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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 4, 2008

Air Date: January 4, 2008

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

The Changing Climate of the Republican Presidential Candidates / Jeff Young

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Living on Earth’s Jeff Young takes the temperature of Republican presidential candidates on climate change and finds the party's rank and file members out ahead of most of the candidates. (06:20)

California Sues the EPA / Ingrid Lobet

(stream / mp3)

The war between the states that want to tackle greenhouse gases from cars on one hand, and the federal government on the other, has never been hotter, reports Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet. (02:00)

Bali Memories / Steve Curwood

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Living on Earth host Steve Curwood reflects on his trip to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali and finds the U.S. behaved somewhat like an unruly guest at a holiday party. (03:00)

Cool Fix for a Hot Planet / Mitra Taj

(stream / mp3)

In the deserts of Abu Dhabi, plans are on the table to build the world’s first carbon-neutral city. Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj reports. (02:00)

OxyFuel / Bill Sweet

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Living on Earth continues its series “Generating Controversy; the Changing Climate of Coal” with a story from Germany where a demonstration plant, set to open this spring, is expected to begin burning coal with nearly zero emissions. Spectrum Radio’s Bill Sweet reports. (08:30)

Water Works up the Yazoo

(stream / mp3)

Every year, melting snow spill over the levies that separate the Yazoo River from the mighty Mississippi, and floods farmland. The Army Corps of Engineers wants to install a controversial 250 million dollar pump system to drain the wetlands. John Meagher, former director of Wetlands for the EPA, and Kent Parrish, who heads the pump project for the Army Corps in Vicksburg, Mississippi explain the controversy to Living on Earth. (09:30)

Katrina's Carbon Cost

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When Hurricane Katrina hit, the destruction stretched beyond human loss and property destruction. The environment suffered too. 320 million trees were lost and according scientists studying the issue, that’s having a huge impact on the region’s ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and may contribute to more storms like Katrina in the future. (05:45)

Environmental Resolutions / Bobby Bascomb

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Living on Earth takes to the streets to quiz people on their environmental resolutions for 2008. (02:00)

E-waste Youth Activist

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Living on Earth interviews Alex Lin, who won the Brower Youth Award for his pioneering work on electronic waste. Lin recycled and refurbishes computers for kids in the U.S. and around the world. (04:45)

Eco Tunes

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Singer-songwriter Joe Reilly combines his love of music and his role as an environmental educator on the new CD "Children of the Earth." The youngsters Reilly works with sing along and offer their own ideas to help teach basic science, and spread the message of the importance of ecological stewardship to young people. (05:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Jeremy Fisher, Alex Lin, John Meagher, Kent Parrish, Joe Reilly
REPORTERS: Bobby Bascomb, Inrid Lobet, Bill Sweet, Jeff Young
COOL FIX: Mitra Taj

[THEME]

CURWOOD: From Public Radio International—this is Living on Earth.

[THEME]

CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. As Americans decode the early results of the presidential election season, we look at where the Republican candidates stand on global warming and how the voters feel.

JENKINS: All the polling we’ve seen of rank and file Republican primary voters has shown they’re virtually at the same place that Democrat and Independent voters are on being in favor of capping greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: Also, Hurricane Katrina destroyed millions of trees—and that left behind a mega carbon footprint.

FISHER: In 320 million trees there’s about 400 million tons of carbon. By our estimation that’s about the same amount that the entire U.S. is able to draw down in photosynthesis every year.

CURWOOD: And as a contrast, the city of the future with no global warming rises in the desert. That and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around!

[THEME]

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ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

[THEME]

The Changing Climate of the Republican Presidential Candidates

(Courtesy of HeathierUS)

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts—this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

As the Presidential juggernaut rumbles through snowy New Hampshire, global warming is not the hottest topic. But still, here at Living on Earth, we’ve been following how climate change plays in the campaign. What do voters expect? And what do candidates promise they will do about global warming? Under President Bush, the Republican Party has resisted legislation to limit greenhouse gases.

But our Washington correspondent Jeff Young says more Republican candidates are starting to warm up to the issue.

YOUNG: Former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has found a way to communicate about climate change in language that resonates with conservative Republicans. It’s equal parts global warming and gospel.


Former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee (Courtesy of HeathierUS)

HUCKABEE: We don’t own this earth. We are simply stewards of it—caretakers. We have done no harm if we take better care of this planet and give it to our children with cleaner air, cleaner soil, and cleaner water.

YOUNG: But Huckabee’s taken a curious stand. He says he’ll put a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. But he’s not sure those emissions are really to blame.

JENKINS: He’s in favor of a cap on carbon emissions. But he’s still reluctant to admit that man is the cause of global warming. So it’s kind of an odd position.

YOUNG: That’s David Jenkins with the group Republicans for Environmental Protection, which endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain. Jenkins says Huckabee and the other candidates are struggling to figure out just what Republican voters think about climate change.

JENKINS: It seems to be a response to him kind of unsure of where the base is on this and where people who would vote for him would be on this. But I think all the Republican candidates have been a little unsure how much to talk about it because it’s not really been tested with the base.

YOUNG: For example, listen to former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. When young voters on the campaign trail ask Thompson about climate change he tells them it’s a real problem.


Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (Photo: Jim Rydell)

THOMPSON: Climate change is real. We have to take it seriously.

YOUNG: But when Thompson hosted the Paul Harvey radio program just a few months earlier, he poked fun at the very idea of global warming.

THOMPSON: Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming—Martian warming. This has led some people to wonder if Mars and Jupiter—non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty—are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.

YOUNG: Thompson found it difficult to reconcile those views when the moderator in
Iowa’s last Republican debate asked this question:

MODERATOR: A show of hands. How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

THOMPSON: I’m not doing hand shows today.

