil and gas drilling. But if you listen to the Republican candidates in the closest races you won’t hear many speeches about Barton’s energy act or a need for offshore drilling.
JENKINS: No, actually they’re going the opposite direction.
YOUNG: David Jenkins is with a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection. From New England through the Philadelphia suburbs to parts of the south and Midwest, Jenkins finds many Republicans in the most competitive districts have a different energy message.
JENKINS: I think you see most of the Republican candidates being very progressive in their views of what we should do on energy that we need to move forward and have a forward-thinking energy policy not reliant on oil and fossil fuels. We need to move toward alternatives, we need to diversify our energy choices, and we need to be really serious about conservation.
YOUNG: Jenkins says that appeals to voters concerned about the environment and those who worry that oil imports undermine national security. And it’s a way for Republican candidates to distance themselves from the energy policies of Republican Congressional leaders. A recent poll indicates that’s probably a smart political move right now.
New York University’s Brademas Center for the Study of Congress found only about ten percent of voters polled said Congress has done a good job on energy. About 80 percent worried about energy and 70 percent say they’re worried about global warming.
The poll was taken in July, when gas prices were higher. Despite the recent price drop, Democrats hope to tap into that discontent.
REID: The American people know that the gas prices are going to go back up.
YOUNG: The senate’s top democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, says prices could spike again with the next Mideast crisis or gulf hurricane. Democratic leaders say if voters give them control of congress they’ll make kicking the oil habit a top priority.
REID: By using the sun, by using the strength of the earth, geothermal, by using wind and biomass. And until we accept that we are going to continue to have these violently fluctuating prices with oil.
YOUNG: South Carolina Democratic Representative James Clyburn connects the dots between energy, the economy and national security with the Democrats’ ambitious goal.
CLYBURN: We will within ten years make our country independent of foreign oil by investing in farming and rural communities that will give us the alternatives to foreign oil that we need.
YOUNG: Candidates across the political spectrum stress the jobs to be gained by subsidizing biofuels. Bob Dineen leads the Renewable Fuels Association, the trade group for ethanol producers. He says the energy debate in some farm states comes down to who can do the most for the corn-based fuel.
DINEEN: Sometimes those debates get a little bit silly as candidates trying to one-up one other in terms of their support for renewable energy tech and you look at that with some degree of cynicism but the fact is they’re moving the debate forward so it’s all good.
YOUNG: Some environmentalists doubt it’s all good. They argue ethanol is a net energy loser when produced from corn grain. Emerging technology using plant fiber could soon improve that. For now many in conservation circles are cheered by the prominent role renewable and alternative energies have found in this years’ election campaign. Voters often rank environmental issues low among their concerns. But now it seems energy and the environment are tied up with national security and the economy—two of the most pressing items on voters’ minds.
For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in Washington.
CURWOOD: One race where energy issues are center stage is in Missouri. You could say the debate is over ethanol, except there is no debate between the two contenders for the U.S. Senate over the value of ethanol. The scrapping there is over which person will do more to promote the production of crop-based fuels. In one corner is Republican Senator James Talent, who is running for a second term.
TALENT: My record on this is clear I’m not only supporting ethanol and biodiesel but I’ve been a leader in that fight. I’m the co-chairman of biofuels caucus. I received an award from the American Coalition for Ethanol and I’m gonna tell ya, they don’t give those awards to people unless they support ethanol.
CURWOOD: In the other corner is Democrat and former state auditor Claire McCaskill, who narrowly lost a run for Missouri’s governorship two years ago.
McCASKILL: I was for ethanol before ethanol was cool. [LAUGHS IN AUDIENCE] It’s good for our economy, it’s good for our environment, and it’s good for our national security.
CURWOOD: Here to give us his analysis of Missouri Senatorial race is George Connor, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Missouri State University. Professor Connor, welcome to Living on Earth.
CONNOR: Hello, thank you for having me.
CURWOOD: As I understand it two years ago Ms. McCaskill nearly won the governorship. She lost it narrowly in some rural communities, right?
CONNOR: That is correct.
CURWOOD: So, what does the Democratic challenger, Ms. McCaskill hope to gain with an emphasis on ethanol?
