Commentary: Drinking poison

Op-ed by Richard Hyman. Published May 18, 2017 in The Weston Forum.

What if you couldn’t drink your well water because a business upstream dumped toxic chemicals into the aquifer? Or an aircraft negligently sprayed pesticides into your water supply?

For years now, pesticide manufacturers have lobbied Congress to eliminate Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Industry groups throw around words like “burdensome” and “duplicative” when describing the application process for applying pesticides near and around our rivers, lakes and streams. The culmination of that effort came to a head on Wednesday, May 24, when the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a bill to gut Clean Water Act protections — the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act — to the U.S. Senate for further consideration.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with registering all pesticides that are used and sold in the United States. But FIFRA failed to account for the fact that when, where, and how pesticides are applied matters. Applying a pesticide to cropland has a dramatically different consequence to the environment than when it is sprayed directly into bodies of water. That’s why the EPA stepped in to require Pesticide General Permits (PGPs).

Cutting red tape makes for a great talking point, but never at the expense of ensuring clean water or protecting our public health. Passage of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act would eliminate the Pesticide General Permit, effectively giving carte blanche to industries to dump chemicals into our water supply.

As a member of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee, Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5th Dist.) offered an amendment on the House floor to the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act. She urged her colleagues to support the amendment because all industries should be held accountable for dumping toxic chemicals, such as turpentine, sulfuric acid, copper, propane, chlorine, chlordane, benzene, toluene, and vinyl chloride, into our nation’s waterways. Unfortunately, her amendment failed by a vote of 229 to 191.

I thought our representatives’ responsibilities included enacting laws to protect our nation’s water supply and public health.

I guess they think that water stops flowing at district and state lines.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, pesticide contamination in residential drinking water has been a statewide problem for some time now.

Some residents have gone years living with stomach pain, hair loss, body numbness, and skin rashes, not knowing the cause of their ailments. They spent thousands of dollars on biopsies, CAT scans, blood tests, and even brain scans to figure out what was wrong. Test results revealed that pesticides were often the cause of their pain and suffering.

And here in Connecticut our waters flow to Long Island Sound, Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource. Boating, fishing, tourism, swimming, and other activities that take place on and along the Sound enhance our quality of life and contribute $17 billion to the regional economy.

Clean drinking water is essential for life and health. It’s in our best interest to ensure water quality and the ecological integrity of our unique, precious bodies of water, both above and below the ground.

Drink up! And write, call or visit Congress. Did your representative support HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act? Did he or she support Rep. Esty’s amendment? Now it’s on to the Senate! Contact your senators.

Richard Hyman is a Weston businessman, author and conservation leader.

Commentary: Being good stewards for America’s future generations


At the Blue Vision Summit, from left, Richard Hyman, Emily Smith, legislative aide to Sen. Chris Murphy, Mary Horrigan and Tom Robben.

Reflections on the Blue Vision Summit (Op-ed by Richard Hyman. Published May 18, 2017 in The Weston Forum.)

It’s almost Memorial Day and time for the beach. What if your beach washed away or was covered in plastic or oil? You couldn’t go swimming, fishing or boating.

Those were some of the issues that I and ocean champions from 25 coastal and inland states discussed at the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C., from May 9 to 11.

We worked on solutions for climate disruption, rising and acidifying seas, overfishing, plastic and other forms or marine pollution, and loss of habitat — all threats to our blue planet.

We also lobbied Congress, focusing on:

  1. Protecting marine habitats and coastal communities from destructive offshore oil drilling. Advocating legislation that prohibits offshore drilling in the Atlantic and elsewhere, the issuance of new oil and gas leases off the Atlantic coast, and destructive seismic activities.
  2. Opposing state and federal “pre-emption” of local plastic pollution legislation. Can you believe that some communities have enacted bans on single-use plastics, such as bags and foam foodware, but industry lobbyists silenced them by convincing state legislatures to prohibit municipalities from adopting such local ordinances? New York City passed a bag fee, but the day before it was to go into effect, the state passed A.4883/S.4158, a pre-emption bill that specifically blocked the city. This also happened in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Pre-emption could happen in Connecticut or even at the federal level. Westport has an ordinance that bans plastic bags.
  3. Supporting strategic coastal resilience programs to ensure smart ecosystem-based planning. Instead of just reacting to the next Sandy, let’s enable federal agencies and coastal state governments to continue to work together and proactively prepare. We asked members of Congress to fully fund NOAA and the EPA, including the Coastal Zone Management Program, National Sea Grant Program, Beach Grants Program, and National Estuary Program. We met with the offices of Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy and Reps. Himes, Esty and Larson.

