How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico

Mother Jones

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico

This cool technique can rescue sea creatures and soil—so why aren’t more farmers using it?

Tom Philpott     July/August 2017 Issue

Pushart

If you pay state taxes in Maryland, you fund a program that gives farmers as much as $90 per acre—$22,500 annually for a typical corn operation—to plant a crop that’s not even intended for harvest. This absurd-sounding initiative cost the state’s coffers a cool $24 million in 2015.

Yet I come not to expose a government boon­doggle, but to praise an effort crucial to saving our most valuable fisheries. Let me explain.

From Iowa, the excess fertilizer heads downstream into the Mississippi, where it helps fuel an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that this year is the size of New Jersey, the largest ever recorded.

Every summer, an algal bloom stretches along the Chesapeake Bay, the most productive estuary in the continental United States. As the algae dies, it sucks oxygen from the water, suffocating or driving away marine life. Cleaning up the dead zones would lead to more productive fisheries, increased tourism, and higher property values—benefits that would total $22 billion per year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

What drives the algal blooms is what makes corn grow tall: nitrogen. The corn that farmers plant sucks up 50 percent or less of the nitrogen in the fertilizer they apply in the spring. But come harvest, there are no plants to absorb the excess, and so it leaches into streams and runs off into the bay—where it fertilizes a bumper crop of algae.

By paying farmers to plant a winter-­hardy crop like rye right after corn is harvested in the fall, Maryland is trying to solve that problem. The rye absorbs the excess nitrogen and is typically harvested in the spring—before it matures into an actual grain crop—to make way for corn and soybeans. The chaff is either tilled under or left as is; when farmers plant into it, the dead vegetation crowds out weeds.

The program owes its origins largely to a 1998 University of Maryland study that showed planting rye after corn reduced nitrate leaching by about 80 percent. When cover crops were used for seven straight seasons, the researchers found, the nitrate levels in the water table dropped by 50 percent or more. Now, more than half of all corn and soybean acres in Maryland are covered in the winter, keeping 3.4 million pounds of nitrogen out of the Chesapeake Bay.

Hundreds of miles to the west, clean-water advocates looked at Maryland’s success with envy. In Iowa, by far the nation’s No. 1 corn-­producing state, nitrogen doesn’t just threaten oysters. Runoff finds its way into wells and municipal drinking-water systems—and has been linked to birth defects, blood disorders, ovarian cancer, and thyroid problems. But the ill effects don’t end there. After it wreaks havoc in Iowa, the excess fertilizer heads downstream into the Mississippi, where it helps fuel an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that this year is the size of New Jersey, the largest ever recorded. That’s a major threat to a fishing area that’s more productive than the Chesapeake Bay.

Yet Iowa’s incentive program is much less generous than Maryland’s—it pays just $25 per acre, and sometimes only for the first year of planting. A recent analysis of satellite data by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Practical Farmers of Iowa found that roughly 600,000 acres, or 2.6 percent of the state’s corn and soybean fields, had cover crops over the 2015-16 winter. To make a significant impact on nitrate pollution, Iowa needs to cover 12.6 million acres.

That’s a daunting goal, but Sarah Carlson, a co-author of the study, notes that cover-crop acreage has grown dramatically since 2009. And nitrate levels in drinking-water systems like Des Moines’ have gotten so dire—inspiring a fierce, ongoing public battle between the city’s water utility and the state’s Big Ag-aligned politicians—that the “Legislature in Iowa is getting serious about funding cover crops,” she says.

Sure, taxpayers will have to foot at least part of the bill. But we’re already underwriting the uncovered agriculture now fouling up drinking water and the Gulf of Mexico: The federal government doles out $1 billion annually to support Iowa farmers’ current practices, whereas the cover-­crop program gets a total of just $10.6 million per year.