MCCAIN: John McCain pounced on that question. McCain sponsored the first bill before the U.S. senate to propose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.


Arizona Senator John McCain (Courtesy of John McCain 2008)

MCCAIN: I’ve traveled the world. I know that climate change is real. We’ve got to address it. We can do it with technology and cap and trade. And I’m confident we can pass on to our children and grandchildren a cleaner, better world.

YOUNG: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney quickly chimed in.

GIULIANI: I agree with John. Climate change is real. It’s happening. I believe human beings are contributing to it. I think the best way to deal with it is through energy independence.


Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Courtesy of Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee, Inc.)

ROMNEY: Yeah. Is global warming an issue for the world? Absolutely. Is it something we can deal with by becoming energy independent and energy secure? We sure can.

YOUNG: But what Giuliani and Romney left out was the fact that they do not agree with Senator McCain when it comes to what they would do about climate change. They both prefer voluntary measures. Giuliani rejects mandates out of hand, and as governor Romney abruptly pulled Massachusetts out of a regional agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

Politically, it’s a question of where they think the voters are. Huckabee and McCain think voters are ready for regulation. Romney and Giuliani think some Republicans would still resist interference in the marketplace.

David Jenkins with Republicans for Environmental Protection says the candidates are unsure because voters are in flux. Not long ago global warming was not even on Republican radar. But Jenkins says that’s no longer the case.


Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (Courtesy of Flickr/MyTwistedLens)

JENKINS: All the polling we’ve seen of rank and file Republican primary voters has shown that they’re virtually at the same place that Democrat and Independent voters are on being in favor of capping greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s such and odd thing that it goes against conventional wisdom and I think folks are still a little reluctant to go down that road in a very open and vocal way.

YOUNG: Some of the more surprising numbers come from South Carolina, where an overwhelming majority of Republicans say they want emissions of greenhouse gases reduced. South Carolina is a state with an important early primary contest later this month. It’s also home to congressman Bob Ingliss, who has witnessed this shift in Republican opinion firsthand.

INGLISS: I used to pooh-pooh climate change and then my eldest child told me, ‘I’m voting now Dad and you’ll need to clean up your act on the environment.’ So, (laughs) a very important constituency for me—my son!

YOUNG: Ingliss says his son is typical of younger voters who want action while older Republicans remain uncertain. Ingliss has endorsed Huckabee, who he says can appeal to all Republicans by framing climate change within conservative values. The coming days will tell, as candidates focus on South Carolina and New Hampshire, states where Republican voters might demonstrate a newfound concern about their changing climate. For Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

Related links:
- Republicans for Environmental Protection has more on what GOP voters think of climate change
- LOE's complete coverage of green issues in the race for the White House
- Mike Huckabee's Presidential campaign website
- Senator John McCain's Presidential campaign website
- Fred Thompson's Presidential campaign website
- Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign website
- Rudy Giuliani's Presidential campaign website

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[MUSIC: Donald Fagan “New Frontier” from ‘The Nightfly’ (Warner Bros—1982)]

California Sues the EPA

Attorney General Jerry Brown (Courtesy of the State of California office of the Attorney General)

CURWOOD: Many states have decided not to wait for the federal government to act on global warming, regardless of who is president. And when it comes to cars, the federal government has opposed state regulation efforts at just about every turn. Over the holidays, it denied trailblazer California the right to regulate greenhouse gases from cars, and said only the Feds can set those rules.

Now the states, led by California, are fighting back in the courts. Living On Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: Dozens of engineers and air pollution scientists in Sacramento have been working for three years to determine the best ways for automakers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in time for the 2009 models, which will be in showrooms in just a few months.

But on December 21st the federal government told California to abandon these efforts. EPA chief Stephen Johnson said California’s traditional right to set its own air pollution policy does not extend to greenhouse gases because global warming is no more a problem for California than anywhere else. Johnson also argued that since President Bush had just signed new fuel efficiency standards into law, California’s effort was effectively superceded.


California Attorney General Jerry Brown (Courtesy of the State of California office of the Attorney General)

In response California Attorney General Jerry Brown—joined by 15 other states—announced he was suing EPA.

BROWN: The dereliction of duty that is implied by the environmental guardian of America—the administrator of EPA—turning down Calfornia’s very viable plan to curb greenhouse gases, when the EPA itself has no plan of its own. It is shocking, it is unexpected. And not only are we suing Mr. Johnson and the EPA, but I’m going to pursue this until we get the truth of what’s behind it.

LOBET: Technical teams in Sacramento worked over the holidays to rebut the contention that California’s efforts were unnecessary. Their new analysis shows California’s approach would remove more than twice as many tons of greenhouse gases as the federal government’s new 35 mile-per-gallon rules.

Recent legal opinions support the right of California and other states to regulate greenhouse gases this way. But the issue is really time. As these state continue to battle the federal government and the automakers, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the required changes into next year’s automobiles.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

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[MUSIC: Meshell Ndegeocello “Good Intention” from ‘Comfort Woman’ (Maverick—2003)]

Bali Memories

A billboard announcing the UN conference is a back-drop to the morning commute. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

CURWOOD: Shortly before the holiday season, I folded myself into a succession of airplanes to come home from the UN climate change negotiations in Bali. And I found myself wondering what exactly had been accomplished there.

To be sure, there were breakthrough commitments to pay to preserve tropical rainforests, and to involve the less developed countries. Still, when one of the youngsters in my house asked if the conference means the world is now doing enough to fight global warming, I had to answer ‘no.’