In general they all supported our agenda and requests. Did you know Sen. Blumenthal was an outspoken voice in calling for the designation of the Northeast Coral Canyons and Seamounts area as a marine national monument? This is one of the 27 Antiquities Act monuments under review by the Department of the Interior.

Your voice matters! Write, call or visit Congress. Ask if your legislator is a member of the Ocean Caucus.

If so, thank the person. If not, ask why. Does the legislator support fully funding the EPA and NOAA? Say where you stand and ask where your representatives stand on S 999, S 985, S 756, HR 2158, HR 728, and other related bills.

So enjoy the beach! Be relentless, proactive and, as Jacques Cousteau said, “Protect what you love.”

Note: Upon returning to Weston I had the privilege to mentor eighth graders at Weston Middle School’s Career Day. I told them about the summit, that dozens of students attended, and invited them to join me at the next Blue Vision Summit.

Richard Hyman is a Weston native, businessman and conservation leader. After graduating from Weston High School, he became a diver aboard Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s famed research vessel Calypso. He is the author of Frogmen, a personal account of his expeditions. He is also member of the Marine Biology Hall of Fame and serves on the board of Fabien Cousteau’s Ocean Learning Center. Visit to learn more.

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© Copyright Richard E. Hyman, All rights reserved

“Little Data, Before Big Data” Cousteau and H2O

“Little Data, Before Big Data”

Cousteau and H2O 

By Richard E. Hyman, Environmental Advocate & Author of FROGMEN 

Inspired by a speech I gave at 2015’s Water 2.0 Data Analytics for the Water Industry.

As a Cousteau diver aboard Calypso, data, albeit little data, was part of our ‘old school’ daily life.


It was before the Internet, PCs, tablets and Smartphones, so we used pencil and paper.

Cousteau, the co-inventor of the Aqua Lung (1942), had relationships with many prominent individuals, including Dr. Harold Edgerton of MIT. “Papa Flash” as we called him, invented the strobe light as well as side scan sonar. He joined us off North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras where we used his device to search for and find the 230-foot deep USS Monitor. The electronically tethered “fish” was hung over the port side of Calypso. It sent pulsating beams toward the seafloor. Data reflected back and communicated with the shipboard plotter, which stitched together swaths; slowly revealing a profile of the protected[1] hidden wreck.

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Cousteau’s insatiable curiosity and magical charm sparked another major relationship, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Their joint projects included innovative cooperative methods of data capture, correlation and analyses.

Their first partnership was during Cousteau’s 1972-1973 Antarctic expedition.

They collaborated again in 1974-1975, with Texas A&M graduate students joining Calypso for a Gulf of Mexico research program. Calypso was the platform. Aided by divers, students gathered ground truth information, e.g. surface water data, including content (chlorophyll, nutrients), light penetration, temperature, salinity, and the boundaries of enriching vertical currents known as upwellings, which were all correlated with overflying NASA U-2 aircraft equipped with remote scanners, simulating Earth Resources Technology Satellites (ERTS). Cousteau’s vision was to de-code the surface of the sea to protect and wisely use marine resources.

In 1976 Cousteau produced six television programs entitled “Oasis In Space”. The intent was to publicize NASA’s Earth Resources Program. By drawing the public’s attention to issues that could now be monitored from space, e.g. pollution, population, food shortages, energy and water quality, he messaged that man can now better manage the quality of life on earth.

Cousteau’s early work with NASA and its ERTS program, now known as Landsat, helped man graduate from traditional earth-based inferred measurements to a vital space-based platform that to this day collects priceless data from its elevated vantage point.

The value we can derive from our now four-decade accurate data set enables earthlings to make better, objective, confident and responsible decisions.

As the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference nears its close in Paris, let us not overlook the value of data nor the words of the Frenchman, Captain Cousteau, who said, “Images, computers and data banks can only give us the information; they can not tell us what to do with it.”


