In battle to restore power after Ida, a tent city rises

Associated Press

In battle to restore power after Ida, a tent city rises

Rebecca Santana September 24, 2021

Bryan Willis, of Stilwell, Okla., an electrical worker for Ozarks Electric, looks at his phone before going to bed in a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers congregate in the evening after parking their trucks after a day's work at a tent city in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. In the wake of hurricanes, one of the most common and comforting sites is the thousands of electric workers who flow into a battered region when the winds die down to restore power and a sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Brian Ramshur, an electrical worker for Sparks Energy, climbs a power pole to restore power lines running through a marsh, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers install guy wires for a new utility pole in a marsh in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Josiah Goodman, left, and Austin Fleetwood, of Berryville, Ark. workers for Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation, walk with a rainbow above them, through a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers make their beds in a tent city in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Signs mark a clothes drop in a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Josh Anderson, Minneapolis, Minn., an electrical worker for Sparks Energy, eats a dinner in a cafeteria of a tent city for electrical workers, in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Workers watch TV and eat dinner in the cafeteria of a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Workers bunk down for the night in a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Caterer Tony Faul, center, works with Kaleb Boullion, left, and Haven Doucet as they prepare breakfast inside a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Workers gas up rows of trucks after a day's work at a tent city in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When Ida came ashore on Aug. 29, it knocked out power to about 1.1 million customers in the state. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Workers from Southwest Arkansas Electric, of Texarkana, Ark., relax on their truck after a day's work, inside a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. In the wake of hurricanes, one of the most common and comforting sites is the thousands of electric workers who flow into a battered region when the winds die down to restore power and a sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers ride through marsh in a marsh buggy to restore power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges like just getting out to some of the areas where power poles and lines need to be fixed. In some areas lines thread through thick swamps that can only be accessed by air boat or specialized equipment like a marsh buggy. Linemen don waders to climb into chest-high muddy waters also home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A home is so damaged it will not be able to receive power once it is restored, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Dulac, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Shannon Beebe, an electrical worker for Sparks Energy, arrives in a marsh buggy to restore power lines running through a marsh in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers for Sparks Energy ride in a marsh buggy to restore power lines running through a marsh in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Electrical workers ride through marsh in an airboat to restore power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Houma, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Utility poles are loaded onto trucks at dawn before heading out to restore power, at a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. In the wake of hurricanes, one of the most common and comforting sites is the thousands of electric workers who flow into a battered region when the winds die down to restore power and a sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A worker straps down utility poles that were just loaded on their truck before they head out to restore power at dawn, at a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. In the wake of hurricanes, one of the most common and comforting sites is the thousands of electric workers who flow into a battered region when the winds die down to restore power and a sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A worker stands by to guide a spool of electrical wire being loaded onto his truck before heading out at dawn, inside a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

1 / 21

APTOPIX Hurricane Ida Restoring Electricity

Bryan Willis, of Stilwell, Okla., an electrical worker for Ozarks Electric, looks at his phone before going to bed in a tent city for electrical workers in Amelia, La., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)MoreREBECCA SANTANASeptember 24, 2021

AMELIA, La. (AP) — When Hurricane Ida was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the grass was chest high and the warehouse empty at this lot in southeastern Louisiana. Within days, electric officials transformed it into a bustling “tent city” with enormous, air-conditioned tents for workers, a gravel parking lot for bucket trucks and a station to resupply crews restoring power to the region.

In the wake of hurricanes, one of the most common and comforting sites is the thousands of electric workers who flow into a battered region when the winds die down to restore power and a sense of normalcy. They need to sleep somewhere. They need to eat. Their trucks need fuel. They need wires, ties and poles. And occasionally they need cigarettes. Power providers build tent cities like this to meet those needs.

“There’s three things a lineman wants: good food, cold bed, hot shower. If you can get those three, you can work,” says Matthew Peters, operations manager for South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, which built the tent city to house a peak of about 1,100 workers helping restore power to the cooperative’s customers.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-0/html/r-sf-flx.html

When Ida came ashore on Aug. 29, it knocked out power to about 1.1 million customers in the state. The vast majority have seen their power restored, but in a sign of the storm’s extent, thousands are still in the dark while downed lines are righted and substations repaired.

SLECA provides electricity to about 21,000 customers, including many in the hard-hit bayou regions. Power has been restored to about 81% of their coverage area with the remaining 19% in areas with the most catastrophic damage, said Joe Ticheli, general manager of the cooperative. After initially fearing full restoration of power could take months, estimates are now that it could happen by next week, Ticheli said.

Over a few short days, SLECA and a consulting firm transformed the location that used to be a hub for oil field manufacturer McDermott International into a temporary home for workers from across the country. Ticheli even appointed a mayor to make sure things run smoothly.

In one massive white tent, hundreds of cots are spread out; experienced workers bring their own inflatable mattresses. Another tent houses a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast starting about 5 a.m., dinner and boxed lunches that can be eaten out in the field. Tons of gravel was packed down on top of a grassy field so bucket trucks and other equipment — many flying American flags — can park.

At sunset, after workers park their trucks and head in to eat, shower and sleep, gasoline trucks drive up and down the rows, fueling the vehicles so no time is lost in the morning. Special treats — like cigarettes or steak night — help ease 16-hour workdays. Out-of-state crews are teamed with a local employee dubbed a “bird dog” who helps them.

Across the street is a warehouse where supplies such as transformers and wires are available. Outside, long wooden replacement poles wait to be loaded onto trucks.