CONNOR: The argument that Claire McCaskill is facing is that she lost the governorship in part because she did not campaign hard in what we call outstate Missouri, what you would call rural Missouri. There are 114 counties in Missouri, 108-109 of them are what you would classify as rural. And Claire McCaskill lost in all of those counties. So she is searching for an issue that resonates with those voters. She’s really taken 2 tacks. The first is that she has Missouri values. That she was born in Houston, Missouri and raised in a rural community and that she understands the rural community and its values, its sympathies, its needs, its economic interests and so on. And in particular with respect to the economic interest, Missouri is an agricultural state for those rural communities corn is a very important commodity. Claire McCaskill has focused on ethanol as an issue that she can tout, that she can claim as a way to get entrance into those rural voters that she lost 2 years ago.
CURWOOD: Republican Senator, Jim Talent, though has been a big supporter of ethanol. In fact he calls himself Mr. Ethanol. You’d think he has this issue sewn up.
CONNOR: Senator Talent isn’t as good or adept or willing to toot his own horn. He is known as an ethanol senator. His ads try and touch on that issue. But most of the work that Senator Talent does with respect to ethanol is in Washington. It is not something that’s touted back here in Missouri. So, you’re right he might, based on his record, have the ethanol issue locked up, but because the average voter in Missouri doesn’t know about his efforts with ethanol, he doesn’t.
CURWOOD: Now he has been campaigning on his record of supporting the energy bill that Congress passed last year and the boost of that legislation gave to ethanol. Yet I understand that his opponent is attacking Senator Talent for that very same bill saying that it shows support for the oil industry rather than ethanol. How can we have very different interpretations of that one act of Congress?
CONNOR: Well, in part it’s an issue of perspective. Claire McCaskill argues in other adds as well as the one that you’re referring to that Senator Talent is basically in the pocket of big oil companies and when gas prices were very high that was something that she hoped would resonate with the voters. So she’s trying to shore up her base. She runs an add with a farmer in bib overalls saying how much money it costs to run his tractor and farm equipment and so on. And then she tries to blame the rising price of gas on Senator Talent by tying him to the big oil companies. And yet at the same time Senator Talent runs an add arguing that big oil companies oppose the energy bill, oppose the renewable energy resources that were in that bill that were proposed there by the President. And so you have to candidates looking at exactly the same piece of legislation in exactly the opposite way.
CURWOOD: Now tell me, how does the oil and gas industry figure into this race? What significant campaign contributions if any?
CONNOR: Well, I should say Senator Talent has not quite twice as much money as Claire McCaskill in this campaign. And consider, I think all parties know, Senator Talent has taken money from big oil. Claire McCaskill has not taken money from the major oil interests. That’s part of her campaign as well, “I’m not in the pocket of big oil, as opposed to my opponent.”
CURWOOD: What does ethanol mean to Missourians? How do Missourians look at it?
CONNOR: I think with respect to the campaigns there’s multiple elements in the ethanol debate. I think both candidates are talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And I think that has some resonance with the average voter. I think they’re also talking in terms of national security because if we reduce our dependence on foreign oil we increase our national security. I think in the end both candidates are almost shamelessly rooting for voters. Because what it comes down to in Missouri is ethanol means jobs. Ethanol means preserving the family farm. Ethanol means preserving a way of life. Ethanol means having a market for the crops. Ethanol has many benefits but it comes down to the bottom line, which is dollars and cents. And for the rural voter ethanol is something that you can’t afford to oppose.
CURWOOD: What’s the significance of this Senate race for the state of Missouri?
CONNOR: Well, I think in terms of the significance for the state it’s not as important as people would think. Republicans control the house, they control the senate and they control the governorship. So it’s not quite a lonely voice in the wilderness if Claire McCaskill were to win. But with respect to Missouri it won’t have that much of an impact. But I think that is not true at the national level. Missouri is a microcosm or as they say a bellwether state. So as Missouri goes so goes the nation. So if Claire McCaskill does win I think it has bigger implications nationally. Because I thin if democrats can win Missouri that means they can win the senate and potentially take over.
CURWOOD: Well, we’ll be watching this one closely.
CONNOR: Yeah, lots of stuff going on.
CURWOOD: George Connor is an associate professor of political science at Missouri State University. Thank you sir.
CONNOR: Thank you very much for having me.
[MUSIC: Sound Tribe Sector 8 “Today” from ‘Rock The Earth Sampler 2’ (eMusic – 2006)]
CURWOOD: Coming up: get on the bus! Activists tour communities affected by environmental injustice. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood “Tequila & Chocolate” from ‘Out Louder’ (Indirecto – 2006)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Biodiesel fuel helps fight global warming and has fewer emissions than traditional diesel petroleum. And more and more truckers are getting on the bandwagon. Hundreds of fleets across the nation are now using biodiesel and diesel blends. Producer Shia Levitt hit the road to bring us this report.