So was Bali all a waste of time? A lot of bali-hoo about nothing? ‘No,’ I said, because all those plenaries, press conferences and pageants were pretty much like the parade of holiday parties going on back home. Aside from party planners, nobody does much of anything at a holiday schmooze, or over the entire holiday season for that matter, except, perhaps to eat and drink more than is wise.


Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita cuts the 10th anniversary cake of the Kyoto Protocol.(Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

But the joy of the holidays is that we stop business as usual to get together to reaffirm our commitments to each other. We stop to say ‘this is our family, our work group, our little world that really matters and makes life worth living.’

And of course the message is just the opposite when we don’t attend the gatherings, or even worse, show up, drink too much and start handing out insults. And so it was in Bali at the UN climate conference.

The entire world, or at least 180 or so nations, held a gathering to reaffirm a commitment to fight destructive climate change. In many respects, it was the fanciest—or at least highest-ranking—climate gathering yet.

The U.S. sent two cabinet level officers—a marked step up from the minor bureaucrats who’ve represented us since then Vice President Al Gore went to Kyoto in 1997. The trouble is, the U.S. has since rejected Kyoto and has failed to put anything better in its place.

But for all the higher profile of the U.S. team, it was labeled obstructionist by many—including Nobel laureate Al Gore. And when White House environmental boss James Connaughton whined that the U.S. was prepared to lead but the world had to follow, it was somewhat akin to a bibulous guest knocking over the punch bowl.


Five months after a pioneering world tour from Switzerland to Bali, a solar powered taxi has arrived at the UN Climate Change Conference. (Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

Still, rather than getting tossed out by the scruff of the neck, the U.S. was more or less gracefully bundled into a cab with a document that commits the world to fighting climate change, even if it is a bit vague on the numbers.

It reminded me of George Bush’s declaration a couple of years ago that we are addicted to oil. Now to kick the habit, you need good friends to get you into rehab. So yes, something did happen in Bali. Our friends and neighbors refused to be cowed for a change, and called us on our denial. And that is real progress.

Related link:
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- Bali, 3 - 14 December 2007

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[MUSIC: Gamelon Flute music recorded in Bali by Steve Curwood during the Bali Climate Conference]

CURWOOD: Just ahead—how to green one of the world’s dirtiest fuels. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

Cool Fix for a Hot Planet

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Cities generate most of the man-made carbon dioxide—what with lighting, heating, cooling and traveling. But cities can also offer huge potential energy savings—think of mass transit and apartments as opposed to sprawling suburbs.

And the city of the future may be a truly energy-efficient proposal, as Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj explains in today’s “Cool Fix for a Hot Planet.”

[SOUND OF CARS PASSING IN CITY]

TAJ: Carbon dioxide emissions have been a part of the urban environment ever since the Industrial Revolution made burning fossil fuels central to everyday life. But now an Abu Dhabi alternative energy company and London-based architectural firm plan to change the way we think about city living by building “the world’s first carbon-neutral city.”

[COOL FIX MUSIC]

When you think about it, all of the world’s first cities—in ancient Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt—were carbon neutral. But that’s beside the point: Today’s cities make up less than one percent of the earth’s surface but generate 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company has plans for the 3.7 square mile Masdar City to include a ban on cars, a solar photovoltaic power plant, wind farms, desalinated seawater, and electric transportation systems.

Masdar’s designers say none of the city’s 47,000 residents will ever be more than 220 yards from ‘essential facilities,’ like transportation pick up points and grocery stores selling local produce. Wastewater will be purified and piped back to the city and all trash will be recycled.

Zero emissions. Zero waste. Sound too good to be true? If all goes well, Masdar could come to life as early as late 2009. And that, designers say, will be just the beginning of sustainable urban living.

[ANNOUNCER: ‘One day, all cities will be built like this’]

TAJ: That’s this week’s Cool Fix for a Hot Planet. I’m Mitra Taj.

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OxyFuel

Kraftwerk Schwarze Pumpe (Black Pump Power Station) (Photo: Flickr/Matthias17)

CURWOOD: Coal is an abundant source of energy, accounting for about half of the electricity produced in the U.S. But of course burning coal releases carbon dioxide, one of the main contributors to global warming.

During the past year, Living on Earth has looked at the problems and promises of coal—and at new technologies that capture and store CO2—in our series “Generating Controversy: The Changing Climate of Coal.”

This week we travel to eastern Germany, to a demonstration plant that this spring is scheduled to begin burning coal with nearly zero emissions. Spectrum Radio's Bill Sweet reports.

SWEET: In the late 1990’s, Swedish energy giant Vattenfall acquired East Germany’s power system. Back home in Sweden, Vattenfall—which is the state-owned national utility—generates electricity from hydropower and nuclear reactors, which for all intents and purposes emit no greenhouse gases. But when Vattenfall bought up East Germany’s power grid it acquired a system based almost entirely on lignite, the dirtiest and lowest grade of coal. Suddenly Vattenfall was a big carbon emitter.

[SOUND OF MUSIC FROM A CAR]

SWEET: Driving on the Autobahn south from Berlin, I head to a town called Schwarze Pumpe– German for ‘black pump.’ Though it dates from the Black Plague, it’s an apt name for a town where the main industry is a huge coal-fired power plant—one of the biggest lignite plants in the world. The electrical output of the Schwarze Pumpe facility is also big. It produces 1600 megawatts, about one and a half times the power of a typical nuclear power plant.


Schwarze Pumpe (Photo: Flickr/Mesq)

[WOMAN SPEAKING GERMAN]

SWEET: Inside, our guide leads us down passageways and past heavy doors to the turbine and combustion rooms. It’s here that pulverized coal is burned, and intense fires boil water to produce steam that drives turbines to produce electricity.

