Dwain Wilder

The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 29 – Refusing to Fly Blind

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Jul 182017

July 18, 2017
In the midst of  President Trump’s headlong plunge of the nation into regulatory blindness, there were some stirring events in the news. Some hints that the Republican Congressional Caucus may be coming out of their long dark night of climate change denial. The nation may have reached a point at which the fear of consequences is beginning to sink in. The nadir may be approaching for the long peurile myth that the suitably rugged individualist can thrive while all those around him fall. It is becoming ever more evident to all that we are all in this together, and that we are not dominating stewards of nature but rather her children. Mr. Trump may have inadvertently set in motion a great deal that no one else could have.
First the news.

Residents blockade of Competitive Power Ventures Gas-Fired Power Plant
Jail time for three

Local Orange County, NY residents staged a blockade at the site on December 18, 2015 stating this project creates unacceptable health and safety risks to the public. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

A Mother, a Grandmother and Actor James Cromwell Report to Orange Co., NY Jail for blockading CPV Gas Fired Power Plant in 2015 while the fossil fuel project is fraught in bribery, extortion, corruption and fraud charges of Cuomo’s former staff.

Local Orange County, NY residents —  Grandmother Madeline Shaw, Mother Pramilla Malick and Oscar-nominated actor and activist, James Cromwell began their seven day jail sentence in Orange County, N.Y. today for their action taken at the construction site of the Competitive Power Ventures Gas-Fired power plant in Wawayanda,  NY. The three residents staged a blockade at the site on December 18, 2015 stating this project creates unacceptable health and safety risks to the public. Hundreds of supporters showed up at the site of CPV to hear their final remarks before surrendering themselves to the county jail.

Pramilla Malick and James Cromwell arrested. Video: Democracy Now!

The defendants argued the “Defense of Justification” sections 35.05 of the Penal Law, but were found guilty. They refused to pay their fines in protest of the unjust punishment and were sent to Orange County Jail for a seven day sentence.

The trio’s jail sentence started on the same day that Justice Patrick J. McGrath of State Supreme Court in Albany County denied Cuomo’s office to withhold information from the public about Joseph Percoco, a former Cuomo aide and childhood friend of the Cuomo family, who is charged with fraud and extortion conspiracy charges related to the Competitive Power Ventures power plant project.

Grandmother Madeline Shaw announced at the press conference prior to reporting to jail, “As more and more of us come here to protest…I am more optimistic that we can shut this down.”

Photo by Erik McGregor

Actor James Cromwell said, “What we did is all heart, what the people of  Standing Rock did is all heart. The people we oppose are not bad people, but they have lost touch with their heart. Our prayers should go out to them, but we must not stop.”

Mother Pramilla Malick had a message directly to New York State: “Give Governor Cuomo the message to protect our air and protect our water. You cannot deem entire communities expendable. We have a governor that banned fracking citing health impacts. But this plant will require 100-150 fracking wells per year. That’s frack-your-neighbor energy policy.”

Breaking: James Cromwell, other demonstrators released from jail

Currently tied up in a scandal with former Cuomo aide, Joseph Percoco, charged with extortion, bribe solicitation, honest services fraud conspiracy and extortion conspiracy in relation to Competitive Power Ventures.

CPV is slated to be 22 acres and be around 130 feet high (13 stories). Two emissions stacks would each be about 275 feet high (over 27 stories high). There would also be storage tanks on the site. These would include a 965,000-gallon  diesel fuel oil storage tank, a 15,000-gallon aqueous ammonia storage tank, and a 400,000-gallon demineralized water tank.

An underground transmission line running from the CPV site to an existing New York Power Authority line has been constructed.

Construction of a new switchyard adjacent to this NYPA line has already been completed.

CPV Valley would need to be connected to the Millennium Pipeline approximately 7 miles south of the site. This connector pipeline, which has been named the Valley Lateral, is subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval. (FERC approves 98% of the projects that come before it.) If approved this pipeline could be forcibly located using eminent domain to feed the plant fracked gas from Pennsylvania.

Action Alert! NY DEC Public Comment Hearings:

Hancock Compressor Station (Existing Facility)  Air Title V Permit
Thursday July 27 6:00PM

Where: Monticello High School (Auditorium)
39 Breakey Avenue
Monticello, NY 12701

Valley Lateral Pipeline/CPV supply line 401 Water Quality Certificate
August 2 6:00PM
Where: Paramount Theater
17 South St,
Middletown, NY 10940

For further info: Tom Denny and the website Protect Orange County


Parading the Senate Against FERC & Pipelines

Join Our Senate Parade to Say No FERC Quorum Hearings & Reform

July 20, we will be parading in the halls of the Senate from 10 to 3, carrying signs of protest against FERC, pipelines, and the tremendous abuse of process. We will be urging, through our signs, for the Senate to keep FERC in legal limbo until hearings are held and reforms put in place.

Our goal is to be seen throughout the day by everyone walking the halls, be they legislators, staffers, or members of the public.

We will be singing a quiet song of protest and handing out flyers to help bring attention to our message regarding FERC abuse and the need for reform.

You can march with us for the day or just an hour or few. 

Our goal is to be seen walking the halls all day, in peace, so we can deliver our message. If the senate police ask us to leave each person present can make their own choice whether to comply or to sit in protest and risk arrest.

We are in the 11th hour – many communities are being saved from the cut of a pipeline by the lack of a FERC quorum. According to industry our efforts may even result in some pipelines being cancelled. Let’s keep up the pressure and tell the Senate, not to vote on FERC nominees, not until they have held hearings and put in place needed reform.—Delaware RiverKeeper Network

When: Thursday, July 20, 2017 – 10:00 AM

Learn more here: Event Page Link


Natural gas building boom fuels climate worries, enrages landowners

Source: Energy company filings (shapefile), Energy Information Administration. Credit: Leanne Abraham, Alyson Hurt and Katie Park/NPR (Click for full size map)

They landed, one after another, in 2015: plans for nearly a dozen interstate pipelines to move natural gas beneath rivers, mountains and people’s yards. Like spokes on a wheel, they’d spread from Appalachia to markets in every direction.

Together these new and expanded pipelines — comprising 2,500 miles of steel in all — would double the amount of gas that could flow out of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The cheap fuel will benefit consumers and manufacturers, the developers promise.

But some scientists warn that the rush to more fully tap the rich Marcellus and Utica shales is bad for a dangerously warming planet, extending the country’s fossil-fuel habit by half a century. Industry consultants say there isn’t even enough demand in the United States for all the gas that would come from this boost in production.

Further reading: Cuomo fails ‘clean energy’ bid by allowing pipelines

And yet, five of the 11 pipelines already have been approved. The rest await a decision from a federal regulator that almost never says no.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is charged with making sure new gas pipelines are in the public interest and have minimal impact. This is no small matter. Companies given certificates to build by FERC gain a powerful tool: eminent domain, enabling them to proceed whether affected landowners cooperate or not.

Only twice in the past 30 years has FERC rejected a pipeline out of hundreds proposed, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media partnership between WITF in Harrisburg and WHYY in Philadelphia. At best, FERC officials superficially probe projects’ ramifications for the changing climate, despite persistent calls by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for deeper analyses. FERC’s assessments of need are based largely on company filings. That’s not likely to change with a pro-infrastructure president who can now fill four open seats on the five-member commission.…—Kristen Lombardi, Jamie Hopkins, “Natural gas building boom fuels climate worries, enrages landowners,” Center for Public Integrity, 7/17/17


Have New Yorkers Been Paying to Poison Themselves?

More than one month after a ratepayer subsidy to the power plant ended, anti-fracking activists at both the local and national level are decrying a plan for the more than 60-year-old Cayuga Power Plant to continue burning coal on the site, a model that, since 2012, was believed to be unprofitable.

In a teleconference hosted by the environmentalist group Sierra Club on Thursday, activists from Fossil Free Tompkins, the local chapter of Mothers Out Front and water protection group Seneca Lake Guardian called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to derail a plan by Cayuga Power to continue burning coal on the site as it progresses toward a conversion to natural gas, raising the question of whether or not the alleged $4 million per month ratepayer subsidy was ever actually necessary or, if it was, at what point during the subsidies service life the plant began to operate profitably on coal.

Back in early 2012, the Cayuga Power Plant announced it was no longer profitable to operate and that it would be “mothballed,” or shut down temporarily to gauge the direction of the market, waiting to see whether the plant could be economically viable again. At the state level, New York State began the process of evaluating what would happen to the local energy grid if the plant were to shut down, finding in its review that on hot summer days, the transmission lines in Auburn would overheat if the plant did not exist to provide power through a “back door” from the south on hot summer days.

To address this concern, the state instituted a surcharge on NYSEG customer’s electric bills – called a Reliability Support Surcharge (RSS) – in order to support and finance the ongoing operation of the plant while a decision was made on whether or not NYSEG customers should pay to convert the plant to gas or upgrade the transmission lines between the plant and Auburn. Ongoing since the summer of 2012, the surcharge was intended to buy some time to keep the plant operating in its needed capacity while a permanent solution to the reliability problem was figured out.

That subsidy ended on June 30 yet, despite plans to eventually convert the property to an “energy park” consisting of 18 megawatts of solar power and an undetermined amount of natural gas power by the state-imposed 2020 deadline, plant leadership recently announced it would continue to burn coal “as long as it is profitable.” Advocates claim this statement indicates that the ratepayer subsidy might not have been necessary.

“Despite their claim the power plant is unprofitable, it still remains open and continues to burn coal,” said David Alicea, Senior Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The owners say they will continue burning coal as long as it’s economical, and they’re exploring their options to repower the plant to burn fracked gas.”