LEVITT: At Carl’s Corner truck stop south of Dallas, Texas, a handful of drivers are filling up with biodiesel on a windy summer morning. The fuel, made from vegetable oil, is often blended with petroleum diesel at 5, 11 or 20 percent.
LEVITT: The number of truck stops with biodiesel increased close to 40 percent within the last year -- to more than 480 today. Carl’s Corner is relatively well-known among truckers since it was the first to carry Willie Nelson’s biodiesel brand, BioWillie. Owner Carl Cornelius says it was Nelson himself who convinced him to start carrying the fuel.
[SOUND OF FUELING UP]
LEVITT: Biodiesel can go directly into any tank that takes diesel fuel. To some environmentalists, its diesel’s green alternative since it can be made from renewable sources like soybean oil or waste products like used cooking grease. But ecological benefits aren’t necessarily what’s attracting truckers like Don Jallo and Bob Call.
JALLO: I'm a farmer too, so that’s another reason.
CALL: Anytime you can do anything for the family farmer that's a plus. Help the trucking industry there's another plus. Get out from under OPEC and the oil company, they're making billion dollars of profit better than they ever have in the whole existence of life, you know, there's no sense in that.
LEVITT: Carl Cornelius says the BioWillie company aims to benefit farmers by buying their crops.
CORNELIUS: Willie wants to put 50,000 farmers to work in Texas alone we put some of the family farmers back to work guaranteeing them a price, do away with foreign oil and we can stop some of the wars maybe.
VERRY: Before, it was always kind of a tough sell, but in the last couple years it's really turned around. At the largest truck show in the country, that’s the Mid-American Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky, 17 percent had tried it in ‘05, and in 2006, 40 percent had tried it. That’s quite a jump in one year far as truckers’ usage of biodiesel
LEVITT: Verry has been on the road a lot lately, talking to fleet owners and drivers at conferences and truck shows. And truckers are also hearing about the fuel from another source-- legendary country music DJ Bill Mack. Mack constantly promotes it on his live call-in program on XM satellite radio’s trucker station, Open Road.
MACK: It’s going to do a lot of good. And that’s what the biodiesel is about is getting those prices down. Manufacturing here in these United States, getting away from dependency from the Middle East or anywhere else.
LEVITT: The Bill Mack Show is on air for four hours every weekday, and on Wednesdays he’s joined for an hour by longtime friend and country music star Willie Nelson.
[BILL MACK AND WILLIE NELSON TALKING]
LEVITT: While the publicity has produced some new customers from among the truck-driving fans, the biodiesel industry has still had to face some uphill challenges to its public image. After Minnesota mandated two percent biodiesel at all its diesel pumps, some fuel sold there turned out to be sub-standard. Some batches gelled in cold-weather or caused fuel filters to clog, and many northern drivers became skeptical about trying the fuel. Verry says these are merely growing pains of an industry in its infancy.
VERRY: We’re growing so rapidly that we found we did have some out of spec biodiesel going into the market, so we had to come together to address that issue and continue to keep consumer confidence high in the fuel.
LEVITT: The largest trucking trade organization in the country, the American Trucking Associations, recently announced their endorsement of biodiesel blends up to five percent – as long as the fuel meets quality standards. This represents a huge shift in policy says ATA’s Rich Moskowitz.
MOSKOWITZ: Five years ago there were a lot of rumors out there that it would cause long-term damage to the engines that it would result in drastic fuel economy reductions and as a result the industry was adamantly opposed to its use.
LEVITT: Recent tax incentives made biodiesel more cost competitive for trucking companies, some of whom see it as a way to expand the fuel supply. Last year, SYSCO Corporation, for example, owner of the largest private corporate fleet in the country, started using biodiesel fuel in 400 of its vehicles. Company representatives say the results have been positive so far and they’re hoping to expand their use as the fuel becomes more available. Biodiesel production and consumption in the U.S. tripled between 2004 and 2005. It’s likely to double again by the end of this year. But Rich Moskowitz points out it’s still only a small fraction of the diesel market.
MOSKOWITZ: The biodiesel industry themselves has forecasted that they would reach one billion gallons productions by 2015. One billion gallons of biodiesel is essentially 2.7% of what the trucking industry consumes in a year.