[SOUNDS OF TURBINE AND COMBUSTION ROOMS]

SWEET: My ears start to ring as our German guide points through a small, heavy glass window to a huge orange bed of flames. She says that when Catholic school children visit, they hang back in fear, saying they’re reminded of hell.

[SOUND OF GUIDE SPEAKING GERMAN]

SWEET: Just ten years old, this lignite plant uses the latest in environmental technology to capture nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions. The sulfur extracted from emissions is carted to a factory right next door, where it’s made into gypsum, which is then made into wallboard.

But the plant cannot capture carbon dioxide. But just next door a new coal plant is going up that holds promise for the future. Last summer, Vattenfall broke ground for a pilot coal-fired plant that’s set to start operating in the spring. The demonstration project uses an innovative technology called oxyfuel and will be the first large-scale test of whether carbon can be captured and stored using this method.


Kraftwerk Schwarze Pumpe (Black Pump Power Station)
(Photo: Flickr/Matthias17)

In conventional combustion, coal is burned in air. Air is three quarters nitrogen, and that nitrogen ends up in emissions. But in oxyfuel technology, the nitrogen is removed at the outset, and so emissions are nitrogen-free. Sulfur is scrubbed from the emissions the usual way.

Lars Strömberg was former chief engineer of the oxyfuel pilot project and is now Vattenfall’s head of research.

STROMBERG: If we can take away this nitrogen from the combustion process, then the fuel gases consist mainly of water vapor and carbon dioxide only, which means that if we can condense the water vapor, we have more or less pure carbon dioxide. Therefore, we don’t need any separation technologies.

SWEET: Removing nitrogen from air is the most costly part of the oxyfuel process. Strömberg believes it can be made more efficient and inexpensive in the future.

STROMBER: Yes, definitely. First of all, the cost will decrease with size. Secondly, we can reuse parts of the energy in the power process.

SWEET: If the cost of obtaining pure oxygen from air can be reduced by using waste heat from the plant, the oxyfuel process may be an attractive way of doing carbon capture.

When people talk about capturing and storing carbon from coal combustion in the United States, the focus usually is on a technology called IGCC. IGCC involves gasifying the coal to generate electricity, but it doesn't work well with coals that are dirty and inefficient, like lignite or soft coal.

Studies comparing the relative costs of capturing carbon, using IGCC versus oxyfuel, usually give a slight edge to IGCC. Cost estimates are in the same ballpark, however, and the IGCC plants in operation have never actually captured carbon.

Because of oxyfuel’s simplicity and its suitability for lower-grade coals, the U.S. power equipment manufacturer Babcock & Wilcox also has been taking a strong interest in this approach. Speaking to a congressional committee last March, Babcock CEO John Fees said the company is putting its eggs in the oxyfuel basket.

FEES: We expect to employ this technology as the first commercial-scale, near zero-emission, coal-fired plant with carbon storage in North America. And let me repeat that: It’s the first commercial scale, near zero-emission coal plant with carbon storage in North America.

SWEET: Since last summer, Babcock & Wilcox has been testing oxyfuel combustion at a research plant in Ohio that’s the same size as Vattenfall’s German facility. But the Ohio test facility does not have the equipment to separate oxygen and nitrogen on-site or to capture carbon dioxide and store it in the ground at the end of the process.

In Germany, Vattenfall will take the CO2 to a site where natural gas is being extracted, and pump the carbon dioxide into the ground to stimulate gas recovery. It’s a well-proven technology which does not really need to be demonstrated, but Vattenfall wants the process to go full-cycle. Again, Lars Strömberg:

STROMBERG: We know that we can burn coal in this fashion. We know that the boiler process is working okay. But no one has put all these things together before—the whole process, the whole chain from bringing in the coal to producing electricity, including producing liquid carbon dioxide.

SWEET: During the bubonic plague, infested towns painted their pumps black to warn travelers away. With its futuristic, clean technology, perhaps it’s time now Schwarze Pumpe to paint its pumps green. For Living on Earth, I’m Bill Sweet.

CURWOOD: Our piece on oxyfuel comes to us courtesy of Spectrum Radio, the broadcast edition of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of technology insiders.

Related link:
Vattenfall- the Swedish company that owns east Germany's Schwarze Pumpe

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[MUSIC: Charlie Hunter “Lady” from ‘Mistico’ (Fantasy Records—2007)]

Water Works up the Yazoo

Kent Parrish, Director of the Yazoo Backwater Project for the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, MS (Courtesy: Army Corps of Engineers)

CURWOOD: Every spring the plain between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers in the northwestern corner of the State of Mississippi is inundated. And for more than 65 years the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on a solution to what they describe as a ‘flooding problem.’

Their latest plan was just released. It’s a pumping system to get water from the Yazoo back into the Mississippi—at a cost of over $250 million. But environmentalists, the EPA, and the Fish and Wildlife Service say most of this area should be left as wetland, and not pumped dry for farms.

Joining me to talk about the proposed water works along the Yazoo River is John Meagher. He oversaw the proposal as Director of the Wetlands Division at the EPA until he retired in 2005. Mr. Meagher, welcome to Living on Earth,

MEAGHER: Hi.

CURWOOD: Why do this? What’s the rationale to do this?

MEAGHER: Well there is flooding that occurs behind the levy system. The Corps put the levy in to keep the Mississippi River flow from backing up into this watershed during high flow seasons. And as a result, the rainfall that would flow down the watershed cannot work its way out to the tributaries in the Mississippi, so it backs up there. And the main purpose would be to improve the agricultural conditions in the watershed.

CURWOOD: Now the Army Corps say they’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and that for every buck they would spend on this project it would return $1.40. And they say that this improves the environment, I’m directly quoting their plan. How true is this? To what extent can this plan directly improve the environment?