“It really begs the question ‘if the plant is profitable now, what were NYSEG customers paying for over the last few years?’” he added. “Have we simply been padding the profits of this coal plant?”…—Nick Reynolds, “Have New Yorkers Been Paying to Poison Themselves?Ithaca Times, 7/14/17


Senate energy bill would fan the flames of climate change

© Getty Images

In a frantic attempt to demonstrate that Senate Republicans are capable of governing despite their shameful attempt to yank health insurance away from 22 million Americans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved in late June to advance a huge, 800-page energy bill to the Senate floor. In his rush to get something — anything — done, he bypassed the standard committee review process and pushed the legislation straight to the full Senate floor.

There are plenty of compelling reasons for Senator Schumer (D-N.Y.) to marshal Democratic opposition to McConnell’s bad energy bill. The most basic is that Republicans and the Trump administration are clamoring for a win — literally anything they can point to as business getting done. They seek to strip healthcare from many of the most vulnerable Americans in order to generate huge tax cuts for the wealthiest few. This deplorable intention alone should motivate Democrats to resist everything Trump and the Republicans seek, including McConnell’s energy bill.

But there’s more to the story. This bill, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, is a shameless giveaway to the polluting oil and gas industry. It would lock in our country’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels for decades to come and intentionally undermine critical state and federal efforts to promote clean, renewable energy — our only path to staving off the worst effects of impending climate chaos.

McConnell’s energy package would speed approval of exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more power to approve natural gas pipelines and spend nearly $200 million researching how to access methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 87-times more greenhouse gas heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, beneath the ocean floor. 

Expediting the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure takes us in exactly the wrong direction at a time when we must urgently transition to a low-carbon economy. Building LNG export terminals would lead to expanded hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) across the country, meaning the development of new pipelines, new compressor stations and new gas storage facilities.

Increased fracking for natural gas would also feed the construction of new gas-fired power plants for domestic energy consumption — to say nothing of the inherent risks to air, water and human health fracking imposes on front-line communities where it occurs. 

Even with the incredible profit margins built into global fossil fuel markets, such large scale investment in new natural gas infrastructure will require decades to be recouped by corporations. Once pipelines are laid, export terminals are completed and wells are fracked, we can be sure such infrastructure will be operated until profits are returned. By that time, decades from now, it will be far too late to save us.…—Wenonah Hauter, Bill Mckibben, “Senate energy bill would fan the flames of climate change,” The Hill, 7/15/17


Water Efficiency Gets Major Boost in New York

In a move that will help protect the natural waterways of New York while saving New Yorkers money on their water and sewer bills, a key state agency adopted new rules today requiring water-efficient plumbing products in all new construction and major renovation.

The New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council gave final approval to changes in the New York Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code that will require more water efficient toilets, urinals, shower heads, and residential lavatory faucets in all new construction, as recommended by my NRDC colleague Larry Levine over the last 3 1/2 years. New York City had successfully implemented the same requirements in 2012, and today’s action by the State Code Council brings the benefits of water efficiency to communities and consumers throughout the Empire State. Recent drought conditions in the Northeast had heightened interest in the proposal, along with water constraints being experienced in some high-growth regions in New York.  The new rules are expected to take effect by November of this year.

One-third of the U.S. population now resides in jurisdictions where the water consumption of toilets and urinals in new construction is required to be at least as efficient as the specifications set by the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense Program, a voluntary labeling program identifying efficient products similar to the Energy Star program. Both programs have been proposed for elimination by the Trump Administration but enjoy widespread support from manufacturers, retailers, consumer groups, local officials and environmental advocates alike.…—Ed Osann, “Two Milestones on the Road to Smarter Water Use,” NRDC, 7/13/17


Refusing to Fly Blind

When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot For Humans?

Fossils by Heartless Machine
In the jungles of Costa Rica, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent, simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out.

We published “The Uninhabitable Earth” on Sunday night, and the response since has been extraordinary — both in volume (it is already the most-read article in New York Magazine’s history) and in kind. Within hours, the article spawned a fleet of commentary across newspapers, magazines, blogs, and Twitter, much of which came from climate scientists and the journalists who cover them.

Some of this conversation has been about the factual basis for various claims that appear in the article. To address those questions, and to give all readers more context for how the article was reported and what further reading is available, we are publishing here a version of the article filled with research annotations. They include quotations from scientists I spoke with throughout the reporting process; citations to scientific papers, articles, and books I drew from; additional research provided by my colleague Julia Mead; and context surrounding some of the more contested claims. Since the article was published, we have made four corrections and adjustments, which are noted in the annotations (as well as at the end of the original version). They are all minor, and none affects the central project of the story: to apply the best science we have today to the median and high-end “business-as-usual” warming projections produced by the U.N.’s “gold standard” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But the debate this article has kicked up is less about specific facts than the article’s overarching conceit. Is it helpful, or journalistically ethical, to explore the worst-case scenarios of climate change, however unlikely they are? How much should a writer contextualize scary possibilities with information about how probable those outcomes are, however speculative those probabilities may be? What are the risks of terrifying or depressing readers so much they disengage from the issue, and what should a journalist make of those risks?

Further reading The Uninhabitable Earth
Chief of US Pacific forces calls climate biggest worry
Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

I hope, in the annotations and commentary below, I have added some context. But I also believe very firmly in the set of propositions that animated the project from the start: that the public does not appreciate the scale of climate risk; that this is in part because we have not spent enough time contemplating the scarier half of the distribution curve of possibilities, especially its brutal long tail, or the risks beyond sea-level rise; that there is journalistic and public-interest value in spreading the news from the scientific community, no matter how unnerving it may be; and that, when it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already “too scared.” In fact, I don’t even understand what “too scared” would mean. The science says climate change threatens nearly every aspect of human life on this planet, and that inaction will hasten the problems. In that context, I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed.…—David Wallace-Wells, “When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot For Humans?New York Magazine, 7/14/17


Trump Plan Would ‘Reduce or Eliminate’ Important Data Access,
Federal Science Official Warns

A USGS email alert to international scientists says a wide range of research areas would be hit, including work on flood risks, wildfires and climate change.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist Sasha Reed studies how changing temperatures and precipitation patterns affect soil and ecosystems. The agency is warning international colleagues that data and research they rely on could be severely curtailed under President Trump’s proposed budget. Credit: Jennifer LaVista/USGS

A U.S. Geological Survey program coordinator has sent an alert to colleagues around the world, warning that the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts, if approved, will undermine important data-gathering programs and cooperative studies in areas including forests, volcanoes, flooding, wildfires, extreme precipitation and climate change.

The email went to 500 researchers on June 19 to give them time to comment on the proposed changes and prepare. In it, Debra Willard, coordinator for the USGS Climate Research and Development Program, wrote that the cuts “would reduce or eliminate the availability of current data and collaborations between the USGS, other agencies and universities.”

The reductions threaten as many as 40 programs involved in monitoring the speed and severity of climate change impacts and the effects of other land use changes, Willard said.

So far, the agency has received responses from dozens of scientists in Europe, Asia, and North America.

“There was a consensus that suspension of the USGS projects would impede ongoing activities in the international research and policy communities,” Willard said of the responses.

Science advocacy groups say the proposed budget threatens U.S. leadership in important scientific fields and could leave American researchers isolated from the rest of the world.

Peter Frumhoff, science and policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the USGS research programs targeted for cuts provide important information for predicting natural hazards like floods, landslides and fires.…—Bob Berwyn, “Trump Plan Would ‘Reduce or Eliminate’ Important Data Access, Federal Science Official Warns,” InsideClimate News, 7/15/17


Mr. Smith Goes to Greenland

This Congressman Doesn’t Think Climate Science Is Real.
He Just Went On A Secret Tour Of The Melting Arctic

Lamar Smith, one of the most vocal critics of climate science in Congress, led a secret trip to the Arctic in May, BuzzFeed News has learned.

He and at least eight other US representatives, mostly members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, met with scientists working on the front lines of climate change.

It had the potential to be an awkward or even hostile visit. As chair of the science committee for the past four years, Rep. Smith of Texas has waged a public war with federal climate scientists, or “so-called self-professed climate scientists,” as he called them in March. He’s challenged their research and integrity, repeatedly subpoenaed their emails, and voted to gut their funding.

Billed as an oversight visit for the science committee, the May 8–14 trip included a series of closed-door sessions for the politicians to inspect facilities and learn about federally funded science conducted at research hot spots in the Arctic Circle, as well as social events for the lawmakers and their families. No one publicized the visit, and some scientists told BuzzFeed News they were instructed not to talk about it.

In this part of the world, the realities of climate change are hard to ignore. On an aerial tour of Greenland, for example, the lawmakers saw the retreating “sugar top” ice cap and connecting glaciers. Scientists told them about how warmer temperatures had even changed the local insect populations.

“They were pretty clear that 10 years ago they didn’t have mosquitoes in the summer and now they do,” said Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat who joined the committee because he wanted to take action on climate, and who accompanied Smith to the Arctic. “There was some real direct, you know, concrete evidence that things are changing.”

Smith’s team canceled a call with BuzzFeed News two minutes before it was scheduled, and subsequently did not respond to questions about the purpose of the trip or his impressions of Arctic research. But McNerney said he had productive discussions with Smith about climate issues.

“It really gave me the opportunity to go over this stuff with him and see how he felt and find that, hey, there really is some common interest here,” McNerney said.

The Congressional Delegation visited or learned about these research facilities, according to the NSF. BuzzFeed News, Google Maps (Click for full size map)

The first stop was the northernmost US city, Alaska’s Utqiagvik (formerly called Barrow). The people who live there face multiple climate threats, such as flooding from rising seas and infrastructure failures linked to the thawing of frozen ground.