LEVITT: New research by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab now suggests that biodiesel blends of up to 20 percent may actually be no worse in terms of Nitrogen Oxide emissions than regular diesel, contrary to what was initially thought. NOX emissions are among the precursors to ozone. Biodiesel compares favorably with diesel fuel for other pollutants like CO2, the major climate warming gas and dangerous particles that can cause asthma and other respiratory problems.
Still, Verry says truckers’ biggest question about biodiesel is where to get it. The National Biodiesel Board recently launched a website and in August launched a 24-hour trucker hotline to help drivers find fueling sites near them. For Living on Earth, I’m Shia Levitt.
[MUSIC: Eddie Kendricks: “Keep On Truckin” From Motown Revisited]
CURWOOD: As Latinos continue to grow in political strength, their leaders have increasing influence and power at the highest levels of environmental policy-making, especially in California. Now national Latino leaders are working overtime to bring more brown and poor people into a broader American environmental movement.
Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.
LOBET: If you have any doubt that Latinos are already shaping environmental power politics, consider the recent landmark global warming legislation in California. It came to the governor's desk via Fabian Nuñez, the speaker of the state assembly. Nuñez recently exulted over how he and environmental supporters played hardball with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
LOBET: In order to win the fight for the global warming bill, Speaker Nuñez had to persuade the Caucus of Latino Lawmakers, which tends to vote against measures that could hurt jobs. But no sooner had he gotten that sewn up, when a mostly-Latino group to his left, the environmental justice groups objected to the idea of trading in carbon. They say it could lead to siting more dirty industries in already-gritty neighborhoods. These grass-roots groups were heard by top advisors to the governor, like Linda Adams, the state's highest environmental official.
ADAMS: They have a tremendous amount of power.
LOBET: Could they have kept this from happening?
ADAMS: Ah, possibly. It was an issue that we paid close attention to.
LOBET: Mainline environmental organizations such as Environmental Defense, now hire people like Raphael Aguilera, who not only knows his nitrogen oxide from his sulfur, but has cultural knowledge as well. It's yet another way Latinos are shaping environmental policy.
AGUILERA: I'd say that support form community groups, communities that are impacted with pollution that tend to be predominantly communities of color, was very persuasive and very important to our victory with AB 32. Had we had them opposed to the bill, I am also quite confident that we would have lost it.
LOBET: Meanwhile, national Latino Leaders are trying to elevate the environment among their own.
RIVERA: We welcome you to day three, the environmental day, of the National Latino Congreso!!!!
RIVERA: A little honesty here, when you saw the brochure for the Congresso and you flipped through it and you saw "Civil Rights", you saw “Education” you saw "Immigration" on the agenda you were probably pleased. Then on day three you said, wow, "the Environment", what's up with that? We’re Latinos, we don't do the environment, right?
LOBET: Then Rivera proceeded to bore into the crowd, telling them why the environment needs to be the top of a national Latino political agenda—he cited the lack of urban parks, the good jobs available in environmental technology and the scholarship money for environmental science. But if those reasons don't persuade you, he said:
RIVERA: If nothing is done on global warming and climate change, and it comes look at each other. Look at your familia, and figure out: what are you going to do? I can tell you what wealthy people are going to do. The day they hear that all of the ice sheets on Greenland and the glaciers have melted and New York and Miami and LA and other cities are flooding, they're going to turn to each other and say. “fire up the helicopter, let's go to our third home in Aspen or Vail.” Millions of people of color are going to be dramatically impacted by climate change and global warming. We must take control of our environmental destiny.
LOBET: The biggest applause of this day came when California Assembly Speaker Nuñez said Latinos should make climate change the number one issue in the 2008 presidential election.
For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.
HARDEN: Ghost towns. Ghost Towns. These are the words that keep repeating over and over in my mind as I board a large tour bus with people who come from communities in several southern states.
CURWOOD: The Environmental Justice 4 All tour took Louisiana lawyer Monique Harden and other advocates throughout America’s South. Their bus was one of three visiting some of the poorest areas in our country – most of which are communities of color - fighting for their right to environmental protection. Ms. Harden recently returned from the trip and brings us this audio diary.
There are no celebrities or politicians on our bus. Instead we have ordinary people who are attempting to do the extraordinary; restore their communities and protect the health of residents from a broad array of operations that damage their environment.