Entire Contents © Richard E. Hyman

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[1] On January 30, 1975, the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated as the first U.S. national marine sanctuary. Today, there are 14 federally designated underwater areas managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Offshore Oil – The Next Keystone

Offshore Oil – The Next Keystone

By guest blogger David Helvarg, Author and Environmental Activist


So what do conservative Congressmen Curt Clawson of Florida and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, liberal Congressman Sam Farr of California, climate activist Bill McKibben, a former petroleum engineer, an evangelical minister and a surfer all have in common? No, it’s not a joke. They all spoke out against offshore oil and gas drilling at our D.C. press conference for the Sea Party Coalition on November 4. The Sea Party aims to make opposition to proposed offshore drilling a major issue in the 2016 election.

President Obama’s decision two days later to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline after seven years of polarized debate, and the pushback it received, increases the likelihood that energy and the environment will play a prominent role in the upcoming election. And in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocity in Paris (followed by similar outrages in Mali and Nigeria) the Paris Climate Summit and what comes out of that will likely further polarize the elections and challenge the Republican Party’s climate change position of denial. My hope is that it will also mark the beginning of a global commitment to end our dangerous oil addiction that both funds terrorism and threatens the planet.

For my complete analysis of our Sea Party event under an 85-foot life sized blue whale see my article “Fish don’t like oil spills and neither do I”: Finally, something environmentalists and conservatives can agree on,” in Salon magazine.



On November 19, Oceana, the Southern Environmental Law Center and other environmental groups invited business people and locally elected leaders to Washington D.C. to meet with the Obama administration and members of Congress to talk about their opposition to offshore drilling in states that have been targeted for acoustic surveying and drilling (and inevitable spilling).

After Shell Oil hit a dry hole in the Chukchi Sea and announced it was giving up fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean (for now) and the Obama administration cancelled two other pending oil lease sales off our Northern coast (see Blue Notes #140) two strategies seem to have emerged among those battling offshore oil. One is focusing on the hope that President Obama, increasingly committed to addressing climate change and leaving behind an action-based legacy, will reverse course in the final days of his administration and also withdraw his proposed Atlantic lease sales.

The focus of this work combines inside the beltway lobbying with continued grassroots mobilization to convince mostly Republican pro-oil governors in the South (along with pro-oil drilling democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia) that it will cost them politically to continue on the track they’re on. The Obama administration has indicated it will not pursue leasing in federal waters off states that don’t want it, so obviously if governors can be turned against the drilling that would make it easier for Obama to withdraw the lease sales.


The Sea Party Coalition including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Blue Frontier and some 60 other groups believes that while it would be great if President Obama were to reverse his past mistake in opening up the Arctic and Atlantic to drilling, it’s at least as likely that decision will be made by the next president. They plan, through voter education and mobilization to make offshore oil drilling an issue during the 2016 elections that the presidential candidates will have to address. Then next summer, as Blue Frontier did in 2012, we will send a letter to the final two candidates from ocean leaders in conservation, recreation, science and business to find out where they stand on the future of our public seas including offshore drilling and publicize the results so that the public can know where they stand on protecting the blue in our red, white and blue.

In the 1980s when California defeated plans for new offshore drilling (see my book, ‘The Golden Shore’) the issue was coastal pollution versus energy. Today, as climate activist Bill McKibben pointed out at the Sea Party press conference, even if there is no oil spill from offshore operations and the oil is refined and burned in cars and power plants we create a carbon-dioxide spill into that atmosphere that will continue heating the ocean, raising sea levels and changing the basic chemistry of seawater in a way not good for complex life on our blue planet

For millions of people from Dewey Beach Delaware to Pawley’s Island South Carolina and Key West Florida questions of strategy or whether offshore drilling is an ocean issue or a climate issue are less important than that the threat of offshore oil go away, hopefully forever and that we begin to deal seriously with the rising seas and more powerful typhoons, droughts and extreme weather that are becoming a part of our daily lives because of our burning of fossil fuels (and forests).

The good news is there are some ideas so inherently stupid – be it processing and pumping tar sands for export like the Keystone scheme proposed or continuing high-risk at sea oil exploitation – that we can actually defeat them and offer something better (job generating clean energy and marine sanctuaries) if we all school together.

By David Helvarg