MEAGHER: The plan does include a lot of environmental mitigation. However, it’s very uncertain mitigation, in that the Corps commits up to 56,000 acres of mitigation but it does not commit to achieving 56,000 acres of mitigation. And you have to look at the Corps record on mitigation. There were projects that were committed in this watershed 20-40 years ago, for which the mitigation has not yet been completed.


Kent Parrish, Director of the Yazoo Backwater Project for the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, MS
(Courtesy: Army Corps of Engineers)

And then there’s always uncertainty associated with ecological restoration. Replicating the functions of hardwood forests is a challenge. These forests take a hundred years to reach maturity. So the project would impact 67 thousand acres of wetlands. So this is a massive wetland impact. Larger by far than any I saw in my 25 years in EPA’s wetland protection program.

CURWOOD: So, I’m a little puzzled by something here. This proposal has been around for a long, long time and heavily criticized for a long, long time. Why is it so persistent?

MEAGHER: This project is going to take a very long time, and has taken a very long time because it is so difficult for the Corps to demonstrate that it meets the standards of the Clean Water Act, and also that this is a sound investment of federal dollars.

The fully funded cost of the project is over $250 million dollars. And there is strong support for the project from the Mississippi congressional delegation. So it’s a combination of the fact that the Corps of Engineers has a predisposition to favor this approach, and the fact that there is support for such a project going forward, including from the Mississippi congressional delegation.

CURWOOD: Some people would label this legislation classic pork barrel politics. What’s your analysis?

MEAGHER: Well I think pork barrel politics is in the eye of the beholder. I think there is a problem in the watershed. It can be addressed and should be addressed, but I think that the way the Corps is approaching it has such enormous environmental damage associated with it that it behooves all of us to look for an alternative that won’t destroy the wetlands but will indeed provide the flood protection, particularly for the roads and the houses in the watershed, which could be done much more economically.

CURWOOD: So this is black bear habitat and as I understand it, this is where the story of the famous teddy bear comes from?

MEAGHER: That is correct. And Theodore Roosevelt the fourth, who is now general manager of Lehman Brothers, wrote a letter this summer, objecting to this project on environmental grounds and he retold the story that in 1902 the president went hunting in this impact area. And to facilitate the success of his hunting trip, some folks tied a black bear to a tree so he could shoot it, and he refused to, on the grounds of good hunting ethics. And the political commentators at the time picked up on this. It actually became the subject of many political cartoons. And that’s where the phrase ‘teddy bear’ originated, according to Teddy Roosevelt the fourth.

But, the Louisiana black bear was there then. It then disappeared because of all the environmental stresses over the years but it has now shown up again. And that’s so encouraging and so promising and we hope that a project can go forward that will indeed contribute to the restoration and improvement of conditions of the Louisiana black bear—not the project proposed by the Corps.

CURWOOD: So, one of your slogans is ‘don’t drown the teddy bear.’

MEAGHER: I think that’s one way of putting it. Or, maybe, since the Corps is trying to dry out the watershed—is ‘don’t leave the teddy bear high and dry.

CURWOOD: John Meagher is the former director of wetlands at the EPA. Thank you so much for taking this time.

MEAGHER: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

CURWOOD: Let’s turn now to someone who can speak to the slow progress of the project from personal experience.

PARRISH: Yes. This is Kent Parrish with the Vicksburg district, Army Corps of Engineers and I’ve been working on the Yazoo backwater project.

CURWOOD: For what—14 years now?

PARRISH: Some 14 years.

CURWOOD: That’s a long time.

PARRISH: Yes, it has been.

CURWOOD: So 14 years you’ve been working on this and still not a shovel or maybe a bulldozer in the ground.

PARRISH: No. That’s correct. I mean we’ve done a lot of studies. There’ve been a lot of questions asked and we have tried to look at that. We have had numerous workshops and meetings, where additional alternatives, both structural and nonstructural alternatives have been evaluated. You know, we think we’ve covered most of the bases as far as alternatives that could be presented. We’ve spent years trying to look at all the ranges of alternatives.

CURWOOD: If you went ahead and built this project—how many acres of wetlands would be lost?

PARRISH: The word ‘wetland loss’ is a misnomer here. So let’s say you’ve had a wetland that’s been flooded sixteen days during the growing season and now it’s going to be flooded only 13 days of the growing season. We consider that an impact under the rules of what defines a wetland for jurisdictional purposes by the Congress.

So, we are impacting some 26,300 acres of wetlands but we are not destroying them. We are not filling them with dirt and paving over them with concrete and building a parking lot or Walmart.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the pumps that are going to be installed there. I understand these are some really big machines.

PARRISH: Yes, these are some large pumps, but what are you going to do with the water that’s coming off of 41 states and two Canadian provinces that pass by Vicksburg, Mississippi? What do you do with all that water that’s coming from Pennsylvania, New York, Montana during the flood season of March-April-May every year flooding just agricultural land and farming land?

CURWOOD: What is the impact that you see on the wildlife there, in particular bears?

PARRISH: In particular the bear in informal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—they’re saying the project will actually enhance the bear habitat up there by the reforestation of this 55,600 acres of land and by lowering the flood frequency you are going to actually help his habitat. All the terrestrial, waterfowl, aquatics, and wetlands all see an increase in functional values.

CURWOOD: Kent Parrish is the senior project manager for the Yazoo backwater project with the Army Corps of Engineers. Thank you so much.

PARRISH: Yes, anytime. I enjoyed visiting with you today.

CURWOOD: The public comment period for the Yazoo pumps closes on January 22nd. For more information, check out our website: www.loe.org.