[MUSIC: Dollar Brand/Archie Shepp “ Fourtunato” From Duet: Archie Shepp/Dollar Brand (Denon)]
Sunday: our first stop on the tour was in Port Arthur, Texas and we went to the African American neighborhood on the west side of the city. This neighborhood is literally on the fence line of oil refineries owned by Shell and Chevron, as well as a number of petrochemical facilities. And this is a neighborhood where people are dying from cancer. And children as young as 2 years old have to use inhalers and breathing devices in order to cope with the pollution in their air. This is also a community that has organized to find solutions.
[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]
Hilton Kelly, a resident of the Port Arthur neighborhood, learned how to use air-monitoring devices. And brought them in to his community to test the air in his neighborhood. And his air monitoring showed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and taluine, which are emitted by these refineries. High concentrations.
[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]
Monday: Mossville, Louisiana. The first thing that you see is a wide expanse of smokestacks and storage tanks that seem to just go for miles. And it’s in the midst of that where the community of Mossville is located. The bus rolled into Mossville the week after one of the facilities released a large amount of vinylchloride into the environment through an accidental leak. And vinylchloride is a very potent human carcinogen. And it’s one of the main chemicals that folks in Mossville are very concerned about because there’s so much vinyl production that goes on in their community by five facilities. And you gotta understand that these facilities operate, some of them, across the street from resident’s homes. They live under the constant threat that any accident could be the accident that does them in.
[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]
Saturday: Whitesville, West Virginia. The folks there were white and they were poor. But their situations was not unlike the situations in the African American neighborhoods and communities that we visited in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. They too were being subjected to the environmental injustice of polluting operations. In their case coal companies that had ruined the water with the runoff from mountain top removal operations. And made it so residents could not even drink the water from their taps. We were able to go up in a plane where we saw the destruction of mountain top removal in the area.
[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]
Sunday: Washington DC. Our tour demonstrated that for so many communities across America environmental protection is a myth. But each of these communities hold the answer for reforming our system and truly making environmental protection something that protects and values the lives of all people.
CURWOOD: Monique Harden is a lawyer and one of the organizers of this year’s Environmental Justice 4 All Tour.
Environmental Justice 4 All Tour
[MUSIC: Charlie Haden “This Is Not America” From Not In My Name (Verve)]
CURWOOD: Just ahead: The thirst for water becomes a fight for life for the Florida manatees. First, this emerging science note from Jennifer Percy.
PERCY: I just ate half the carton of fudge brownie ice cream. I really shouldn’t eat more. Oh, but those little chunks of fudge taste so good. Maybe I should have one more little spoonful. Oh, another one wouldn’t hurt. Maybe just two more…
[SCIENCE NOTE MUSIC STARTS]
PERCY: Have you ever kept eating and eating, knowing you should stop? Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have identified the brain pathways that motivate our desire to overeat, linking them to the regions of our brain responsible for emotional and addictive behaviors.
To view these pathways, researchers implanted a device into the stomachs of seven obese patients. When the device was turned on it stimulated the stomach to expand and release the peptides responsible for telling the brain whether or not the body is full. The scientists compared scans of the patient’s brains when the device was turned on and off. They found that when the device was on, there was a significant increase of activity in the regions of the brain most closely associated with emotion. Most of that activity occurred in the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked to emotional behaviors, learning, memory and sensory impulses.
The study also shows that eating triggers the same part of the brain that is responsible for addictive behavior. This creates a desire to eat more and more even when we are full. The study is the first direct evidence that brain regions are involved in our physical response to eating. So the next time you find yourself reaching for that second slice of cake, don’t let your stomach do the talking, it might be telling your brain something else.
That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Jennifer Percy
CURWOOD: This week it’s our pleasure to announce that Living on Earth is now part of a new family, Public Radio International, or PRI. That makes us partners with the fine folks who bring you the BBC, the World, and This American Life, among many great shows. And that means that we’ll serve you even better with the coverage of environmental change that you have come to count on.
If you have story ideas you’d like us to consider, please get in touch. Our email address is comments @ l-o-e dot org. Or call our listener line, at 800-218-9988. This is PRI- Public Radio International.
[MUSIC: Jake Shimabukuro “Blue Rose Falling” Gently Weeps (Hitchhike Records)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
The famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau first visited northeast Florida's Blue Spring to report on the plight of the manatee in 1970. The picture then was grim. Pleasure boats jammed the creek that flows out of the spring, and the eleven manatees that sought refuge in the spring's warm waters were being harassed. Some people rode them with rope harnesses; some animals had initials carved in their backs. Even the youngest calves had propeller scars from collisions with boats traveling too fast. Then Mr. Cousteau and his son, produced a television documentary called, "The Forgotten Mermaids" and everything changed.