At the Barrow Arctic Research Center, the group learned about microbial life in extreme conditions such as sea ice. And at the tribal community college Ilisagvik College, the lawmakers heard presentations on NSF-funded studies of indigenous languages and the effects of a warming climate on Arctic microbes.

“I was less than a month into my job role (Executive Director of Institutional Advancement) and a bit nervous,” Justina Wilhelm from Ilisagvik College wrote in an email. “Overall the visit was positive and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to provide a tour to the NSF congressional delegation.”

The next day, at the Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, the group learned about how scientists monitor the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the air, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson confirmed.

The second half of the trip was spent hopping between US-run facilities in Greenland. The group arrived at the Thule Air Base, in western Greenland, on May 11. That evening they dined in semiformal wear with researchers at the base’s “Top of the World” officers’ club, according to two researchers who were in attendance.

Nimesh Patel, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said he got a heads-up about the visit a week before. He was already going to Greenland for a conference, and scrambled to coordinate flights to get to the remote base after. In Thule, he gave the delegation a tour of a massive telescope under construction.

“I was left with the feeling that they were really interested in the science,” Patel said. This confused him a bit, he added, given the committee’s history of being “not genuinely very supportive, it seems, of science, particularly Lamar Smith.”… —Zahra Hirji, “This Congressman Doesn’t Think Climate Science Is Real. He Just Went On A Secret Tour Of The Melting Arctic,” BuzzFeed News, 7/14/17


Trump Administration OK’s Its First Arctic Offshore Drilling Plan

Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk ran aground in the Arctic in 2012, and the company abandoned exploratory drilling in the region in 2015 after finding little oil or gas. Credit: Staff Sgt Aaron M. Johnson/U.S. Air Force

Making good on its promise to jump-start Arctic offshore drilling, the Trump administration gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light on Wednesday to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska.

This is the first Arctic drilling approval under President Donald Trump. It also will be the first exploration project conducted in the U.S. Arctic since Shell’s failed attempt in the Chukchi Sea in 2015.

The approval comes as the administration attempts to overturn former President Barack Obama‘s ban of new drilling in federal Arctic waters. Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.

Environmental groups are calling the approval a sign that Trump is doing the bidding of the oil industry. The public had 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and 10 days to comment on the environmental impacts, which Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said was insufficient given the potential risks.

“An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up,” Monsell said. “The Trump administration clearly cares only about appeasing oil companies, no matter its legal obligations or the threats to polar bears or our planet.”

Eni plans to drill four exploratory wells in December 2017, just before the leases expire at the end of the year.

The wells will be drilled from Spy Island, an existing gravel island in state waters, located three miles off the coast of Alaska. The wells would be the longest extended-reach wells in Alaska—stretching six miles horizontally into an area of shallow federal waters about six feet deep.

“We know there are vast oil and gas resources under the Beaufort Sea, and we look forward to working with Eni in their efforts to tap into this energy potential,” said the Management’s acting director, Walter Cruickshank, in a statement.

Monsell noted that Eni had not pursued exploratory drilling there until its leases were about to expire.

“Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier,” she said.…—Sabrina Shankman, “Trump Administration OK’s Its First Arctic Offshore Drilling Plan,” InsideClimate News, 7/13/17


Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.…—Robert Faturechi, Danielle Ivory, “Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties,” ProPublica|The New York Times, 7/11/17


Massive Iceberg Breaks Off from Antarctica

Thermal wavelength image of a large iceberg, which has calved off the Larsen C ice shelf. Darker colors are colder, and brighter colors are warmer, so the rift between the iceberg and the ice shelf appears as a thin line of slightly warmer area. Image from July 12, 2017, from the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Credits: NASA Worldview (Click for full size)

An iceberg about the size of the state of Delaware split off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf sometime between July 10 and July 12. The calving of the massive new iceberg was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite, and confirmed by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite instrument on the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP) satellite. The final breakage was first reported by Project Midas, an Antarctic research project based in the United Kingdom.

Larsen C, a floating platform of glacial ice on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, is the fourth largest ice shelf ringing Earth’s southernmost continent. In 2014, a crack that had been slowly growing into the ice shelf for decades suddenly started to spread northwards, creating the nascent iceberg. Now that the close to 2,240 square-mile (5,800 square kilometers) chunk of ice has broken away, the Larsen C shelf area has shrunk by approximately 10 percent.

“The interesting thing is what happens next, how the remaining ice shelf responds,” said Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland in College Park. “Will the ice shelf weaken? Or possibly collapse, like its neighbors Larsen A and B? Will the glaciers behind the ice shelf accelerate and have a direct contribution to sea level rise? Or is this just a normal calving event?”

Ice shelves fringe 75 percent of the Antarctic ice sheet. One way to assess the health of ice sheets is to look at their balance: when an ice sheet is in balance, the ice gained through snowfall equals the ice lost through melting and iceberg calving. Even relatively large calving events, where tabular ice chunks the size of Manhattan or bigger calve from the seaward front of the shelf, can be considered normal if the ice sheet is in overall balance. But sometimes ice sheets destabilize, either through the loss of a particularly big iceberg or through disintegration of an ice shelf, such as that of the Larsen A Ice Shelf in 1995 and the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002. When floating ice shelves disintegrate, they reduce the resistance to glacial flow and thus allow the grounded glaciers they were buttressing to significantly dump more ice into the ocean, raising sea levels.

Scientists have monitored the progression of the rift throughout the last year was using data from the European Space Agency Sentinel-1 satellites and thermal imagery from NASA’s Landsat 8 spacecraft. Over the next months and years, researchers will monitor the response of Larsen C, and the glaciers that flow into it, through the use of satellite imagery, airborne surveys, automated geophysical instruments and associated field work.

In the case of this rift, scientists were worried about the possible loss of a pinning point that helped keep Larsen C stable. In a shallow part of the sea floor underneath the ice shelf, a bedrock protrusion, named the Bawden Ice Rise, has served as an anchor point for the floating shelf for many decades. Ultimately, the rift stopped short of separating from the protrusion.

“The remaining 90 percent of the ice shelf continues to be held in place by two pinning points: the Bawden Ice Rise to the north of the rift and the Gipps Ice Rise to the south,” said Chris Shuman, a glaciologist with Goddard and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. “So I just don’t see any near-term signs that this calving event is going to lead to the collapse of the Larsen C ice shelf. But we will be watching closely for signs of further changes across the area.”

The first available images of Larsen C are airborne photographs from the 1960s and an image from a US satellite captured in 1963. The rift that has produced the new iceberg was already identifiable in those pictures, along with a dozen other fractures. The crack remained dormant for decades, stuck in a section of the ice shelf called a suture zone, an area where glaciers flowing into the ice shelf come together. Suture zones are complex and more heterogeneous than the rest of the ice shelf, containing ice with different properties and mechanical strengths, and therefore play an important role in controlling the rate at which rifts grow. In 2014, however, this particular crack started to rapidly grow and traverse the suture zones, leaving scientists perplexed.…—Maria-Jose Viñas, “Massive Iceberg Breaks Off from Antarctica,” NASA, 7/13/17


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The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 10 – What Empire Leaves Behind

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 10 – What Empire Leaves Behind
May 132017

March 7, 2017
The week was full of news of the intentions – and lack of attention – of imperial power wielded against people. It was a dreadful spectacle, but a bracing reminder that we are engaged in a timeless struggle with power, until the social paradigm is changed from one chiefly concerned with wielding power into a paradigm of working in acknowledgement that we are all interconnected – ‘interbeing’ to use Thich Nat Hanh’s phrase – with each other, all life, and that we are the Earth itself, not its stewards. Until then our work amounts, one way or another, to the relief of suffering.
But first the news.

Proposed SEQR Regulations: developers and SEQR-adverse agencies win, the environment and public lose

When a government agency talks about “streamlining” environmental regulations, and increasing “speed and efficiency” and “regulatory certainty for applicants and municipalities,” you can be certain that the effect (if not the conscious intent) will be decreased environmental protections and a reduction in the public’s ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process. That is precisely what will occur if the current version of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed amendments to the State Environmental Quality Review Act’s regulations are adopted without significant changes.

The last thing New York should be doing is weakening its environmental review process when – on the national level – the Trump Administration is intent on repealing environmental regulations, weakening environmental enforcement, and allowing more fossil fuel production. [For example, see this and this.] If you agree that NYS should be strengthening, not undermining, its environmental laws, I urge you to analyze the proposed amendments to the SEQR regulations, submit written comments by May 19, 2017 to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Permits, Attn: James J. Eldred, Environmental Analyst, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-1750 or by e-mail to: seqra617@dec.ny.gov, and, if possible, participate at the public hearing to be held on March 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm at 625 Broadway, Albany, New York, Public Assembly Room 129.

…One need look no further than the “Needs and Benefits” statement in the DEC’s DGEIS to confirm what a reading of the proposed regulatory changes reflects: the primary motivation for the proposed amendments is to expand the “Type II” list…—Arthur J. Giacalone, “Proposed SEQR regulations: developers and SEQR-adverse agencies win, the environment and public lose,” With All Due Respect, 3/5/17


Independent power producer model is obsolete

Dive Brief:

  • NRG Energy lost almost $900 million last year, the result of lower power and gas prices along with a hefty “goodwill impairment charge.”
  • But despite the loss, the big news from the power producer’s earnings came from a comment made to journalists and financial analysts: Mauricio Gutierrez, NRG President and CEO, said the independent power producer model is “now obsolete and unable to create value over the long term.
  • The comments come more than a year after the company reorganized itself, splitting off its renewables and maintaining a fleet of almost 50,000 MW of fossil fuel generation.