Related links:
- Army Corps Site on the Yazoo Backwater Project
- Former EPA Wetlands Director John Meagher's Letter to the Editor in The New York Times about the Yazoo Pumps

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[MUSIC: Black Uhuru “Time, Material &Space” from ‘Strongg Dub’ (Mesa)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: just hopping along, singing a song. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for the environmental health desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for coverage of population and the environment. This is Living on Earth on PRI: Public Radio International.

Katrina's Carbon Cost

Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, before and after. Some of the most severe forest damages from Katrina occurred along the Pearl River on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Above, intact forests appear green before the hurricane. The summer after the hurricane, damaged and destroyed forests (in red) dominate the landscape. (Photo: Jeremy Fisher)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Trees can affect the climate and there’s an important case study for climate scientists in North America – the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Three hundred and twenty million trees were destroyed due to that monster storm on the Gulf Coast. Climate scientists like Jeremy Fisher are just starting to quantify what effect that will have on weather and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Dr. Fisher works at Synapse Energy in Cambridge Mass, and co-authored a study with researchers at Tulane University on Hurricane Katrina’s Carbon Footprint. I recently asked him just how much carbon there is in 320 million trees.

FISHER: In 320 million trees there’s about 400 million tons of carbon. By our estimation, that’s about the same amount that the entire U.S. is able to draw down in photosynthesis every year.


Jeremy Fisher in the Living on Earth studio.
(Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

CURWOOD: What does that mean in terms of how many cars are on the road for a year or coal-fired power plants or something like that?

FISHER: Sure. Well the average coal-fired power plant—a 500-megawatt unit—emits about 4 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. So if you can imagine, this would be about 100 of those plants.

CURWOOD: What killed those trees. Was it the wind? Was it the surge of saltwater?

FISHER: There were two different things that were going on at the same time. There was obviously the wind and that’s where we see the majority of the death happening inland. We saw a lot of trees that were snapping. And closer to the shore, we saw a lot of areas that had storm surge patterns. And so those are areas where, yeah, large waves are breaking over forests and even areas that were flooded for a significant amount of time were then inundated and died.


Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, before and after. Some of the most severe forest damages from Katrina occurred along the Pearl River on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Above, intact forests appear green before the hurricane. The summer after the hurricane, damaged and destroyed forests (in red) dominate the landscape. (Photo: Jeremy Fisher)

CURWOOD: How does the loss of trees in Katrina compare to the recent wildfires out West in California?

FISHER: One of my coauthors took a look at this recently and came up with the estimation that approximately one tenth the amount of carbon was released in the wildfires as Katrina—meaning that Katrina had a much, much larger footprint than these fires. That’s due to a number of factors. The forests out in California are much less dense than the forests in Louisiana.

But it’s important to note that the fires out in California also released the carbon dioxide immediately—the forests were burned. Whereas the forests in Louisiana are going to continue to decompose for the next 20 to 30 years.

CURWOOD: Now, sometime after Katrina, where these trees went down, there was so-called ‘salvage logging.’ People cut the dead and dying trees and hauled out some of the timber. How helpful or harmful is that to forest ecology?


This analysis from a NASA satellite shows the footprint from Katrina over the regions forests. While much of the damage close to the coastline is due to storm surge, most of the image shows wind damage in natural and plantation forests.
(Photo: Jeremy Fisher)

FISHER: There is an interesting circumstance, in which we are looking at time series and we’re looking at how these forests reacted over long periods of time. And we saw that even after Katrina had hit, a couple of months later there were some areas where there seemed to be another impact again. And we suspect—we haven’t been able to confirm—that those are our salvage logging operations. And so it’s potentially an area in which you have the first impact of the hurricane itself and then a second impact following that you’re disturbing the undergrowth—the understory—you’re releasing more carbon during that logging operation.

CURWOOD: So what can your research tell us about the way we should manage land better in the future, perhaps to cope with Katrina-like storms?

FISHER: One of the interesting things that came out of this research is we found that a lot of mortality, a lot of the areas that had gotten hit most dramatically, were pine forests. We found that a lot of managed forests, a lot of plantation pines, had been wiped out by the wind. And so potentially we could imagine that we have some lessons to be learned for how we grow forests in the Gulf Coast, based off of the likelihood that a hurricane will blow through.

CURWOOD: So plantations are more vulnerable to Katrina-like storms is what I’m hearing?

FISHER: That’s what we found.

CURWOOD: Now, we know that forests help make weather. I mean, aside from sequestering carbon in their leaves and such, they are part of the whole water cycle. So, how might the weather have changed in this area where all these trees were lost from Katrina? And how might that then affect the ability of the forests to regenerate itself?

FISHER: There are some studies which have indicated that when forests are lost in general it changes the microclimate of a region such that it starts to experience droughts. I would expect that this area has been hit often enough by hurricanes that at least the natural ecosystems are able to bounce back on a fairly regular basis and that should not be as much of a problem, except for the invasive species that we were referring to earlier.

In general, this whole cycle of hurricane hitting forests and flattening trees, which release carbon, sets up a potential positive feedback cycle, in which carbon dioxide is released from those trees, goes into the atmosphere, will make global warming just a little bit worse, which we anticipate will increase the number of hurricanes, which then flatten more trees, releasing more carbon, and that causes a positive feedback cycle.

CURWOOD: To what extent do you think we’re in that cycle?

FISHER: It’s hard to know. We’re certainly heading towards that direction with the state of emissions where they are right now. The current climate models do anticipate that we are going to increase the number of hurricanes.

CURWOOD: Jeremy Fisher is a research associate with Synapse Energy in Cambridge Massachusetts. Thank you so much, Jeremy.

FISHER: Thank you, Steve.