Floridians opened their hearts to the plant-eating mammal. Blue Spring was protected as a state park. All Florida waters became a sanctuary for manatees. The manatee population rebounded. But now the slow moving manatee has run into a new challenge. And 36 years after his father and grandfather made that famous film, Philippe Cousteau, returned to Blue Spring and offers this perspective on the present plight of the manatee.
COUSTEAU: Deep cobalt blue water surges up out of a dark limestone chasm in the woods, known as "Blue Spring." On a warm summer day here, a few swimmers are splashing in the 72 degree waters of the springhead and in the creek that runs off from it. As it flows out to the St. Johns River, it meanders through a jungle-like forest of cypress, sabal palms, and wild grapevines. Herons balance on stilt-like legs at the water’s edge, as an alligator with a black hide ribbed like tire treads hangs near the far shore.
COUSTEAU: Although this aquatic mammal now has its own fan club, its own festival, its own designation as the state’s official marine mammal---and its own place in the hearts of many Floridians---its future is clouded.
Looking like a giant grey plush toy with small front flippers, a flat heavy tail and tiny human-like eyes, the manatee seems as if it has been jerry-rigged together.
ROSE: The closest living land relative would be the elephant.
COUSTEAU: Patrick Rose is a former Florida Department of Environmental Protection biologist who now directs the Save the Manatee Club.
ROSE: If you look at the upper lips of a manatee, they can grab ahold of vegetation much like an elephant can use its trunk.
COUSTEAU: Manatees, since they are mammals like we are, react the same way from long immersions in cold water. They may suffer from hypothermia or pneumonia---both of which can be fatal.
In summer, these manatees graze in the tea-colored water of the St. Johns River, and throughout southern coastal waters - in bays, rivers and marinas. But by winter, the river waters turn cold. It’s then that the warm-blooded manatees are in jeopardy of cold stress and death. So they swim upstream into the comparatively warm water of Blue Spring.
ROSE: This is a very critical spring for manatees. In fact it's one of the few places in Florida where the manatee population is actually growing. And without those natural springs to anchor them during the wintertime the manatees future is very un-secure.
HARTLEY: Out in the vegetation there something just came up.
COUSTEAU: Wayne Hartley is the ranger at Blue Spring. Today, he takes me out in a canoe in the spring creek to get a closer look at a manatee that has just strayed in. Under us, the clear spring creek seems like a giant aquarium.
COUSTEAU: They’re swimming around now, you can see them.
COUSTEAU: Wayne first started identifying and counting the manatees here some 25 years ago. Ironically, the propeller and boat keel scars on most manatees help Hartley distinguish one from the other.
COUSTEAU: Is that a gar?
HARTLEY: A long nosed gar.
COUSTEAU: It's beautiful through here.
HARTLEY: Isn't it?
COUSTEAU: It's kind of primordial.
COUSTEAU: All this moss hanging down from these old trees hanging out over the water. The water is crystal clear to, you can see straight to the bottom.
HARTLEY: I think it’s Phyllis out there who I believe is the daughter of Phoebe who was here in 1970.
COUSTEAU: No kidding!
COUSTEAU: A Carolina Wren's song cuts through the sound of passing boats in the river channel. Ranger Hartley shows me a list of manatees that dates to when my father and grandfather were first at Blue Spring.
HARTLEY: This is the manatee's that have come in here since ’70-’71, starting with these are the ones that Philippe and Jacques filmed.
COUSTEAU: That's incredible. Gotta tell you, it means a lot to me to be back here after, you know, knowing my father and mother because my mom was on the expedition as well.
HARTLEY: They filmed 11 manatees; that's how many we had back there in ‘70-’71.
COUSTEAU: Hartley can now identify over 400 manatees by scar configuration. And each has an unlikely name---like Phoebe, Millie, Carl, Chuck, Milton---and Merlin and Brutus who were here in 1971. Some he met as calves; others as 2,500 pound, 14-foot long adults. And he knows them by personality, too
HARTLEY: It's just like people. Some manatee calves are very well behaved and stay with their mother, other manatee calves are little brats who don't come when they're called and ignore their mother
COUSTEAU: But now, this place, Blue Spring, where manatee protection began, is seen by some as a giant water tank that can provide for thousands of new residents who want to call Florida home.