Jordy Bourg, who runs the warehouse, said that right after the storm they had some supplies but immediately had to start ordering more. But like many things in the pandemic era, it’s been a challenge after Ida to get certain supplies.

Many people coming in to help have covered other disasters: Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Laura, ice storms in Arkansas and Texas. It’s good money, but more than that, they say it’s the feeling of restoring normalcy to someone who’s had everything stripped away from them. And many point out that the next disaster could easily be in their own backyard. Last year crews from SLECA went to southwest Louisiana when another Category 4 hurricane, Laura, slammed ashore there. This year, crews from southwest Louisiana came east to help.

“We’ve had a few storms hit back home and you kind of know how it is when you’ve been out of power,” said Robbie Davis, a lineman from Georgia. So many people in southeast Louisiana have no where to go, he said: “Out here, these folks’ homes got destroyed, businesses got destroyed.”

It can be dangerous work — two men believed to be electrocuted died helping restore power in Alabama.

The Louisiana terrain presents special challenges. In some areas, lines thread through thick swamps that can be accessed only by air boat or marsh buggy, which looks like a cross between a tank and a pontoon boat. Workers don waders to climb into muddy, chest-high waters home to alligators and water moccasins.

“You only work in this kind of area when you’re in south Louisiana. I can assure you, you don’t get this anywhere else,” says Jon Hise, a Sparks Energy foreman working with a crew in Houma to reset power lines. “It’s nasty. It’s chest deep. You can’t walk because the growth.”

As SLECA staff work to restore power to their slice of southeastern Louisiana, they have also been struggling with hurricane damage themselves. The general manager wears clothes from the Salvation Army after his home was severely damaged and looted. Coworkers have helped each other tarp damaged roofs. The company is operating out of trailers in their Houma headquarters after Ida peeled off the roof. Bourg is living in a trailer with his wife and two Boston terriers — his kids are staying with his in-laws — after Ida wrecked his house.

There’s also the toll of seeing large swaths of their coverage area so utterly destroyed. For many, getting power is just the first step in a long rebuilding process. Peters gets emotional when he talks of the dedication of his staff as well as the damage he’s seen among longtime customers.

“We’ve had storms before,” he said. “But the devastation was nothing of this magnitude.”

Moderna vs. Pfizer: Both Knockouts, but One Seems to Have the Edge

Moderna vs. Pfizer: Both Knockouts, but One Seems to Have the Edge

Pfizer-BioNTech, left, and Moderna COVID-19 doses ready for patients at Cornerstone Pharmacy in Little Rock, Ark., on March 8, 2021. (Rory Doyle/The New York Times)
Pfizer-BioNTech, left, and Moderna COVID-19 doses ready for patients at Cornerstone Pharmacy in Little Rock, Ark., on March 8, 2021. (Rory Doyle/The New York Times)

 

It was a constant refrain from federal health officials after the coronavirus vaccines were authorized: These shots are all equally effective.

That has turned out not to be true.

Roughly 221 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been dispensed thus far in the United States, compared with about 150 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. In a half-dozen studies published over the past few weeks, Moderna’s vaccine appeared to be more protective than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the months after immunization.

Research published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against hospitalization fell from 91% to 77% after a four-month period following the second shot. The Moderna vaccine showed no decline over the same period.

If the efficacy gap continues to widen, it may have implications for the debate on booster shots. Federal agencies this week are evaluating the need for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for some high-risk groups, including older adults.

Scientists who were initially skeptical of the reported differences between the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have slowly become convinced that the disparity is small but real.

“Our baseline assumption is that the mRNA vaccines are functioning similarly, but then you start to see a separation,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s not a huge difference, but at least it’s consistent.”

But the discrepancy is small and the real-world consequences uncertain, because both vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization, she and others cautioned.

“Yes, likely a real difference, probably reflecting what’s in the two vials,” said John Moore, a virus expert at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “But truly, how much does this difference matter in the real world?”

“It’s not appropriate for people who took Pfizer to be freaking out that they got an inferior vaccine.”

Even in the original clinical trials of the three vaccines eventually authorized in the United States — made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — it was clear that the J&J vaccine had a lower efficacy than the other two. Research since then has borne out that trend, although J&J announced this week that a second dose of its vaccine boosts its efficacy to levels comparable to the others.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines rely on the same mRNA platform, and in the initial clinical trials, they had remarkably similar efficacy against symptomatic infection: 95% for Pfizer-BioNTech and 94% for Moderna. This was in part why they were described as more or less equivalent.

The subtleties emerged over time. The vaccines have never been directly compared in a carefully designed study, so the data indicating that effects vary are based mostly on observations.

Results from those studies can be skewed by any number of factors, including the location, the age of the population vaccinated, when they were immunized and the timing between the doses, Dean said.

For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was rolled out weeks before Moderna’s to priority groups — older adults and health care workers. Immunity wanes more quickly in older adults, so a decline observed in a group consisting mostly of older adults may give the false impression that the protection from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine falls off quickly.

Given those caveats, “I’m not convinced that there truly is a difference,” said Dr. Bill Gruber, a senior vice president at Pfizer. “I don’t think there’s sufficient data out there to make that claim.”

But by now, the observational studies have delivered results from a number of locations — Qatar, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, several other states in the United States — and in health care workers, hospitalized veterans or the general population.

Moderna’s efficacy against severe illness in those studies ranged from 92% to 100%. Pfizer-BioNTech’s numbers trailed by 10 to 15 percentage points.