Related link:
To read the article in Science, "Hurricane Katrina's Carbon Footprint on U.S. Gulf Coast Forests," click here.

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[MUSIC: Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint “Nearer To You” from ‘The River in Reverse’ (Verve—20060]

Environmental Resolutions

CURWOOD: The first week of 2008 – how are those resolutions going? You know, the ones about the gym, or the diet, or helping out more in the house, or keeping a sunny temper? But some resolutions may be easier to keep than others. And Living On Earth’s Bobby Bascomb went out to check if people on the street in the Boston area had any environmental-friendly resolutions.

WOMAN: My name is Annie and my New Year’s resolution for 2008 is to buy locally.

MAN: So I commute a lot for work and I was thinking of buying a more fuel-efficient car this year. You know, do a small part to cut down on emissions and you know, make the air cleaner.

MAN 2: This year’s New Year’s resolution will be to go completely bio-diesel this year.

WOMAN 2: Hi, my name is Marcia and I’m a kindergarten teacher from California and what I’d like to do for the environment is to teach my kids about the environment. Just the basic things that they need to know.

WOMAN 3: One of my goals for the New Year is to use less plastic. So I’m trying not to use plastic bags in my garbage pales and I just got glass food containers.

MAN 3: My resolution is to get in a better habit of picking trash up on the street and throwing it in trashcans—setting an example.

WOMAN 4: For the New Year I’d like to make sure we turn off more lights in the house and ride our bikes a lot more.

MAN 4: Yeah, my goal for New Year is to try to better communicate to people that global warming is a reality.

WOMAN: My name’s Abby and my New Year’s resolution is to clean up the Charles River.

MAN: My goal for the New Year is to reduce waste, particularly junk mail and things I throw out.

WOMAN: Well our office is trying to reduce our firm-wide carbon footprint so just trying to do my part to print on both sides and recycle where I can and just turn off the lights when it’s not necessary—that sort of thing. So, I think every bit counts.

CURWOOD: So, Bobby was everyone you asked as exemplary as those folks about their environmental resolutions?

BASCOMB: No, not everyone. I definitely talked to some people who said they hadn’t really thought about the environment at all. Some other people said you know, they’re already doing as much as they can so they don’t have anything new to add. But I’d say at least half the people I talked to definitely have New Year’s environmental resolutions.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb. Thank you so much.

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E-waste Youth Activist

Alex Lin (Courtesy of Alex Lin)

CURWOOD: One kid who needs no New Year’s resolutions on the environment is 14-year-old Alex Lin. When he was 11 he came across a newspaper article about the massive piles of E-waste—that’s waste from electronics and computers that’s generated around the world.

When the electronic devices we use every day get taken apart or dumped, toxic substances, like lead, leech into the environment. Alex decided to attack E-waste, starting at home. He founded WIN – Westerly Innovations Network (named after his town of Westerly, Rhode Island).


Alex Lin speaks at the Brower Youth Awards ceremony
(Courtesy of Alex Lin)

And this year he received the prestigious Brower Youth Award for young environmental leaders. Alex Lin, welcome to Living on Earth.

LIN: Thanks a lot.

CURWOOD: So one day you’re reading the newspaper. You see this article about E-waste and you decide to do something about it. What was it that grabbed you? What made you decide to make this your mission?

LIN: I think what helped me choose to do this was that it’s such a little known problem, really. When we started our project in our town, like, when we found out how many people knew about it, it was just less than 15 percent. It was like, ten percent or so of residents even knew what E-waste was, so I mean, just the fact that it’s so little known and that by raising awareness we could just do so much to help it. That kind of grabbed our attention when we started the project.


Alex Lin (Courtesy of Alex Lin)

CURWOOD: So how many computers are you guys recycling?

LIN: Recycling-wise we’re not really sure about the amount. We just kind of hear back from CR2 Recycling because they weigh the trucks and they let us know how much we’ve been recycling every month or so. Because whenever a container fills up, the people at the transportation station they call them and they’ll send down a truck to bring it to the facility in Massachusetts.

CURWOOD: So it’s what—5,000 pounds a month or something like that?

LIN: Something like that. I mean it varies between month and month. I mean, some months it’s like 25 hundred, some months it’s a lot more. It all depends.

CURWOOD: Now you’re working internationally. You’ve taken the whole thing that you started in Westerly, Rhode Island and you’ve taken it to people around the world. How’s that working?

LIN: Yeah, it’s working really well right now. Right now one of our contacts and friends in Cameroon—Rosemary—and she’s been helping us to establish WIN teams in Africa and she’s been looking around in Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon. Right now we have two definite set-up WIN teams in Kenya and Cameroon and the rest are on the way. And she’s also helped us a lot by looking for schools that need computers so that computers in the U.S. used by companies in large numbers can be reused and sent to people across the world who really need these computers to help better their lives. And we have a Mexican WIN team who’s raising awareness. And right now I think Rosemary’s been talking with a team in the UK about starting a group there and we’re just kind of dealing with it as it comes because it’s been coming pretty fast for the past couple of months. But we’re going to have to do the work and we’re ready to do it, I guess.


Alex rocks out with the other winners. (Courtesy of Alex Lin)

CURWOOD: Hey, Alex. Can you tell me a story of where you know one of your computers helped change somebody’s life?

LIN: Yeah, I definitely have a pretty good one that we did. You know, after the tsunami in 2004 there was a lot of shortages of computers, learning equipment, schools, teachers. We actually had a local pediatrician from our area—she went to Malaysia and Sri Lanka I think at the time to help out and she met an English teacher there and he contacted us saying there’s a need for computers over there and we ended up sending five computers and a laptop. And it was really cool because he sent us some pictures afterward of the children singing to like Barney software and other educational stuff that we put on there and afterwards they named the school the WIN learning center after our team and that was just like really cool that we could have such an impact on the other side of the world.