Pro-growth advocates like Susan Darden, director of the Volusia County Homebuilders Association, support a plan to tap the spring. She says the increased need for water is simply a byproduct of a healthy economy.
DARDEN: It's easy to blame development. And development is, and nobody likes to hear this, but development is just a part of we supply places for people to live and people need human beings made clothing, food, and shelter. And that's what they need. We provide the shelter part.
People want to live in Florida. And this is still the United States, and if you want to live in Florida we're going to try and accommodate you. And if we can't here, somewhere in the state we can. Unfortunately as Americans we tend to use a lot of water. People are going to move to Florida. This is a beautiful area. Do you blame them?
COUSTEAU: Floridians actually use considerably more water than the average American; 170 gallons per day per person, compared to the national average of 110. Springs aren’t the only places manatees seek warmer water. They've actually found refuge in the warm discharge from power plants. But some of these plants are closing, so manatees must rely more on natural refuges such as the springs. The St. Johns River Water Management District, when it next meets on Oct. 10 may allow withdrawals that will diminish blue spring by 16 percent from its current volume---and decrease the amount of warm habitat for the animals by 37 percent. To understand the significance of that, it helps to know something about how the spring used to flow and how springs are connected underground throughout the Florida peninsula.
Blue Spring, described by naturalist William Bartram in the 18th century as a “"diaphanous fountain", once surged with such force that rowboats had difficulty paddling atop the springhead. When its flow was first measured in the 1930’s, it was 125 million gallons a day. But before the heavy rains from hurricanes two years ago, it had dropped to 84 million gallons a day. Critics like Patrick Rose are outraged the water district would consider taking more.
ROSE: Blue Spring is already down in terms of its volume of flow, and it's also substantially more polluted. I began swimming here more than 30 years ago and diving, and working with manatees, and just walking down this morning I was looking at the spring and how much further degraded it was. Even in the last several years. So we are down volume, more polluted, and now we're going to reduce the volume more.
COUSTEAU: Under the plan before the water district, local utilities couldn't keep taking water from Blue Spring forever. Over the next eighteen years, they would have to switch to river water. Why not use river water from the start? Because it's polluted with agricultural and suburban runoff and drinking it will require building several expensive treatment plants. The way Rose and other advocates see it, manatees are being asked to pay the price for Florida's pro-growth policies, and legacy of chemically treated lawns and fields.
ROSE: Blue Spring and the fight this symbolizes what this thing is all about. But now it’s being threatened from things that are miles and miles away because this is not just one spring right here. It’s connected to a whole network through the underground aquifer in Florida. The recharge areas are huge which feed the water that comes here. And we’re not being responsible with the rest of that basin.
COUSTEAU: Recharge. It’s a word you often here in a state where plentiful rain soaks through limestone and into a shallow water table. The rain seeps down through the uplands and replenishes the underground maze of streams and rivers in the limestone below, then surges up into the springs.
During my visit, I dived inside this 120-foot deep spring to understand the hydrology a little better. And I came away with a sense of awe for the enormous energy that upwells from inside the dark limerock.
Bob Rundle manages Blue Spring State Park. Like other rangers, he worries that reducing the spring flow will hurt the manatees that migrate here in droves when the river temperature drops into the low sixties during the winter.
RUNDLE: The worst-case scenario is low pool, water levels in the middle of winter, with a really really bad cold snap. A cold snap that’s going to last several days or a week, where you get very very cold temperatures and the river water is already cold, and you've got a really low level in the river, and the water level is low here in the spring, that all the manatees potentially could not fit in here.
COUSTEAU: There are over 200 manatees in the Blue Spring now, and projections of 300 more in years to come. One of the greatest fears is that without enough water to keep them warm, the herd will simply begin to die one by one.
I travel north to Palatka, Florida to ask Hal Wilkening, the Water District's environmental engineer about the new spring water withdrawal system.
COUSTEAU: If this is so mired in controversy, so risky potentially for not just for the manatees as you pointed out, but for the natural resources here for the future of the state, why even propose this? Why not require them to find the surface water alternatives right away?
WILKENING: What we've been directed to do by the Florida legislature is to do water supply planning, there's a lot of efforts under way now to fully utilize reclaimed water resources, to meet irrigation demands, so they are not meeting irrigation demands from groundwater. Then beyond that they are working on using surface water from the river to augment the reclaimed water systems, to kind of maximize the use of reclaimed water. We actually built a pilot plant in Sanford down on Lake Monroe, and ran it for a year and a half. We showed these utilities that this water is treatable. There's a way to treat it. And we showed them what the cost would be.