The two vaccines have diverged more sharply in their efficacy against infection. Protection from both waned over time, particularly after the arrival of the delta variant, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s values fell lower. In two of the recent studies, the Moderna vaccine did better at preventing illness by more than 30 percentage points.

A few studies found that the levels of antibodies produced by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were one-third to one-half those produced by the Moderna vaccine. Yet that decrease is trivial, Moore said: For comparison, there is a more than 100-fold difference in the antibody levels among healthy individuals.

Still, other experts said that the corpus of evidence pointed to a disparity that would be worth exploring, at least in people who respond weakly to vaccines, including older adults and immuno-compromised people.

“At the end of the day, I do think there are subtle but real differences between Moderna and Pfizer,” Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, an immunologist and physician at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville who was a co-author of one such study, published in JAMA Network Open this month. “In high-risk populations, it might be relevant. It’d be good if people took a close look.”

“Pfizer is a big hammer,” Wilson added, but “Moderna is a sledgehammer.”

Several factors might underlie the divergence. The vaccines differ in their dosing and in the time between the first and second doses.

Vaccine manufacturers would typically have enough time to test a range of doses before choosing one — and they have done such testing for their trials of the coronavirus vaccine in children.

But in the midst of a pandemic last year, the companies had to guess at the optimal dose. Pfizer went with 30 micrograms, Moderna with 100.

Moderna’s vaccine relies on a lipid nanoparticle, which can deliver the larger dose. And the first and second shots of that vaccine are staggered by four weeks, compared with three for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The extra week may give immune cells more time to proliferate before the second dose, said Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer. “We need to keep studying this and to do more research, but I think it’s plausible.”

Moderna’s team recently showed that a half dose of the vaccine still sent antibody levels soaring. Based on those data, the company asked the FDA this month to authorize 50 micrograms, the half dose, as a booster shot.

There is limited evidence showing the effect of that dose, and none on how long the higher antibody levels might last. Federal regulators are reviewing Moderna’s data to determine whether the available data are sufficient to authorize a booster shot of the half dose.

Ultimately, both vaccines are still holding steady against severe illness and hospitalization, especially in people younger than 65, Moore said.

Scientists had initially hoped that the vaccines would have an efficacy of 50% or 60%. “We would have all seen that as great result and been happy with it,” he said. “Fast forward to now, and we’re debating whether 96.3% vaccine efficacy for Moderna versus 88.8% for Pfizer is a big deal.”

‘We were them:’ Vietnamese Americans help Afghan refugees

Associated Press

‘We were them:’ Vietnamese Americans help Afghan refugees

 

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) — In the faces of Afghans desperate to leave their country after U.S. forces withdrew, Thuy Do sees her own family, decades earlier and thousands of miles away.

A 39-year-old doctor in Seattle, Washington, Do remembers hearing how her parents sought to leave Saigon after Vietnam fell to communist rule in 1975 and the American military airlifted out allies in the final hours. It took years for her family to finally get out of the country, after several failed attempts, and make their way to the United States, carrying two sets of clothes a piece and a combined $300. When they finally arrived, she was 9 years old.

These stories and early memories drove Do and her husband Jesse Robbins to reach out to assist Afghans fleeing their country now. The couple has a vacant rental home and decided to offer it up to refugee resettlement groups, which furnished it for newly arriving Afghans in need of a place to stay.

“We were them 40 years ago,” Do said. “With the fall of Saigon in 1975, this was us.”

Television images of Afghans vying for spots on U.S. military flights out of Kabul evoked memories for many Vietnamese Americans of their own attempts to escape a falling Saigon more than four decades ago. The crisis in Afghanistan has reopened painful wounds for many of the country’s 2 million Vietnamese Americans and driven some elders to open up about their harrowing departures to younger generations for the first time.

It has also spurred many Vietnamese Americans to donate money to refugee resettlement groups and raise their hands to help by providing housing, furniture and legal assistance to newly arriving Afghans. Less tangible but still essential, some also said they want to offer critical guidance they know refugees and new immigrants need: how to shop at a supermarket, enroll kids in school and drive a car in the United States.

Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have come to the United States, settling in communities from California to Virginia. Today, Vietnamese Americans are the sixth-largest immigrant group in the United States. Many settled in California’s Orange County after arriving initially at the nearby Camp Pendleton military base and today have a strong voice in local politics.

“We lived through this and we can’t help but feel that we are brethren in our common experience,” Andrew Do, who fled Saigon with his family a day before it fell to communism and today chairs the county’s board of supervisors, said during a recent press conference in the area known as “Little Saigon.”

The U.S. had long announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. But the final exit was much more frantic, with more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members killed in an attack on the Kabul airport.

In the last two weeks of August, the U.S. evacuated 31,000 people from Afghanistan, three-quarters of them Afghans who supported American military efforts during the extensive operations. But many Afghan allies were left behind with no clear way out of the landlocked nation under strict Taliban control.

Similarly, many Vietnamese Americans recall how they couldn’t get out before the impending fall of Saigon to communism. They stayed behind and faced long spells in reeducation camps in retaliation for their allegiance to the Americans who had fought in their country. Once they were allowed to return to their families, many Vietnamese left and took small boats onto the seas, hoping to escape and survive.

For some families, the journey took years and many failed attempts, which is why many Vietnamese Americans view the departure of the U.S. military from Afghanistan not as the end of the crisis, but the beginning.

“We have to remember now is the time to lay a foundation for a humanitarian crisis that may last long past the moment the last U.S. help leaves the Afghan space,” said Thanh Tan, a Seattle filmmaker who started a group for Vietnamese Americans seeking to assist Afghans called Viets4Afghans. Her own family, she said, made the trip four years after the U.S. left Vietnam. “We have to be prepared because people will do whatever it takes to survive.”