Dive Insight:

That independent generators are under significant pressure from low prices in wholesale power markets is no longer news, but the NRG CEO put the situation particularly bluntly in his earnings call this week. 

“I want to reiterate my belief that the competitive power sector is in a period of unprecedented disruption,” Gutierrez told journalists and analysts. “I believe the IPP model is now obsolete and unable to create value over the long term.”

A big part of the problem is in Texas, where the company has significant operations. Growing wind energy, lower gas prices and the decline of coal has helped turn the IPP model on its head.

“Changes in fuel mix, consumer preference, technological innovation and increased distributed generation have put pressure on the traditional IPP model, particularly as commodity markets continue to weaken,” Gutierrez said. 

The company’s generation segment lost more han $500 million for the full year 2016, alongside renewables losses of more than $300 million. Only NRG’s retail segment showed a profit (about $1 billion).

Gutierrez said that looking ahead, the company expects to continue to streamline the business, focusing on strengthening the balance sheet and delivering value to shareholders.…— Robert Walton, “NRG CEO: Independent power producer model ‘obsolete’,” Utility Dive, 3/1/17


What Empire Leaves Behind

Confidential Dakota Pipeline Memo:
Standing Rock Not a Disadvantaged Community Impacted by Pipeline

Protesters sing during a march against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Credit: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Pipeline builder claimed that mostly white Bismarck communities along its original route would have more minorities impacted than one near tribe’s reservation.

As the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was mounting opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline last spring, the pipeline company told federal officials that its final route skirting the reservation would not impact any minority or impoverished community.

A confidential environmental justice analysis comparing the original proposed route north of Bismarck and the final one upstream of the Standing Rock reservation was sent by Dakota Access LLC employees to senior officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its counterintuitive findings appear to have been largely incorporated into the Corps’ final environmental assessment of the Standing Rock route last July, but weren’t given to the tribe or made public.

The 11-page memo, made available through court records, concludes that the pipeline’s original path near Bismarck would have “more direct and more disproportionate” impacts to minorities. Those communities surrounding Bismarck are 96 percent white and only 2 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Click for full size chart

 Standing Rock by contrast ranks as one of the nation’s poorest communities. The project will run just over a half-mile upstream of the reservation under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir used by the tribe for drinking water, irrigation and fish. Three-quarters of its population is Native American and 40 percent of its 8,200 people live in poverty.  

The “route does not disproportionately affect low-income or impoverished populations,” the memo said.  

The document gets at the heart of the issues in ongoing lawsuits and demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline, which opponents believe was unjustly sited near the reservation. 

“They’ve gerrymandered the things they are comparing in the analysis to reach an absurd result, which is that the selection of the Oahe crossing instead of the Bismarck route doesn’t have environmental justice implications,” according to Jan Hasselman, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. The organization is suing the Army Corps and Dakota Access on behalf of the Standing Rock tribe.

The main complaint is that the company excluded the reservation from the analysis as a result of how it chose census tract data.

“It seems that the analysis and methodology that was set up was designed intentionally to somehow minimize and mask the impacts of this project on the Standing Rock community,” said Robert Bullard, dean of Texas Southern University’s School of Public Affairs who is known as the “father of environmental justice.”

The memo is dated April 12, 2016, less than one month after the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies raised serious environmental justice and other objections to the Standing Rock route. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), agencies must consider environmental justice implications of major infrastructure projects.

“I have not seen anything like this,” said JoAnn Chase, director of the EPA’s American Indian Environmental Office under President Obama, referring to the Army Corps’ use of a confidential analysis. “This seems to run counter to everything that I believe is part of an informed process.”

The Interior Department’s top lawyer, solicitor Hilary Tompkins, issued a legal opinion in early December opposing the use of the memo in the analysis.

“The United States cannot fulfill its trust responsibility if it makes decisions with such potentially significant impacts on tribal treaty rights based on confidential, adversarial analysis that the opposing tribe cannot independently review,” Tompkins wrote.

The Trump administration suspended that opinion in February as it prepared to approve the pipeline and halt additional review.…—Phil McKenna, “Confidential Dakota Pipeline Memo: Standing Rock Not a Disadvantaged Community Impacted by Pipeline,” InsideClimate News, 3/6/17


EPA Scraps Methane Emission Reporting Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency has removed an Obama-era rule that requires oil and gas companies to report methane emissions from oilfields – a rule that had prompted complaints from 11 oil and gas-producing states that argued it required too much work.

The EPA’s new boss, climate change skeptic and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the change was effective immediately, adding he will go on to assess whether the additional information that EPA required from energy companies under its previous management is indeed necessary to collect.

Related reading: House scraps methane standards after Senate kills SEC rule

Pruitt commented that the withdrawal of the methane emission reporting rule was part of the new EPA’s efforts to improve its relationship with state governments. Environmentalist groups were quick to condemn the move, arguing that under Pruitt, the EPA will turn into an organization serving the oil and gas industry. Pruitt was a vocal opponent to EPA’s regulations over the last eight years.

The rule on methane emission reporting, part of efforts to combat climate change by reducing said emissions, was issued in a directive from the EPA in November last year. Besides these reports, the directive also called on 15,000 oil and gas companies to report the numbers and types of equipment at their onshore production sites.…—Irina Slav, “EPA Scraps Methane Emission Reporting Rule,” OilPrice, 3/3/17


Fracking or not, Albanian village to get compensation for damaged houses

Albanian villagers who accuse an energy company of damaging their homes by fracking will get full compensation, the country’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday.

A group of the villagers from western Albania walked more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the capital Tirana and set up camp outside the energy ministry on Saturday to protest.

In a televised address, deputy prime minister Niko Peleshi said the villagers would get full compensation from the state budget and from the energy company, Bankers Petroleum, following an evaluation of the damage.

The protesters greeted the announcement with cheers of “Zharreza,” the name of the village with the most damaged homes.

Their leader, Qani Rredhi, said that out of 700 houses, 570 were damaged and 70 were not habitable.

“Since 2010 we have suffered earthquake tremors of high intensity at various times, usually at night, even 30 quakes a day,” he told Reuters.…—Benet Koleka, “Fracking or not, Albanian village to get compensation for damaged houses,” Reuters, 3/1/17


Thousands of spills at US oil and gas fracking sites

The study found that thousands of spills were reported at oil and gas fracking sites in four states. Getty Images.


The study found that thousands of spills were reported at oil and gas fracking sites in four states

Up to 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids every year, according to new research from US scientists.

They found that there had been 6,600 releases from these fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states.

The biggest problems were reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67% of the spills were recorded.

The largest spill recorded involved 100,000 litres of fluid with most related to storing and moving liquids.

Higher numbers

The rapid growth in the extraction of oil and gas from unconventional sources in the US has had a massive impact on the production and consumption of energy over the past ten years.

The key to this expansion has been the use of hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluids with chemical additives under pressure to crack underground rock and release the trapped resources.

However, environmental campaigners have long been troubled by the potential for this process to contaminate water supplies and the environment through leaks and spills.

A study carried out by the US Environment Protection Agency on fracking in eight states between 2006 and 2012 concluded that 457 spills had occurred.

But this new study, while limited to just four states with adequate data, suggests the level of spills is much higher. The researchers found 6,648 spills between 2005 and 2014.

“The EPA just looked at spills from the hydraulic fracturing process itself which is just a few days to a few weeks,” lead author Dr Lauren Patterson from Duke University told BBC News.

“We’re looking at spills at unconventional wells from the time of the drilling through production which could be decades.”

The state reporting the highest level of spills was North Dakota, a hot bed of activity in both oil and gas recovery.

The data recorded 4,453 incidents in the state, much higher than Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico.

This can be explained by reporting requirements. In North Dakota, any spill bigger than 42 US gallons has to be reported while in Colorado and New Mexico the requirement was 210 gallons.

Most of the spills occurred in the first three years of operation. Around 50% of spills were related to the storage and movement of fluids via pipelines. The underlying causes were difficult to determine because of different reporting requirements.

“The causes are quite varied,” said Dr Patterson.

“Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places.”

A surprising number of spills occurred at wells which had recorded a previous incident, over half in the case of North Dakota. This suggests that targeted inspections on these sites might have a significant impact in reducing spills.…—Matt McGrath, “Thousands of spills at US oil and gas fracking sites,” BBC News, 2/21/17


Behind Trump’s Push for ‘American Steel’ in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit

In his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, President Donald Trump commemorated the one-month anniversary of his executive orders calling for the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as one calling for U.S. pipelines to get their line pipe steel from U.S. facilities.

“I said, who makes the pipes for the pipeline?” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “If they want a pipeline in the United States, they’re going to use pipe that’s made in the United States, do we agree?”

But while the pipe may be made in the U.S., as DeSmog has shown in previous investigations, ownership tells a different story. Enter: TMK IPSCO, a massive producer of steel for U.S. oil country tubular goods (OCTG) and line pipe, and a subsidiary of TMK Group. A DeSmog investigation has found ties between TMK Group’s Board of Directors and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TMK Group was incorporated in 2001, and in 2008, TMK IPSCO opened its doors as a U.S. subsidiary with a heavy focus on making oilfield pipes on behalf of companies performing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques in the Marcellus Shale basin located in the northeast U.S. TMK IPSCO, which has said it wants to be a direct competitor of U.S. Steel Corporation in the Marcellus, also makes steel for companies doing fracking in the Bakken Shale basin, located primarily in North Dakota.…—Steve Horn, “Behind Trump’s Push for ‘American Steel’ in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit,” DeSmogBlog, 2/28/17


Gauging the Carbon Cost of Fuel from Canadian Oil Sands

WELL TO WHEELS: Producing and burning fuel from Alberta oil sands creates about 20% more greenhouse gases than producing and burning fuel from U.S. conventional crude oil.