COUSTEAU: Skeptics point out that Water Management District Board members were appointed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is a developer and a strong pro-growth advocate.
WILKENING: Is there a point where we draw the line -- that we have to draw the line with development? And just we can't let people come in and continue to come in… is there a point that we reach, when do we reach that point. What kind of discussion has there been about that? Or is that something people don't want to talk about?
Linda Burnette, the public information officer for the Water Management District, gives me a very straightforward answer:
BURNETTE: Well we are legislatively mandated to provide water. So that's our job to do.
COUSTEAU: Florida used to have an abundance of water, and regional "Flood Control Districts" were set up to drain it away. But those became "Water Management Districts" in the early 1970's, charged with protecting water resources. They can do studies, promote conservation and restrict the times when homeowners can water their yards. But they have no powers to limit new developments, even if they are sucking the groundwater dry. Some city officials require the re-use of gray water for irrigation, but most do not. Water District boards are at the mercy of a growth economy that welcomes 1,000 new residents a day into Florida.
COUSTEAU: To top it off, there's disagreement about whether manatees really are in recovery. The state of Florida recently downlisted them from endangered to threatened. Patrick Rose has his doubts.
ROSE: We really need people to understand that it is in certain people's best interest to paint a picture for manatees better than it is. Because that will give them opportunities to sort of exploit the habitat. I can see that the big-money specialist interests for the growth and development generally are weighing out with our politicians, and nature is really coming second.
COUSTEAU: All the research shows that manatees in Blue Spring and in the Crystal River/Homassas Springs area on the northwest Gulf coast are increasing. But, they only account for 16 percent of the Florida population. And other studies indicate as much as half the state's manatees may be lost in the next 45 years, mostly due to accidents in which boaters are moving too fast for manatees to get out of the way.
It makes me yearn for a simpler time when there were fewer people and fewer boats--- and Florida springs flowed freely, as powerful as the diaphanous fountains that naturalist Bartram once described. To satisfy my yearning, I track down Gordon Pierson, Jr., who lived here as a young boy in 1970 when his family owned the spring where “Forgotten Mermaids” was filmed as part of "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau."
COUSTEAU: Anything you remember in particular, any stories?
PIERSON: Well just after it aired we got letters from high school to elementary kids from all over the every place it aired we’d get letters wanting us to protect the manatee and see what we could do to make sure they survived. And my dad credits your dad, or your grandfather and your dad, with selling this place to the state because before that happened the state didn't realize this place was even here.
COUSTEAU: Everything we do makes a difference. As for the manatees, we should consider whether what we do today at Blue Spring will help or harm the Florida environment we all love. My grandfather made this observation, after working to successfully return an injured manatee to his natural home in the St. Johns River.
"We can never say we gave him freedom, for freedom is not man's to give. Man can only take it away. When we released 'Sam' from captivity - we merely returned to him what was already his by nature."
Perhaps if we protect the natural systems that allow manatees to flourish, future generations will know some of the magic I’ve experienced at Blue Spring during my own visit. And these forgotten mermaids will forever be remembered.
For Living on Earth, I'm Philippe Cousteau.
CURWOOD: Our story on manatees comes to Living on Earth courtesy of Earthecho International. For more about the manatees, go to our website, living on earth dot org.
[MUSIC: Al Di Meola “Hypnose” Consequence Of Chaos (Telarc)]
CURWOOD: Next week on Living on Earth: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman’s strong environmental record won him the endorsement of major conservation groups in his close re-election contest. But on his way to losing the Democratic nomination to keep his seat he also lost many environmental voters because of his support of the war in Iraq. Senator Lieberman now hopes many republicans will support him in his independent bid to stay in Washington, but the issue of the war is still in the campaign.
STEPHENSON: Every war is an environmental disaster and you can think in these kind of compartmentalized ways but it’s not a real, it’s not an honest assessment of the way the world is.
CURWOOD: War as an environmental issue, next week on Living on Earth.
We leave you this week – in a riverine marsh in Florida.
CURWOOD: Lang Elliot and Ted Mack went to the Wacissa River’s edge and recorded chattering Grebes, a Limpkin, and the harsh call of a Red-shouldered Hawk.
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