Afghans arriving in the United States may have a special status for those who supported U.S. military operations, or may have been sponsored to come by relatives already here. Others are expected to arrive as refuges or seek permission to travel to the United States under a process known as humanitarian parole and apply for asylum or other legal protection once they are here.

For parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Vietnamese Americans have signed up to sponsor people they have never met, said Tuấn ĐinhJanelle, director of field at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. He said a coalition of legal and community groups has secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. His sister, Vy Dinh, said she’s sponsoring a family of 10 including women in danger for working in medicine and teaching. “As soon as he called, I said, ‘Yes, I am in,’” she said.

Other efforts have focused on fundraising for refugee resettlement groups. Vietnamese and Afghan American artists held a benefit concert this month in Southern California to raise money to assist Afghan refugees. The event titled “United for Love” was broadcast on Vietnamese language television and raised more than $160,000, according to Saigon Broadcasting Television Network.

It also aired on Afghan American satellite television, said Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan American advocate and spokesperson for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign aimed at supporting asylum seekers. “They saw the need. They saw the parallels,” Askaryar said. “It’s really powerful to see that they saw that link of common humanity between the Afghan community and the Vietnamese community. We’ve been really touched and inspired.”

Thi Do, an immigration attorney in Sacramento, California, said he is also doing what he can to help. He was a boy when Saigon fell and his father, who served in the South Vietnamese army, was sent to a reeducation camp. When he returned, the family set out by boat into the ocean, hoping to reach a country that would take them.

Do remembers how the boat bumped up against dead bodies floating on the water and how his father apologized for putting him and his siblings in danger before throwing overboard his ID and keys from Vietnam. “’He said, ‘I would rather die here than go back there,’” Do said. They eventually reached Thailand and Malaysia, both countries that forced them back out to sea until they got to Indonesia and were processed at a refugee camp.

Decades later, Do said he has helped people fleeing persecution in his work as a lawyer, but until now nothing that has reminded him so much of Vietnam. He’s working with Afghan families who are filing petitions to bring their relatives here, but what happens next is complicated with no U.S. embassy in Kabul to process the papers and no guarantee the relatives will make it to a third country to get them.

“I see a lot of myself in those children who were running on the tarmac at the airport,” he said.

Killed ‘for defending our planet’: Latin America is deadliest place for environmentalists

Killed ‘for defending our planet’: Latin America is deadliest place for environmentalists

 

MEXICO CITY — Diana Gabriela Aranguren could not believe what the news was saying. She looked at the TV screen over and over, trying to understand how it was possible that her friend had been killed.

“He had just made a post on Facebook at 6 p.m. to participate in an activity and a bit later, the tragedy came on the news,” Aranguren, a teacher and environmental activist, said about the death of Oscar Eyraud Adams, an Indigenous Mexican activist and leader who was killed on Sept. 24, 2020, in Tecate, Baja California.

Eyraud Adams fought for the water rights of the Indigenous Kumiai, who have been affected by the excessive use of the region’s aquifers by large beer and wine companies.

His social media post, which were the last words he wrote, was a call for an event called “Looking for rain in the desert.”

A group of armed men entered his residence and shot him dead; the only thing they took was his cellphone and a notebook with his notes. At least 13 bullet casings, of different calibers, were found by authorities at the crime scene.

The case of Eyraud Adams, and many others, are chronicled in “Last Line of Defence: The industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders,” the latest report from Global Witness, an environmental rights organization which is calling out the increase in attacks against activists.

“You never think that defending our right to water and life will lead to death,” Aranguren said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo. “In Mexico, the people who defend their territory and natural resources are being killed, they make us disappear and they criminalize us.”

In 2020, there were 227 deadly attacks, an increase in the historical figures since 2019, the deadliest year for environmental activists, with 212 murders.

The most chilling data is in Latin America, where 165 deaths took place — three-quarters of the attacks.

Almost 3 out of 4 attacks occurred in the region, which includes 7 of the 10 deadliest countries.

Colombia, with 65 deaths, and Mexico, with 30, lead the world ranking of murders of land and environmental defenders. Other countries with worrying figures are Brazil and Honduras, with 20 and 17 murders, respectively.

Killed ‘for defending our planet’

At least 30 percent of the attacks are related to the exploitation of resources in activities such as logging, the construction of hydroelectric dams, mining projects and large-scale agribusiness.

“The people who are killed every year for defending their local populations were also defending the planet we share. In particular, our climate. Activities that flood our atmosphere with carbon, such as fossil fuel extraction and deforestation, are at the center of many of these murders,” environmentalist and author Bill McKibben wrote in Spanish in the report’s foreword.

The logging and deforestation industry is linked to the highest number of murders in 2020, with 23 cases recorded in countries such as Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines.

Global Witness claims its data doesn’t reflect “the true dimension of the problem” because restrictions on press freedom and coercive tactics such as death threats, illegal surveillance, intimidation, sexual violence and criminalization can contribute to an underreporting of assaults.

Colombia and Mexico lead in killings

According to the organization, since the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, an average of four environmental defenders have been killed each week.

For the second consecutive year, Colombia registered the highest number of activists killed, totaling 65 executions. The attacks occurred in “the context of generalized attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders,” the report stated. “In many of the most remote areas, paramilitary and criminal groups increased their control through the exercise of violence.”