The oil sands of Canada’s Alberta province are one of the world’s largest oil reserves, currently producing the equivalent of 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. But it takes lots of energy to transform the heavy bitumen in the deposits, which is bound up with sand and clay, into diesel and gasoline. A new study presents a comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fuels from the oil sands—from extracting to shipping to refining to burning—and concludes that emissions are about 20% greater than those from fuels produced from conventionally extracted crude oil in the U.S. (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b01255).

Currently, only about 9% of crude oil processed by refineries in the U.S. comes from the Canadian oil sands, but analysts project that this share will grow in the future, especially if long-distance pipeline projects such as Keystone XL go forward. Researchers want to understand the carbon footprint of these fuels to help assess their impact on climate, and to track progress toward emission reduction targets. So Hao Cai of Argonne National Laboratory and his colleagues set out to determine the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all the steps involved in production and use of oil sands products refined in the U.S., often called a “well to wheels” life-cycle assessment.

Previous assessments have suffered from limited, proprietary data or were based on less energy-efficient oil production processes than those used today. In the new study, the researchers used publicly available monthly operations data from 27 oil sands projects between 2008 and 2012 and assessed emissions using a model developed at Argonne. The operations data allow the model to estimate emissions resulting from powering the machinery needed to extract oil from the sands, heating steam used in the process, and even from bacteria giving off carbon dioxide and methane in wastewater ponds.… —Deirdre Lockwood, “Gauging The Carbon Cost Of Fuel From Canadian Oil Sands,” Chemical & Engineering News, 6/22/15


Environmentalists urge French bank not to finance Texas fracking project

Rigging equipment is pictured in a field outside of Sweetwater, Texas. The French bank BNP Paribas has been urged not to support a fracking project in the state. Photograph: Cooper Neill/Reuters

Environmental groups have called on a French bank not to help finance a fracked-gas export terminal planned for south Texas.

A report released on Wednesday urges BNP Paribas and its US subsidiary, Bank of the West, to state it will not finance any projects for liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and to adopt a policy of not backing LNG export schemes. One of the proposals, the Texas LNG terminal, would be built on 1,000 acres of land, potentially making it the largest facility of its kind in the country.

“It’s a destructive fossil fuel infrastructure project in the Gulf coast in one of the relatively untouched parts,” said Jason Opeña Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network.

He said there “is some hypocrisy” in BNP’s involvement given that the company touts its green credentials. In the wake of the 2015 Paris agreement to address climate change, the bank said it was committed to responsible investment, such as financing renewable energy rather than coal mining, and minimizing atmospheric pollution as a result of its business activities.

France banned fracking in 2011 for environmental protection reasons. A spokeswoman for BNP’s US operation declined to comment on the report. Texas LNG did not respond to a request for comment.

Rebekah Hinojosa, an activist fighting the terminals, fears that construction would damage sacred Native American historical sites, harm endangered wildlife, tourism and the local shrimping industry and pollute and scar a relatively unscathed part of the coast, as well as threaten safety in the event of a disaster. Though proponents tout potential economic benefits for a deprived area, Hinojosa is concerned that the projects may ultimately cost more jobs than they create.

“That area is the beach of Texas. People come from all over the state and other nearby states to our beach because we are the last industrialized piece of coast along the Texas coastline,” she said. “It doesn’t have a refinery or smoke stacks on the horizon.”…—Tom Dart, “Environmentalists urge French bank not to finance Texas fracking project,” The Guardian, 3/2/17


State AGs Rally to Defend NY, Mass. Investigations of Exxon From Lamar Smith Subpoenas

A group of state attorney generals have lent their support to New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts’ Maura Healey in their fight against House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith’s subpoenas. Credit: Getty Images

A coalition of 15 Democratic state attorneys general has urged Congressman Lamar Smith to withdraw subpoenas sent to the AGs of Massachusetts and New York seeking records related to their investigations of ExxonMobil. In a letter to Smith sent Tuesday, the attorneys general argue the demand for documents interferes with the investigative authority of the states.

The attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have ongoing investigations of Exxon under each state’s securities and consumer protection laws related to whether Exxon properly disclosed risks posed by climate change to the company’s business.

“Under the Constitution and the principle of comity that has been honored by Congress and federal courts since the Nation’s founding, the states’ attorneys general must be free to fulfill the responsibilitIes they owe to the people they serve, unimpeded by interference from a committee of Congress,” the AGs said in the letter.

Smith, a 15-term Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, first subpoenaed the Massachusetts and New York state AGs last July. He followed last month with a second subpoena seeking records that delve into the investigative strategy of the AGs, a tactic critics say is an attempt to shield Exxon from scrutiny.

Smith has said the attorneys general investigations amount to a crusade to silence alternative views of climate change, and that his probe is designed to protect the First Amendment rights of academic institutions, scientists and companies engaged in climate research. He has used his chairmanship to launch prior investigations questioning the work of climate scientists.  

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in July that they would not comply with the subpoenas.

In September, Smith extended his subpoena to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had reportedly launched a related investigation into Exxon.  

At the same time, Smith also hit eight non-governmental environmental advocacy organizations with subpoenas, which demanded documents related to any discussions with the AGs regarding the Exxon investigations.…—Phil McKenna, “State AGs Rally to Defend NY, Mass. Investigations of Exxon From Lamar Smith Subpoenas,” InsideClimate News, 3/1/17


Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over earthquake

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system Friday accusing several oil companies of triggering the state’s largest earthquake that caused extensive damage to some near-century-old tribal buildings.

The Pawnee Nation alleges in the suit that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September and is seeking physical damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.

The case will be heard in the tribe’s district court with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members.

“We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here,” said Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation’s executive director. “We’re using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys account

            Related news: Earthquakes linked to natural gas fracking in Pennsylvania

Attorneys representing the 3,200-member tribe in north-central Oklahoma say the lawsuit is the first earthquake-related litigation filed in a tribal court. If an appeal were filed in a jury decision, it could be heard by a five-member tribal Supreme Court, and that decision would be final.

“Usually tribes have their own appellate process, and then, and this surprises a lot of people, there is no appeal from a tribal supreme court,” said Lindsay Robertson, a University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in Federal Indian Law.…—Sean Murphy, “Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over earthquake,” GlobalNews Canada, 3/3/17


And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to all who have written these stories, posted them on their email groups, sent them in directly to us. Much news, good/bad/indifferent, keeps editors hard at work. Thanks! Send, along with budding amyrillis bulbs, to banner@wearesenecalake.com

The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 06 – Contempt and Confusion in High Places

 Press Kit  Comments Off on The Banner, Vol. 3, No. 06 – Contempt and Confusion in High Places
May 132017

February 7, 2017
This week was filled with confusing messages from national leaders and those who aspire to national leadership. The result was confusion to say the least, and many theories about why a new presidential administration would wreak such havoc on the public confidence, as well as on institutions vital to the nation’s well-being. We won’t attempt a synopsis nor to make sense of it all. But here you will find a few leading actions and their consequences.
First the news.

We Are Seneca Lake’s fundraiser on Sunday, 1/29/17 was a great success!

At the QuizBowl. Credit Michael Dineen/WASL

Heartfelt thanks go to Todd Parlato, the owner of Trumansburg’s very popular new restaurant, Atlas Bowl, and his wonderful staff for hosting us.

Gratitude also goes to Christopher Wofford, who designed a custom QuizBowl trivia game just for our event, and Jonni Campbell who designed the lovely event poster. Check out Trivia Night at Atlas Bowl every Wednesday:  www.AtlasBowl.com/events . You’ll have fun and learn a lot too!

Many thanks also go to all of the local small businesses, artists, and community members who donated enticing items to our raffle & auction — too numerous to list here — and

  • Peter Drobny, who organized a bountiful, beautiful Silent Auction, and built our display stand; 
  • Laura Salamendra, who rounded up a dozen very cool raffle prizes; Marge Ehly and Edgar Brown, who sold raffle tickets; 
  • Mariah Mottley Plumlee and Michael Dineen who printed photos of Defenders; and
  • Asa Redmond, Roger Beck, and Bela Plumlee for help with set up. 

We made $3,484 for WASL’s legal defense fund, and had a blast doing it! With over half of the 657 WASL cases still open, our battle in the courts is likely to continue all year. Appeals will stretch into 2018. That’s why your ongoing financial support is so crucial to this fight. 

Whether you were able to attend the event or not, we extend sincere thanks to all who have donated to keep Sujata Gibson’s Legal Resource Center going. 

We Are Seneca Lake is truly a campaign “Of, By and For the People.” 

Save-the-date for the next WASL fundraiser

The Annual Winter Squabee, a 3-day festival of local bands at Stonecat Cafe on the Seneca Wine Trail, will be held Friday-Sunday, March 3rd-5th. This is a great way to overcome cabin fever and reconnect with the community. Once again this year, the Squabee organizers have generously offered to donate their event proceeds to WASL. If you can volunteer for a tabling shift, please email our fund raising genius, Jan Quarles: janq99@gmail.com


Comments Needed on New Gas Storage Rules!

Dear Gas Free Seneca Supporter:

Catastrophic explosions wracked Hutchinson, Kansas, January 17, 2001. They were caused by leaks from storage of methane in bedded salt caverns very similar to those Crestwood wants to use by the shore of Seneca Lake, three miles from Watkins Glen.

Can you help us strengthen the recently passed federal rules on underground gas storage by submitting a comment? Here’s what you need to know:

What’s my deadline?

February 17, 2017

Who wrote the new rules?

PHMSA, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Where can I read them?

Read the proposed new regulations at Regulations.gov <p”>  (Warning: some dense legalese!)