CURWOOD: By the way, how do you find the time to do all this work on top of what—homework, sports, piano, and well, let’s face it, being a kid?

LIN: Yeah. I don’t know. It kind of just depends. Like it’s more of a—I remember one of my friends I met at Brower in Boston—Carlos. He said it’s more of a lifestyle and I totally agree with him. Environmental justice community work is like a lifestyle. You kind of incorporate time to do it into every day and if not every day, definitely on a regular basis because I mean, sure there are times where I would have projects, reports, tests the next day. Or, even sports games and stuff that I need to get with, but usually I’m able to find time during the week to do the work.

CURWOOD: Alex Lin’s organization is called WIN, Westerly Innovations Network. Alex received the prestigious Brower Youth Award for young environmental leaders. Congratulations Alex, and thank you so much for taking this time.

LIN: Thanks a lot, Steve.

Related link:
Brower Youth Awards

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[MUSIC: Joe Reilly “Tree Hugging Song” from ‘Children Of The Earth’ (Joe Reilly Music—207)]

Eco Tunes

Joe Reilly (Photo: Linda Wan)

CURWOOD: How could we live without trees? That’s the question singer-songwriter Joe Reilly, and the youngsters he works with in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ask in that “Tree Hugging Song.” It’s from a new CD he’s produced, called “Children of the Earth.” Joe Reilly wants to spread the word about good environmental stewardship.

But he wants to entertain as well, with songs about nature, and animals, of all kinds.

[MUSIC: Joe Reilly “Amphibians & Mammals” from live performance for Living on Earth]

REILLY: My parents are both musicians. They’re both singers, and my dad plays the upright bass, as well. And they both play guitar. And so I grew up, really, literally, since I was in the womb with music all around.

REILLY (singing): …. Amphibitti – phibitti-phibitti-an…. Amphibitti – phibitti-phibitti-an …..(fades under)


(Photo: Chris Reilly)

REILLY: On the CD I really wanted to include the kids’ voices as part of the message, and as part of the expression. And so, I invited the kids to sing with me on several of the songs and then, I also interviewed them. I just wanted to give them a voice because I feel like, you know, the small voices are not heard and I wanted to give a little space on my project for those voices to come through. So I just asked them questions like “What’s important to you about the Earth?” “Why do you care about nature?” “Why do you care about the Earth?” “What message do you have for adults and for the world about what we can do to help the Earth, to help heal the Earth?”

CHILD 1: You should ride your bike in the summer or whenever it’s warm enough to ride your bike instead of using a car because it’ll give you exercise and it will help the Earth.
CHILD 2: to use cars that use sunlight and no gas.
CHILD 3: using public transportation is better because it keeps more cars off the road.
CHILD 4: try walking.


Joe Reilly and children from the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI at the "Children of the Earth" recording session. (Photo: Francie Krawcke.)

REILLY: My hope is that those voices can help remind adults that we need to really take responsibility for our actions and how they’re affecting other people and other plants and living things and the future generations.

REILLY (singing) Dogs, cats, hedgehogs, camels, these are all animals known as mammals. Horses, rabbits, humans, too, that’s right, I’m a mammal…..(fades under)

REILLY: I guess sometimes I’ll sit down with a group and say “What do you want to write a song about?” and then they may shout out something like “mammals” for instance. So, okay, so we have a topic – mammals – and so, describe to me what a mammal is. You know, tell me, what are different examples of mammals, what are the habitats that mammals live in?

REILLY (singing): Deer and rabbits are mammals in the forest, so many mammals that we have to sing our chorus. It goes: Dogs, cats, hedgehogs, camels, these are all animals known as mammals.


Joe Reilly (Photo: Linda Wan)

REILLY: I was thinking about, you know, the process of songwriting. It’s kind of a hard process to describe but working with kids and writing songs has been really helpful to me. I’ve learned a lot about how to just be open to possibilities that I might not have thought of when first starting to write the songs.

REILLY (singing): I am a crow, and I sound like CAW, CAW…(KIDS JOIN IN) We are all brothers and sisters…

REILLY: It’s my hope that this album, that this project can be a source of connection for kids. That it can help them build relationships to the Earth that are sustaining for the Earth, but also for the kids, for the kids’ sake.

REILLY (singing): I am a little kid, I live in Michigan….

REILLY: I think I’ll always be a teacher. My mom’s a teacher, my grandma was a teacher, and it’s in my blood (laughs) and so I think, you know, I’ll always be an environmental educator ‘cause that’s something that is so true to me and I’ll always be a songwriter so these are things that I carry with me…whether or not they pay the bills, that’s up to the universe (laughs).

REILLY (singing): We are all brothers and sisters, we are all related.

CURWOOD: Joe Reilly is an environmental educator at the Leslie Nature and Science Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Check out our website loe.org for more information about Joe.

Related link:
Joe Reilly's website

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[MUSIC: Joe Reilly “If I Could Be Any Tree” from ‘Children Of The Earth: Environmental Songs For Kids Of All Ages’ (Joe Reilly Music—2007)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Emily Taylor, and Jeff Young, with help from Jennifer Baessler and Sarah Calkins. Our interns are Alexandra Gutierrez and Mitra Taj.

Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us anytime at loe.org. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; And Stonyfield Farm Organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield dot com.

Support also comes from you our listeners, the Ford Foundation, The Town Creek Foundation, the Oak Foundation supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues. And Pax World mutual funds, socially and environmentally sustainable investing. Pax World, for tomorrow. On the web at paxworld.com.

ANNOUNCER 2: PRI, Public Radio International.

 

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