Almost half of the country’s homicides were against people engaged in small-scale agriculture and a third of the activists were Indigenous or Afro-Colombians.

The entrance to Kumiai territory in Juntas de Nejí, Baja California. (Felipe Luna / Global Witness)
The entrance to Kumiai territory in Juntas de Nejí, Baja California. (Felipe Luna / Global Witness)

Countries used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to implement repressive methods against their populations — “an opportunity to take drastic measures against civil society while companies advanced with destructive projects,” the researchers state.

The closures and quarantines made it easier to locate activists, “and that is why many of the homicides were perpetrated in their homes or in their surroundings,” Lourdes Castro, coordinator of the Somos Defensores program, said in an interview with Mongabay Latam.

“Paradoxically, the violent people had the possibility to walk freely through the territories,” Castro said.

Another worrying case is the situation for Mexican activists. Global Witness registered 30 lethal attacks in Mexico, which represents an increase of 67 percent compared to 2019 when 18 deaths were counted.

“Forest exploitation was linked to almost a third of these attacks and half of all attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities,” the researchers said. Moreover, most of them go unpunished, since 95 percent of murders in the country don’t result in a legal case.

Gabriela Carreón, human rights manager of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Cemda), said 2020 was the most violent year for environmental activists during the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

As of July, Cemda has registered 14 murders against environmental activists. That same month, the Mexican Ministry of the Interior acknowledged that at least 68 human rights defenders and 43 journalists have been assassinated so far during López Obrador’s tenure.

Fighting the hellish heat in Baja California

Heat kills in the Mexican state of Baja California. In 2019, at least eight heat-related deaths were recorded in Mexicali, the state’s capital; in 2020 they were 83.

“In the last 70 years, the temperature in Mexico has a clear and conclusive increasing trend,” Jorge Zavala Hidalgo, general coordinator of the National Meteorological Service, told Noticias Telemundo. “In the last decade it has increased very rapidly and that rise is even higher than the average for the planet.”

The slain environmental activist, Eyraud Adams, had lived through the region’s searing temperatures and lack of water.

In 2017, he had opposed the installation of the Constellation Brands brewery, which according to the company would use about 1.8 billion gallons a year for their production.

“Big companies have access to water much easier. This is not fair because we need water to survive,” Eyraud Adams had said, his comments quoted in the report. He promoted solutions to guarantee the preservation of water resources for the Kumiai and avoid the exodus of young people from the region.

“He helped us make what is happening in Baja California visible, but he paid for it with his life,” said his friend Aranguren, who is part of Mexicali Resiste, an environmental rights organization.

“It is sad because these murders take away our children’s future security,” she said.

“We feel great fear because we have to keep fighting. There are still megaprojects in this area that take away our water,” Aranguren said. “But if we don’t protest, no one will come to help us.”

Fact that one-third of US was hit with extreme weather event this summer is a red flag: Energy Secretary

Fact that one-third of US was hit with extreme weather event this summer is a red flag: Energy Secretary

Akiko Fujita, Anchor/Reporter             September 20, 2021

 

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Monday, extreme weather events this summer have elevated the urgency with which the Biden administration tackles the climate crisis.

But, with less than two months to go until the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), she said the administration has no plans to boost its ambitions to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels, by the end of this decade.

“The fact that one-third of the country has experienced an extreme climate related event this summer, whether it is wildfires, or hurricanes, or droughts or whatever, that is the exclamation point that we hope that the rest of the country sees the urgency of the moment,” said Granholm in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. “[The plan to slash emissions] is a really hard goal. And it’s going to require a full effort, not just all of government, but all of the economy.”

The continued call for climate action comes on the heels of a summer marked by extreme weather events.

Nearly 1-in-3 Americans have been affected by extreme weather in the last three months, according to a Washington Post analysis. Nearly 400 people have died from hurricanes, floods, and heat waves, based on media reports and government data obtained by the Post.

With less than two months to go until global leaders gather at the COP 26 in Glasgow, Granholm, along with other administration officials, are looking to capitalize on the urgency of the moment, to pressure lawmakers to pass key climate legislation in Congress.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill calls for investments in clean energy, including $7.5 billion to build out a national network for electric vehicle chargers, and $27 billion for essential transmission investments. The Democratic reconciliation bill, with a $3.5 trillion price tag, calls for a $150 billion investment for a clean electricity standard.

“We would get to the number of 100% clean electricity by 2035, if we have the right policy pieces in place,” Granholm said.

The Department of Energy’s proposed Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP, establishes clean energy tax incentives by providing grants or payments to utility companies based on the amount of renewable energy the firm supplies to customers. That, combined with a methane fee would accelerate the shift to clean energy, in line with the timeline set out by the Biden administration, said Granholm.

“There’s both a regulatory side and there’s a market side, and sometimes the market side is even more powerful, because all of these countries as well as other companies have goals to be able to reduce their own carbon dioxide footprints,” Granholm said.

But, recent studies show market-based pressure has done little to change the behavior of U.S. oil and gas majors. A report by financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative points to continued investments in major oil and gas projects are inconsistent with the goals of the Paris Climate agreement. Despite that, Granholm said the administration has no plans to introduce a carbon tax, saying the preference is to incentive action, instead of penalizing inaction.

“We think the most effective tool is the one that we have laid out, which is to incentivize the utilities to purchase the right ingredients to be able to get to that clean electricity goal,” she said. “I understand certainly that a carbon tax is something people have been talking about for a long time. It’s just not this administration’s preferred way of moving.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance.