When do they take effect?

July 18, 2017.

What’s good about the rules?

For the first time there are federal safety standards governing underground natural gas storage.

What’s not so good about the rules?

  • they don’t apply to LPG (propane); that’s under NYS rules.

  • they are based on “recommended practices” largely written by industry , so they are missing important pieces and aren’t strong enough to assure safety.

How do I offer suggestions for improvement?

At the above website,

  • click on the blue button, “Comment Now!”
  • review the helpful tips in “View Commenter’s Checklist.”
  • Then type away!

What might I say?

Here are some suggestions—but be sure to use your own words.

  • We applaud PHMSA’s commitment to underground natural gas storage safety and its new Interim Final Rule (IFR).
  • PHMSA should determine what level of risk is acceptable, and require facilities to operate at that level or better.
  • Because of the very high rate of accidents and disasters in salt cavern storage facilities for decades, PHMSA should halt new or expanded underground NG storage in salt caverns until their safety record improves to acceptable levels.
  • Gas storage in salt caverns is riskier than in depleted oil and gas reservoirs. Yet risk management standards like those in PHMSA’s rules for reservoirs (RP 1171 ch. 8) are missing from the cavern rules (1170). They should be added to 1170 and strengthened further.
  • To strengthen risk management standards , PHMSA should at least specify the information to be collected, how often it should be collected and analyzed, and that stakeholders be involved.
  • PHMSA should require more widespread use of subsurface emergency shutdown valves , to reduce the high risk of gas leakage accidents like Aliso Canyon.

How can I strengthen my comment?

From the “tips”: “Agency reviewers look for sound science and reasoning in the comments they receive. They advise that when possible, you should support your comment with substantive data, facts, and/or expert opinions.” So if you need more background information, please refer to the attached comments that Gas Free Seneca has submitted.

Here are two references to Chinese studies of the gas leakage problems common to all bedded salt mines:

  1. Generally, it is noted that salt rock has extremely compact structure, low permeability and good ductility. Therefore pure salt mine is considered as an ideal selection for energy storage and high radiation disposal. However, most of Chinese salt mines [and the Seneca Lake salt mines] have many thin inter beds. According to current literature, the existence of the interlayers has obviously adverse influence on the oil and gas storage operation. If energy storage cavities are built in this kind of formations, interface between different formations would be easily damaged by discontinuous creep deformations between salt rock and interbeds will lead to severe gas leakage during the long-time recycling operation.  Hence, it is considered that more attention should be paid to the integrity test and leakage stability evaluation in Chinese salt rock cavern construction. At home and abroad, much work has been done in the domain of permeability fluctuation under high operation pressure, creep and damage characteristic of pure salt rock and their coupling fluid-mechanical responses. However, when it comes to impure salt rock cavity, the related research just started in recent years. Especially the research emphasized on the influence of interlayers on the safety of salt cavern needs much more attention.— Jun Xiong et al, “Gas leakage mechanism in bedded salt rock storage cavern considering damaged interface,” Ke Ai, December, 2015
  2. As the geologic environment of bedded salt rock in China [an Seneca Lake is very different from that of the huge salt domes frequently used abroad, the energy storage caverns in bedded salt rock carry a higher risk. Construction of underground energy storage caverns has started only a short time ago in China and construction and operational experience remains limited. In addition, compared with the huge salt domes with deep embedding depths in other countries, the salt rock in China has the characteristics of shallow depth, layered structure, and complicated geological conditions. The presence of thin inter-layers in between the saltbeds adds potential flow paths for oil or gas leakage. Shallow depth intensifies ground subsidence, and dense distribution of energy storage caverns increases the possibility of accident-chains resulting from the failure of one cavern or a pillar between caverns. Additionally, the storage caverns in China are located near areas with dense population and developed economy, so not only the safety of storage caverns but also people’s life and property will be seriously affected if a major accident were to happen. Carrying out risk analysis for construction and operation of oil and gas storage caverns in bedded salt rock can provide a scientific basis for disaster prevention and risk reduction for the responsible government department, construction units and operating units.—Chunhe Yang, et al, “Analysis of major risks associated with hydrocarbon storage caverns in bedded salt rock ,” Reliability Engineering & System Safety, May, 2013

From a pdf document assessing risks of LPG storage (not covered by these new rules but relevant to any gas storage in bedded salt solution mines) available at Gas Free Seneca’s website: The probability of serious or extremely serious salt cavern storage events is more than 40 percent over 25 years, including both baseline and incremental risks. The significant possibility of major salt infiltration into Seneca Lake with extreme consequences, and the fact that the salt cavern is located in bedded salt strata rather than salt domes, add to this risk.  

From the perspective of community safety based on this analysis, continued salt cavern storage in Schuyler County carries a baseline unacceptable risk that would rise even higher under this proposal. Risk mitigation efforts in salt cavern storage have thus far proven unsuccessful in significantly reducing the frequency of serious and extremely serious incidents. Therefore the application for the proposal should be denied and strong consideration given to safer forms of gas storage to meet demand

Anything else?
Gas Free Seneca has written Governor Cuomo to ask that he reject Crestwood’s NG permit because it appears Crestwood’s caverns fail to meet the new federal standards.
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NYSEG proposes alternative fix to gas needs in Lansing

Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson discusses the proposals NYSEG has made to the New York State Public Service Commission to address energy needs in Lansing. Matt Weinstein / staff video

With a proposed $17.8 million natural gas pipeline in development to boost service to existing customers in the Lansing area, officials at NYSEG have agreed to consider an alternative option.

Several Tompkins County legislators and community leaders gathered in the legislature chambers Monday to announce NYSEG has presented the alternative option — building a small compressor station in Lansing — to the New York State Public Service Commission for review. NYSEG has also proposed to solicit creative solutions to reduce current demand for gas and to transition to electric heating systems countywide so the available gas could be targeted for end-users who require the energy qualities of gas.

The proposal of an alternative option was reached through months of conversations between NYSEG and the PSC, initiated by members of the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force. In its report last June, the task force identified the proposed West Dryden Road pipeline as a critical issue and recommended working with the PSC to find alternatives that would support economic growth while the county continued to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Members of the task force included community leaders in economic development, energy-related businesses, environmental groups and local government, Tompkins County Area Development President Michael Stamm said.

“The first two recommendations were to work with the PSC to reduce reliance on gas, and also to provide reliable energy to local industry,” Stamm said in a statement. “The work with NYSEG and PSC provides an exciting opportunity for Tompkins County to once again be a leader in tackling the important challenges of our day.”

The possibility of a pipeline still remains if the proposal is rejected by the PSC review committee. If the proposal is accepted, the small compressor station built in Lansing would be a “compressor-based solution” to meet immediate gas reliability needs in the area, as well as potential longer-term solutions to address new requests for natural gas. The new station would address occasional instances of very low pressure, such as on very cold days.…—Matt Weinstein, “NYSEG proposes alternative fix to gas needs in Lansing,” The Ithaca Journal, 2/6/17


This Week’s Delaware Riverwatch

  • Environmentalists are urging the public to tell their congressional representatives not to approve any new commissioners to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • The company that wants to build a hazardous waste water treatment plant near the Delaware River says it will move forward with seeking state environmental permits.
  • An 18th Century building along the Delaware River is demolished

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network presents a weekly video news roundup of important stories affecting the Delaware River Watershed. Many people live along and depend on the Delaware River for their water supply, their livelihoods or for recreation. For many it’s a place to escape the stress of living in a densely populated area.

If the Delaware River touches you in some way you’ll want to know what’s happening in all the areas of the watershed. This weekly report will tell you about the important issues that affect the water quality, tributary streams and key habitat in the entire watershed from the Catskills to Cape May County and from Deposit to Delaware City.

You can see past editions of Riverwatch on the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s YouTube Channel here

Address: 925 Canal St
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Bristol, PA 19007
Phone: (215)369-1188
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Email: drn@delawareriverkeeper.org
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Contempt and Confusion in High Places

Withdrawing Obama climate plan would ‘lead to more litigation,’
AGs warn Trump,”

President-elect Donald Trump leaves a day of transition team meetings at the Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 28. Credit Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

Donald Trump has not yet taken office [NB This was written before the inauguration—Editor] – but already, legal chess moves over how to dismantle President Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, are being telegraphed.

It started on Dec. 14 with a letter to Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan from West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, and allied attorneys general from largely conservative states who have opposed and sued over the plan. They suggested several steps to undermine the regulation as soon as the president-elect takes office, including an “executive order on day one” that rescinds the rule and tells the EPA not to enforce it because it is “unlawful.”

The conservative AGs also urged Trump’s and Pence’s consideration of whether to “seek to stay or resolve” court cases that are currently pending over the plan. The Clean Power Plan is being weighed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which could rule on it soon. The note seemed to imply the possibility of the new administration ceasing to defend the rule in court and instead perhaps seeking a settlement with those opposing it.

Notably, the letter was not signed by Scott Click fot, the attorney general of Oklahoma, who has been tapped as Trump’s EPA head and who was previously part of the team of attorneys general suing over the Clean Power Plan.

But their view of the law is hardly undisputed. A band of attorneys general from more liberal states, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, wrote to President-elect Trump on Thursday, contesting that these kinds of moves are legally permissible.

When it comes to the pending litigation before the D.C. Circuit, they say, “be assured that we would vigorously oppose in court any attempt to remand the Clean Power Plan back to EPA so late in the litigation, and prior to a decision from the Court on the merits of the claims.” The attorneys general behind the letter include not only Schneiderman but California’s Kamala Harris, Massachusetts’s Maura Healey and several others.

