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!
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.”
- If you’d like to make a donation by credit card, find our Donate button in the upper right corner of our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/WeAreSenecaLake/app/137541772984354/ ;or at our web site www.wearesenecalake.com.
- If you prefer a check, make it out to “We Are Seneca Lake” and mail it to WASL, PO Box 914, Trumansburg, NY 14886.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments Needed on New Gas Storage Rules!
Dear Gas Free Seneca Supporter:
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:
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
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
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.”…
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
…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
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