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

Texas governor greg abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott removing his mask before speaking at a news conference about migrant children detentions. L.M. Otero/AP 

  • A Texas restaurant owner kicked a family out of his shop for wearing face masks.
  • The family said they were wearing masks because their son is immuno-compromised.
  • The owner said he didn’t know about the child’s status, but he’d continue to enforce the mask ban.

A Texas restaurant owner booted a family wearing masks to protect their immuno-compromised son, saying it was “political,” CBS DFW reported.

Natalie Wester and her husband brought their 4-month-old son to Hang Time, a restaurant and bar in Rowlett, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. Wester told CBS DFW that her son is immuno-compromised, leading the couple to don masks inside the venue out of precaution.

Hang Time’s owner didn’t approve.

Wester said their waitress approached the family at the behest of the restaurant owner and said, “This is political, and I need you to take your mask off.”

“I feel the overall reaction with masks is ridiculous in the United States right now,” Hang Time’s owner said.

The owner told CBS DFW that going maskless was part of the restaurant’s dress code, and that he had the right to refuse to serve customers breaking his rules.

But Hang Times’ anti-masking dress code wasn’t posted outside of the restaurant, CBS DFW reported.

The restaurant owner told CBS DFW that he didn’t know the Westers’ son was immuno-compromised but said he’d continue to enforce Hang Time’s no-masking policy.

Sea-level rise becoming a hazard for suburban South Florida neighborhoods far from ocean

Sea-level rise becoming a hazard for suburban South Florida neighborhoods far from ocean

 

Sea-level rise may appear to be a problem only for coastal residents, a hazard that comes with the awesome views and easy access to the beach.

But neighborhoods 20 miles inland are starting to feel the impact, as the Atlantic Ocean’s higher elevation makes it harder for drainage canals to keep them dry. The problem showed up last year in Tropical Storm Eta, when floodwater remained in southwest Broward neighborhoods for days, partly because the elevated ocean blocked canals from draining the region.

“It was pretty scary,” said Barb Besteni, who lives in far west Miramar. “I stepped out of house into ankle-deep water. It came three-fourths up the driveway. I’d never seen the water that high. It was scary because I didn’t know if it was going to continue to rise.”

Although her house in the Sunset Lakes community stands at the edge of the Everglades, the Atlantic’s higher elevation prevented it from draining as efficiently as in the past.

“It took a very, very long time to recede,” she said. “Two or three weeks to recede to normal levels.”

The Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale flooded from overnight storms from Tropical Storm Eta, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.
The Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale flooded from overnight storms from Tropical Storm Eta, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.

The South Florida Water Management District, which operates the big canals that sweep water into the ocean, submitted a funding request to the state this week for fixing the system, with the preliminary list of projects carrying a price tag of more than $1.5 billion. Although expensive, the pumps and other improvements would help restore the efficiency of a system built after World War II that has become more difficult to operate at a time of rising sea levels.

“When ocean water is higher, we cannot discharge, so we close the gates to avoid ocean water coming inside,” said Carolina Maran, district resiliency officer for the South Florida Water Management District. “During Eta, it was much higher than normal. And that means again that we cannot discharge to the ocean and that diminished our capacity to prevent and address flooding.”

A tropical storm overwhelms flood-control systems

Although there’s never a great time to endure 15-plus inches of rain, Tropical Storm Eta struck South Florida at a particularly challenging period.

The ground already had been saturated by previous storms. And coastal waters were undergoing a king tide, a phenomenon that occurs when the positions of sun and moon combine to produce the highest tides of the year. As sea levels rise, king tides get higher.

The wide canals that run through Broward and Miami-Dade counties, carrying rainwater to the ocean, depend partly on gravity. When rainwater raises the level of the canal on the inland side, water managers lift the gate dividing it from the ocean side of the canal and the water flows away, eventually reaching the Atlantic.

But when the Atlantic side is high, there may be no difference in elevations between each side of the gate, so when it’s lifted, the water doesn’t move. Or worse, the Atlantic side could be higher, so lifting the gate would allow ocean water to pour inland.

This is a view of the S-199 pump station for the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, which is part of the South Florida Water Management. The project will provide ecosystem restoration of freshwater wetlands, tidal wetlands and near-shore habitat as well as flood protection maintenance and recreational opportunities.

During Tropical Storm Eta, staffers at the South Broward Drainage District found themselves consulting tide charts to determine when they could open the gates and discharge water.

“We had to close our gate because the downstream gets equal to our upstream,” said Kevin Hart, district director of the South Broward Drainage District, which operates the canal system that feeds into the larger canals that drain into the ocean. “We don’t want to drain in, we want to drain out. We’ve got to close our gate.

“We were looking at tide charts — Low tides going to be at 2 o’clock and at 5 or 6 we can see the levels dropping and open our gate again.”

South Florida’s aging flood-control system confronts sea-level rise

Constructed largely in the 1940s and 1950s, South Florida’s drainage system has been an efficient — some would say too efficient — system for keeping a once-swampy part of Florida dry.

The system contributed to the decline of the Everglades, at times flooding the area, at other times drying it out. But it accomplished what it was supposed to do, keeping the land dry for cities such as Pembroke Pines and Miramar by swiftly moving rainwater through a system of canals to the ocean.

But now that movement of water isn’t that swift and doesn’t always happen. As a result, people in cities without ocean views are finding that the water level of the Atlantic Ocean can affect their homes.

Although cities are installing pumps and other flood-control devices, they need capacity in the canals to get rid of the water.