As for a Trump executive order to declare the rule unlawful and stop EPA from enforcing it, they write, “history and legal precedent strongly suggest that such an action would not stand up in court.” The letter argues that a court will have to rule on the legality of the Clean Power Plan one way or another and that there’s little way to short circuit this — indeed, the D.C. Circuit could even rule before Trump takes office.…—Chris Mooney, “Withdrawing Obama climate plan would ‘lead to more litigation,’ AGs warn Trump,” The Washington Post, 12/29/16


Trump Officials Blaming Media for EPA Turmoil, Leaked Emails Show

It’s been a hand-wringing, hair-pulling week among the rank and file of many federal bureaucracies, perhaps best epitomized by the ongoing battle at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The new administration’s actions amount to a vote of “no confidence” in the agency’s mission: Trump appointed a prominent climate change skeptic to head the agency’s transition, and his nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a man who brags about his years-long efforts to undermine the EPA as attorney general of Oklahoma. In spite of this, several leaked communications obtained by Slate suggest that Trump’s transition team is attempting to frame the anxiety emanating from the agency as normal transition woes, rather than serious concern for the future of the agency. Given the number of leaks already emanating from the agency, these attempts don’t seem to be working.

It was no great surprise when news reports began surfacing last week of a clampdown at the agency: a freeze on all hiring, grants, and spending; a complete gag order; and rumors that various websites and their attendant data might be removed from public view. Donald Trump and his advisers had gleefully promised to throttle environmental protections many times during the campaign, and the leaked information seemed like evidence that the process had begun. For staffers living through it on the inside and sympathetic observers on the outside, it seemed to confirm their worst suspicions—the EPA could be neutered before Scott Pruitt is even confirmed as its director.

In a statement sent out Friday, apparently to all 15,000-plus EPA employees, acting EPA administrator Catherine McCabe attempted to quell some of the hysteria surrounding the transition. It had been a busy week, McCabe wrote, “educating the President’s new transition team about many aspects of the Agency’s programs and operations. This is standard practice for a transition, as are many of the government-wide and agency-level actions the new Administration has taken this week.”

…McCabe, a career government worker who spent 22 years as a manager and attorney in the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division before moving into a series of senior management roles at EPA in 2005, was trying her best to calm the nerves of a workforce whose despair and anger have, by all accounts, been growing by the day. Anonymously sourced statements attributed to EPA staffers have been making the rounds on social media, like missives from prisoners to the outside world. There seems to be a darkening view inside the agency.

But as has so often been the case in this chaotic transition, McCabe’s efforts at morale-boosting were soon undercut by a Trump appointee, in this case Don Benton, a scandal-prone former state senator from Washington state who is serving as a senior White House adviser on the EPA transition team. Benton, who has been on the job for a week, sent a staff-wide email Monday morning that highlighted the “important nature of the work that is done here at EPA” and attempted to establish a chummy bonhomie with “the many career professionals here at the EPA who have been working with me.” He then took a page out of his new boss’s playbook and launched into sharp criticism of the press, noting that “due to the important nature of the work that is done here at EPA, we are falling under a greater media microscope than most agencies. I, like many of you, am surprised each morning by what I read in the newspaper and see on TV news shows, because much of what we see is just not accurate.” (Emphasis his.)

EPA transition team communications head Doug Ericksen, also a Republican state senator from Washington, followed Benton’s lead. In an email sent by the EPA press office under his name Tuesday, he called media reports of potential political vetting of scientific research “inaccurate.”…

Further reading: Senate Republicans suspend committee rules to approve Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA nominee

He failed to mention that the articles were the result of his own misstep—while speaking to NPR last week, he suggested that going forward, political appointees would have a say over the EPA’s scientific research. He has been walking back that statement ever since, as evident in this AP story.…—Tim Sohn, “Trump Officials Blaming Media for EPA Turmoil, Leaked Emails Show,” Newsweek, 2/5/17


Research Finds Hope in Slowing Arctic’s Climate-Warming Black Carbon

Black carbon darkens ice in the Arctic, accelerating global warming and also speeding the melting of the ice. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Researchers have developed a new method for determining the source of black carbon—a particularly nasty type of pollution that can blanket the Arctic—giving some hope that this known accelerator of climate change could be slowed.

Black carbon, the soot that darkens the sea ice, causing it to absorb heat from the sun instead of reflecting it, speeds up the rate at which the ice disappears. It’s yet another severe aspect of climate change—except that its lifespan is just days or weeks, as opposed to carbon dioxide’s, which can last a century or more. That means that finding its source and mitigating its effects can have an almost immediate impact, and might hold a key for helping slow the rapid melting of the Arctic.

A new study, released earlier this week in the scientific journal PNAS, provides “a very powerful tool” in combating black carbon, said Scripps Institution of Oceanography atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who was not a part of the study.

“It’s a new tool for understanding who is emitting what and when,” he said. Black carbon can travel thousands of miles from where it is initially emitted, so finding the source of the pollution can make it more feasible for policymakers to attempt to stop it.

The authors of the study gathered two years of black carbon data from eastern Siberia—a remote, sparsely populated region—and developed the method for determining the source. By analyzing the isotopes of the black carbon samples, the authors determined that black carbon in the region was coming primarily from transportation and home heating with coal or biomass. The isotope analysis was then compared with data from observation-based models and inventories of known emissions of black carbon.  

When they began the study, the authors had expected the biggest sources of black carbon would be gas flaring and power plants. “The results related to gas flaring were probably the biggest surprise,” said author Patrik Winiger, an applied environmental scientist at Stockholm University. Instead, they saw that vehicles and residential sources were the main offenders, often coming all of the way from China, elsewhere in Russia and Europe.

Winiger worked on the project from Sweden, while local technicians in Tiksi, Russia sent data at regular intervals. This coordination was a key element in the study, as bringing samples across borders can pose problems for traveling scientists, Winiger said.

Winiger and his colleagues analyzed the isotopes that made up each sample, each of which look different depending on the source.

“Given that we have precise isotopic fingerprints, we can tell you exactly how much carbon is coming from where,” Winiger said.…—Sabrina Shankman, “Research Finds Hope in Slowing Arctic’s Climate-Warming Black Carbon,” InsideClimate News, 2/4/17


Anxiety Mounts at National Labs Over Future of Climate Research

The Everest Powerwall at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Credit: Lynn Freeny DOE Flickr

Scientists are concerned that climate change research may be in the crosshairs at the Department of Energy under the Trump administration.

Reports that agencies like U.S. EPA and the Department of Agriculture are facing communications restrictions, along with recent proposals from the Trump transition team for drastic cuts in environmental science in federal agencies, have some researchers at DOE’s venerable national laboratories worried that they might be next.

“[Climate change research] does seem particularly vulnerable because this administration has not given us any indication that they take it seriously as an issue affecting us and affecting the world,” said Hansi Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

Last month, Singh co-signed a letter to President Trump with more than 800 other researchers encouraging him to continue the fight against climate change and support the research behind it.

“During your campaign, you said that your ‘administration will ensure that there will be [scientific] transparency and accountability without political bias,’” the letter said. “Uphold these standards by appointing scientific advisors, Cabinet members, and federal agency leaders who respect and rely on science-based decision-making.”

Trump’s nominee to lead the Energy Department, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), described climate change in his book as a “contrived, phony mess” but walked back his comments slightly during his confirmation hearing earlier this month, saying some of the changing climate is due to human activity and some is due to natural causes (Climatewire, Jan. 20).

Singh, who researches the sensitivity of Arctic and Antarctic regions to atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, said scientists need to be more vocal in making the case for their work rather than counting on job security through obscurity.

“I definitely hear this often from scientists that work for the different agencies that ‘my science is highly insulated.’ I think that is not the correct approach,” she said. “If they’re coming for one of us, they’re coming for all of us.”…—Umar Irfan, “Anxiety Mounts at National Labs Over Future of Climate Research,” Scientific American, 1/30/17


How Politics and Pollution Could Push China Into the Climate Leader Role the US Is Giving up

Earlier this month China halted more than 100 coal-fired power projects. Scrapping these projects, with combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, may have more to do with China’s current overcapacity in coal production than its commitment to mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders are likely happy that the move is framing their nation as a green energy leader, according to experts in Chinese and environmental policy. 

That’s because, they say, the Chinese government is now eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S. And, they say, China is poised to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector. 

Pollution Fuels China’s New Energy Priorities

Saying that China is doing nothing on climate change has long been a right wing talking point used to stop U.S. regulations such as carbon taxes. While that may have been true a decade ago, it certainly isn’t true now. 

Already, China is both the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies and its biggest consumer. 

A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report showed that China invested $287.5 billion in clean energy in 2016, while the U.S. spent $58.6 billion. And in January it announced plans to invest an additional $120 billion a year in renewable power before 2020.

China’s five-year plan on energy and climate is ambitious, calling for an 18 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2015 levels. It aims to reduce coal to 55 percent of total power by 2020, down from 69 percent now. 

But China’s most urgent need is not reducing greenhouse gases, or even cashing in on the burgeoning green tech market, but eliminating the smog choking its cities, which is caused by burning coal, oil, and biomass. Over the past decade, China’s degraded air quality has caused millions of premature deaths, hurt its economy, and has become a primary cause of social unrest

John Chung-En Liu, a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told DeSmog that, despite positive stories about scrapping coal plants, these actions don’t mean an imminent end to China’s use of fossil fuels. And they don’t mean China is doing this for the world’s benefit either.

    “The media have been talking about closing down 100 coal powered plants, but the real reason is that China has overbuilt from a massive expansion of coal over the past 20 years,” he said. “The Chinese government is committed to green tech but can’t make the move quickly because of the infrastructure.”…—Larry Buhl, “How Politics and Pollution Could Push China Into the Climate Leader Role the US Is Giving up,” DeSmogBlog, 1/30/17


How 11 Countries Are Leading The Shift To Renewable Energy

Who’s embracing wind? Solar? Geothermal? These countries could provide blueprints for the worldwide shift to renewable energy.