“No matter what we do, if they don’t lower those canals so our water can escape, there’s nothing to be done,” said Angelo Castillo, a Pembroke Pines commissioner. “We can spend as much money as we want on drainage but if they can’t access the canals because the canals won’t take that capacity, nothing that we do in terms of conveying water faster to those canals will work.”

A flooded parking lot can be seen near T.J. Maxx in Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. Tropical Storm Eta made its way past South Florida Sunday night, leaving roads and neighborhoods flooded.

Sea levels have been rising at an accelerating rate, largely due to climate change caused by pollution from cars, power plants and other sources of heat-trapping gases. A NOAA study says global sea levels have gone up 3.4 inches from 1993 to 2019.

In South Florida, estimates from the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which represents local governments, call for sea levels to rise 10-17 inches above 2000 levels by 2040.

Hoping to revamp the system for an age of rising sea levels, the water management district has proposed improvements at 23 drainage structures in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. They range from southern Miami-Dade County to the Hillsboro Canal, which separates Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The major projects would be the addition of powerful pumps to allow water to be moved to the ocean side of the canal when the ocean is too high to move water by gravity. But these projects are expensive.

The improvements, assuming they go through, could help homeowners with their flood insurance bills. A better drainage system could hold down rates and reduce the number of properties required to get flood insurance.

The water management district is seeking federal and state money for the work. As soon as the first funding comes through, the district plans to start designing the new pumps and other improvement for water-control structures on the canal that drains southern Broward and the one that drains northeast Miami-Dade.

Jennifer Jurado, who oversees climate-change planning for Broward County, said the improvements will help prevent neighborhoods from flooding in future storms, but the region needs to come up with ways to keep as much water as possible rather than just pumping it away.

“It’s trying to ensure the system works at least as well as it was intended,” she said. “It’s a huge part of the fix. Our system can’t just pump it out. We have to be able to store as much of it as we can because the rain that falls is the rain we use for our water supply. We need to capture and store that water, in addition to providing flood relief.

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.

Cleanup of abandoned mines could get boost, relieving rivers

Cleanup of abandoned mines could get boost, relieving rivers

 

This March 7, 2016 photo provided by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality shows a polluted Belt Creek in Montana. The state plans to build a plant to treat acid mine drainage from an old coal mine that is polluting Belt Creek, sometimes causing it to turn a rusty color and harming the trout fishery. (Tom Henderson/Montana Department of Environmental Quality via AP)
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Thousands of abandoned coal mines in the U.S. have been polluting rivers and streams for decades, in some cases harming fish and contaminating drinking water. Now efforts to finally clean up the sites could soon get a big boost.

 

Tucked into the Senate-passed infrastructure bill is $11.3 billion for the cleanup of defunct coal mines to be distributed over 15 years — money experts say would go a long way toward rehabilitating the sites that date back to before 1977. Cleanup efforts are currently funded by fees from coal mining companies, but that money has fallen far short of what’s needed to fix the problems.

“The next 15 years — if this passes — is literally a historic advancement in mine reclamation,” said Eric Dixon, a research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute.

In the past 40 years, only about a quarter of the damage has been cleaned up, he said.

Abandoned coal mines are concentrated along the Appalachian Mountains, with clusters also dotting the Midwest and Rocky Mountains. The sites can clog rivers with debris or pollute streams with harmful discharges caused by minerals exposed from mining, reducing fish populations and turning water brick red. Safety is another issue since people can topple into mineshafts and debris can fall from the mine’s high walls.

Fees from companies to clean up the sites are collected under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977, which sought to remedy the history of unregulated coal production that left abandoned mines around the country. Companies are now regulated so that sites are cleaned up once mining stops.

Among the states that need significant funding for mine cleanups are Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, according to the Interior Department.

Pennsylvania — which needs the most funding in the country — has 5,500 miles of streams with impaired water quality due to runoff from abandoned mines, according to state officials.

The problem has persisted for so long that some Pennsylvania residents are surprised when red streams in their backyard are finally cleaned up and change color, said John Stefanko of the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations in Pennsylvania.

“These are streams that you wouldn’t want to walk through,” he said, noting that the sediment from the mine runoff can come off on people.

Another worry is property damage. In 2019, for example, a collapsed tunnel entrance blocked water from escaping an abandoned mine in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County. State officials worried a rupture and deluge could threaten the houses downstream. Workers were able to fix the blocked tunnel.

The federal program that funds cleanups categorizes sites by priority, and those that pose a safety hazard to humans are bumped to the top of the list. Priority rankings can also rise if drinking water is affected. A site may be a lower priority if it only poses an environmental threat.

The infrastructure bill directs cleanup funds toward several priority groups.

Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor to the Interior Secretary, said clean water is essential for the economic growth that many Appalachian communities are pursuing.

“It’s really hard to convince people to stay in a community where they don’t think they’ll have access to clean drinking water,” she said.

Some environmentalists want the bill’s language changed to ensure money will also be available for the maintenance costs that are sometimes required for cleanup projects that address water quality.

A single abandoned mine site can pose multiple problems; U.S. officials estimate $10.6 billion in construction costs would be needed to fix the more than 20,000 problems nationwide. Dixon of the Ohio River Valley Institute puts the price tag at nearly $21 billion when factoring in inflation, project planning costs and other expenses.

Dixon also noted that the federal inventory is incomplete, since states do not have to document all abandoned sites that do not pose a health or safety risk to people, even if they’re environmentally damaging.

The infrastructure bill’s fate is tied to Congressional negotiations over a $3.5 trillion spending plan. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has praised the impact the funds could have on mine cleanups, but cast doubt on the size of the spending plan, complicating negotiations over the package.