This December, almost 200 countries from every corner of the world signed the Paris Agreement, committing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and – dare we say – save the world!The question on everyone’s mind: How?

The truth is, we don’t have to wait on scientists to invent some newfangled contraption. The solutions are already here! We simply need to ramp up renewable energy generation, and fast.

Here’s how: follow the leader. There are many countries already forging ahead towards a low-carbon future. Whether solar is starting to shine or the answer is blowing in the wind, the solutions are growing every day. But don’t take our word for it. Read on to learn how places around the globe are going renewable.…—ClimateRealityProject, “How 11 Countries Are Leading The Shift To Renewable Energy,” Clean Technica, 2/4/17


Republicans target environmental rules protecting parks and limiting methane

Mitch McConnell said the stream rule in question ‘unfairly targets coal jobs’. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Getty Images

Republicans have begun dismantling Obama-era environmental protections by targeting rules that restrict drilling in national parks, curb the release of methane and prevent people from being harmed when the tops of mountains are blown off to access coal.

House lawmakers are using the Congressional Review Act, which enables them to revoke federal rules imposed in the last 60 legislative days, to strip away what Republicans call “job-killing red tape” designed to tackle climate change and protect people and wildlife from harmful pollution.

The rollback came as Democrats boycotted a committee vote to confirm Scott Pruitt as Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma over its climate, mercury and smog regulations.

All 10 Democrats on the committee refused to turn up to the environment and public works panel, denying it a quorum, complaining that Pruitt had failed to answer basic questions such as what is a safe level of lead in drinking water. Republicans claimed the move was a “congressional temper tantrum” as they pushed ahead with a bonfire of environmental regulations.

Further reading: G.O.P. Hurries to Slash Oil and Gas Rules, Ending Industries’ 8-Year Wait

On Wednesday, the House will probably vote in favor of axing the stream protection rule, which safeguards waterways from the effects of mountaintop removal mining. The rule prevents mining companies from piling debris into streams and requires them to restore the vista and ecological function of blasted areas.

Mountaintops are regularly blown up in the coal-rich Appalachia region in order to reach the minerals underneath. The rubble is often dumped into the valley below, contaminating the water for nearby residents and wildlife. It is estimated that more than 500 Appalachian mountains have been decapitated, resulting in 2,000 miles of streams becoming strewn with debris.

The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the stream rule, introduced in the dying days of Barack Obama’s administration, “unfairly targets coal jobs”, which causes harm to “real people who support real families in real communities”.

However, environmentalists warned that the repeal would endanger public health. Pollution from mountaintop mining has been previously linked to an increase in cancers and birth defects.…—Oliver Milman, “Republicans target environmental rules protecting parks and limiting methane,” The Guardian, 2/1/17


Biggest Oil Find of 2016 Puts Crown Jewel Texas Oasis in Crosshairs for Fracking

Reeves County, Texas — Travelers crossing the long stretch of arid desert spanning West Texas might stumble across an extraordinarily improbable sight — a tiny teeming wetlands, a sliver of marsh that seems like it should sit by the ocean but actually lays over 450 miles from the nearest coast.

This cienega, or desert-wetlands (an ecosystem so unusual that its name sounds like a contradiction), lies instead near a massive swimming pool and lake, all fed by clusters of freshwater springs that include the deepest underwater cave ever discovered in the U.S., stretching far under the desert’s dry sands.

Famous as “the oasis of West Texas,” Balmorhea State Park now hosts over 150,000 visitors a year, drawn by the chance to swim in the cool waters of the park’s crystal-blue pool, which is fed by up to 28 million gallons of water a day flowing from the San Solomon springs. The pool’s steady 72 to 76 degree Fahrenheit temperatures make the waters temptingly cool in the hot Texas summer and surprisingly warm in the winter, locals say — part of the reason it’s been called “the crown jewel of the desert.”

This remote locale also boasts some of America’s darkest night skies, allowing scientists and tourists alike to peer at far-off galaxies and to closely examine distant parts of the universe through the powerful telescopes at the nearby McDonald Observatory.

Iconic Texas wildlife — diamondback rattlesnakes, road-runners, and javelina — stir in the underbrush. And they’re not alone. Unique animals, including multiple endangered species, have adapted specifically to live in or near these springs’ desert waters, which in recent years have not only kept tourism thriving but also irrigated fields of crops and provided drinking water for the roughly 500 residents of Balmorhea, Reeves County, Texas. 

The wild desert surrounding the springs here looks virtually nothing like it does further east, in the Permian Basin, where the oil industry has been in the midst of the nation’s biggest shale drilling frenzy.

Drivers on the interstate can smell oil in the air before they even see the oilfields outside Midland, Texas. From the mesquite and cactus-dotted plains atop the Permian Basin, over 2 million barrels of oil a day are pumped out of the ground. Dense fields of thousands of oil pump-jacks line roadsides, extracting fossil fuel from wells that are sometimes less than a football field apart.

But attempts to drill for oil here by the oasis at the foot of the Davis mountain range usually turned up dry holes. Until now.

In September, Apache Corp. announced a major new oil and gas find in Reeves County, a claimed $80 billion discovery that could turn the region’s fate on its head.

This has locals, who have seen what happens to people’s air, water, and communities when deserts are transformed into oil fields, worried.

“I just wanted y’all to see it before it happens,” said Paul Matta, 47, a school board member who works for the local housing authority and suspects his way of life will disappear with the arrival of heavy industry in his quiet town, a grid of brightly painted homes, tourist shops, and a single restaurant.…—Sharon Kelly, “‘Biggest Oil Find’ of 2016 Puts Crown Jewel Texas Oasis in Crosshairs for Fracking,” DeSmogBlog, 2/1/17


Why Environmentalists Are So Worried About Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

Neil Gorsuch was named Tuesday night as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

For environmentalists worried about future Supreme Court decisions on climate change, the biggest difference between Donald Trump‘s nominee to the court and Barack Obama’s boils down to one word, Chevron.

Neil Gorsuch, chosen by Trump to fill the vacancy of Antonin Scalia, is seen as a steadfast foe of the Chevron standard. That principle says courts should defer to federal regulatory agencies when the regulators are carrying out laws that are ambiguous. In contrast to Gorsuch, Merrick Garland, nominated last year by Obama but stymied by Senate Republicans, adhered closely to the standard.

Chevron is one of the pillars of modern regulatory law, and it matters greatly to climate change activists because it has provided the Environmental Protection Agency considerable leeway in using the Clean Air Act to control carbon dioxide pollution.

Its significance will be stark when the Supreme Court considers the fate of the Clean Power Plan in the next year or so. The rule is a pillar of Obama’s climate policies, but Trump has vowed to discard it. Just before Scalia died, the Supreme Court put it on hold and a federal appeals court is reviewing it. It’s the next big test of the Chevron doctrine.

Ever since a Democratic-controlled Congress failed to pass a climate bill early in Obama’s presidency, attempts to regulate emissions have hinged on the executive branch’s interpretations of existing law. That would be a lot easier to do with Chevron in place than without it.

Chevron is the main reason that climate hawks reacted as they did to the Gorsuch nomination.

“A review of Gorsuch’s writings and decisions indicate that he would seek to overturn well-established Supreme Court precedents and prevent the federal government from enforcing bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act,” said EarthJustice, the green litigation group.

The Center for American Progress, which supported Obama’s policies, warned: “Gorsuch wants to give unelected judges more power to strike down federal regulations that protect consumers and the environment.”

It’s a fair, if somewhat simplistic, interpretation of his record.                   

In one widely noted opinion on an immigration case, Gorsuch wrote that the Chevron standard “certainly seems to have added prodigious new powers to an already titanic administrative state.”

One remarkable thing about Gorsuch’s view is that it doesn’t just rebalance power away from the executive branch and back to the legislative branch. Congressional Republicans, already on an anti-regulatory spree, would cheer that.

Rather, it shifts the ultimate power of interpretation to the judicial branch. Gorsuch calls Chevron an “abdication of judicial duty.” And that duty is to “interpret the law and declare invalid agency actions inconsistent with those interpretations.”…—John Cushman, “Why Environmentalists Are So Worried About Trump’s Supreme Court Pick,” InsideClimate News, 2/1/17


Visualizing the True Cost of Oil Pipelines

Click for full size view

…While supporters of DAPL argue that leaks are rare, the potential damage of even a small spill might outweigh its relative unlikelihood. Back in December, reporters at Undark published a thoughtful and revealing breakdown of this topic, including an interactive visualization of all 1,300 spills that have occurred throughout the U.S. since 2010.

In a lesser known parallel to the Standing Rock resistance, the Keystone XL project has also encountered strong opposition from indigenous communities. The origin of the pipeline is located in Alberta, Canada, where lands long inhabited by several First Nations tribes have been compromised in order to expand the so-called tar sands, a type of mine rich in tar-like oil known as bitumen.

The graphics below, from a July 2013 article in Scientific American, show where the tar sands are located and how they are mined for oil, at significant cost to the environment. (It’s worth noting that, while tar sands expansion and mining are already ongoing, they could be stalled if Keystone XL ultimately fails.)…—Amanda Montañez, “Visualizing the True Cost of Oil Pipelines,” Scientific American Blog Network, 2/6/17


And That’s A Wrap! Much appreciate all the notices, alerts and news coming in from sister organizations! Send your news and notices, along with heart-shaped box of chocolate-covered cherries, to Banner@WeAreSeecaLake.com!