The bill would also extend the fees coal companies pay into the fund until 2034, though at a reduced rate.

Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, said coal company executives “have never paid enough” to clean up the problems and that their fees alone are not enough to fix the sites.

Ashley Burke of the National Mining Association said bigger fees would harm coal companies and make them less competitive, but that the industry supports the extension of a reduced fee.

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

Supreme Court
  • The reputation of the Supreme Court is sinking.
  • After decisions like the Texas abortion case, the impartiality of the Court is in doubt.
  • The hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett admitted that the Supreme Court is crumbling as an institution.

Earlier this month, the newest justice gave a speech lamenting how the Court is viewed as partisan and warning that her fellow justices must be “hyper vigilant to make sure they’re not letting personal biases creep into their decisions.” She must know something we don’t.

These remarks may seem like a surprise. After all, Barrett was confirmed to the Court in a hyper-partisan process and gave the aforementioned speech at an event celebrating Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of the judicial system’s rightward turn. Despite the hypocrisy, or perhaps because of it, the comments struck a chord.

In an age of Republicans challenging legitimate election results because they lose or might lose, the credibility of the Court is the next hammer to fall in our democracy, the last bastion of hope for nonpartisan decision making.

But now the Court is rightfully losing public support as the veneer of impartiality slips, and the hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.

Partisan justice

Even as recently as a few years ago, the Supreme Court wasn’t as partisan as it is now. Support certainly started eroding when McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to seat President Obama’s final nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But there have been recent decisions that were, for lack of a better term, bipartisan. Justice Gorsuch joined four liberal justices to support Native American land claims in Oklahoma. In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court kept the Affordable Care Act intact.

As recently as a few months ago, Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts helped keep the eviction moratorium in place in a 5-4 ruling (though this was overturned a few months later in a separate case). Roberts, the Chief Justice who many believe is trying to keep the court as nonpartisan as possible, has often found himself siding with the liberal justices.

But, on issues important to many Americans, this facade of bipartisanship seems to be disappearing. First, the Supreme Court threw out the eviction moratorium they had so recently upheld, throwing millions of struggling Americans into uncertainty.

Then the death knell came a few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court blatantly signaled a willingness to overturn Roe vs. Wade by allowing a strict Texas anti-abortion law to go into effect. Though Roberts voted with the liberals in this decision, the other Republican-appointed justices essentially overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent.

Given the 6-3 Republican majority, it’s safe to assume we will see more decisions like this in the coming years. Though Roberts can play nonpartisan as much as he wants, the conservatives have a five-justice majority even without him and can rule on cases as they wish.

Votes, not words

The Republican strategy over many decades to focus on the court has paid off. They have turned to the court to legitimize gerrymandering and gut the Voting Rights Act, and justices like Barrett and Roberts have supported them.

Both of those justices are right to worry about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. They just need to realize they’re part of the problem of the legitimacy crisis.

Democrats have proposed many solutions to this problem, from expanding the court to adding term limits. But with those ideas stalled, once unthinkable national changes emanating from the Court are very much in play.

The Texas abortion decision is just the beginning. Roe could be overturned in full later this year. Even if Democrats passed many of the landmark bills they are currently debating, there is nothing stopping the conservative court from simply striking them down, declaring them “unconstitutional” under the pretenses of their choice.

Maybe Barrett will join Roberts in making a real effort to strike a more bipartisan tone. If she’s truly worried about the perception of the Court and how some of her colleagues consider matters, she has the opportunity to do something about it. But she needs to follow Roberts with her actions and join him in crossing party lines.

It’s her votes, not her words, that count. I’m not holding my breath.

California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves

California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves

 

THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — Flames on Sunday reached a grove of sequoia trees in California as firefighters battled to keep fire from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil.

Fire officials warned that hot, dry weather and stronger winds were contributing to “critical fire conditions” in the area of the KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked blazes that merged on the western side of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada.

The fire reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas. However, an Associated Press photographer saw active flames burning up a trunk, with the forest floor ablaze below.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, saying gusts and lower humidity could create conditions for rapid wildfire spread.

The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill town of about 2,500 people. Firefighters using bulldozers expanded a line between the fire and the community, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said Sunday.

More than 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) of forest land have been blackened.

The National Park Service said Friday that fire had reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.

Since then crews have managed to keep the flames from encroaching further into the area.

“The fire perimeter kind of wraps around the Giant Forest at this point,” Paterson said.

Firefighters swaddled the base of the General Sherman Tree, along with other trees in the Giant Forest, in a type of aluminum that can withstand high heat.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), according to the National Park Service. It towers 275 feet (84 meters) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 meters) at ground level.

Firefighters who were wrapping the base of the sequoias in foil and sweeping leaves and needles from the forest floor around the trees had to flee from the danger, fire spokesperson Katy Hooper said Saturday. They returned when conditions improved to continue the work and start a strategic fire along Generals Highway to protect the Giant Forest grove, she said.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.

“Once you get fire burning inside the tree, that will result in mortality,” said Jon Wallace, the operations section chief for the KNP Complex.

The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 200 feet (61 meters) feet tall and 2,000 years old.

To the south, the Windy Fire grew to 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument, where it has burned into the Peyrone grove of sequoias and threatens others.

Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

More than 7,000 wildfires in California this year have damaged or destroyed more than 3,000 homes and other buildings and torched well over 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) of land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

This story has corrected a reference to the General Sherman tree, which is the world’s largest by volume, not tallest.