At the current level of funding, Iowa farmland won’t reach the crucial milestone of 12.6 million acres under cover crops until sometime in the 2090s, the satellite-data study found. To speed up the process, one of the paper’s co-authors, the EWG’s Soren Rundquist, suggests a bit of budget jiujitsu: shift a tenth of that federal cash now heading into Iowa, $100 million annually, into paying farmers to plant covers. Within a decade, he calculates, they’d reach and maintain the target level. “It’s just practical,” Rundquist says. “If we can afford to spend $1 billion supporting corn and soybeans, we can spend a fraction of that to support the environment and the people who depend on it.”

Three Renewable Energy Numbers to Impress Your Friends With: 7, 43, 50

EcoWatch

Union of Concerned Scientists

https://resize.rbl.ms/simage/https%3A%2F%2Fassets.rbl.ms%2F10209057%2Forigin.jpg/1200%2C600/jaZ2bwyMNvQZhtz2/img.jpg

Three Renewable Energy Numbers to Impress Your Friends With: 7, 43, 50

By John Rogers August 5, 2017

Next time you’re talking with a friend about the exciting things happening in our electricity sector (aren’t you always?), here are three easy numbers for remembering how we’re doing: 7, 43 and 50. That’s: wind energy’s progress, solar energy’s growth and the number of states making it happen.

Wind’s Growth = 7

Renewables on the Rise, a new report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group, details some of the progress we’ve made in this country over the last decade, and includes handy accompanying graphics. Here’s a glimpse of what it all looks like.

Photo published for Renewable Energy Booming After a Decade of Progress

Growth in renewable energy in recent years has meant we produced almost seven times as much wind-powered electricity in the U.S. in 2016 as we did in 2007. And wind’s share of our national electricity generation increased from 0.8 percent to 5.5 percent.

All told, the tens of thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape generate enough to cover the electricity needs of some 25 million typical American homes.

Environment America / Frontier Group

The wind action is taking place from coast to coast and particularly in plenty of places in between, from coal-has-been-king-but-here-comes-wind Wyoming to where cod rule (think offshore wind).

And, increasingly, wind is an energy option that decision makers ignore (or get wrong) at their peril.

Solar’s Growth = 43

Recent gains have in some ways been even more impressive for solar. The baseline is maybe a little tough to pin down (and our own calculations suggest an even greater growth), but the new report says that we got 43 times as much electricity from solar in 2016 as in 2007.

Environment America / Frontier Group

That steep upward trajectory has taken solar from a minuscule 0.03 percent of U.S. electricity generation to 1.4 percent. Still small, but definitely noticeable—and definitely worthy of notice, in terms of solar past and future. As my colleague Julie McNamara points out in that post, our 19.5 billion kilowatt-hours of solar generation in 2016 would have been enough to cover residential electricity needs in half the states.

And solar, like wind, isn’t resting on its laurels. Just last year, the U.S. industry installed enough new solar capacity to provide 2 million homes’ worth of electricity.

States Involved = 50

So where’s all this progress coming from? Though some are still finding their way, every state has some generation from solar and wind, and some have taken those technologies to pretty impressive heights.

For Texas, it (mostly wind) added up last year to 59 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to keep 4 billion light bulbs burning every evening of the year. In North Dakota, wind generation added up to the equivalent of 45 percent of the state’s electricity consumption; in Iowa, 42 percent. For California and Hawaii, solar, with help from wind, produced enough to have accounted for one out of every six kilowatt-hour consumed.

Sure, some states really need to get in on the action in a much bigger way (the details in the back of the new report help highlight leaders and … others). And they’d benefit in doing that by reaping all that renewables have to offer.

But even states without much yet on the generation side are contributing—and benefiting—in other ways, through manufacturing, for example, of components for solar or wind installations (see map). And that progress has meant jobs—in most cases, more solar and wind jobs than coal has to offer.

Our 50 united states are far from done. Every one of them has a lot more potential in solar, wind and other renewables. Taking it the next step, and beyond, will be crucial.

But for a moment, acknowledging and celebrating clean energy progress is really important. For that, for the near term, just remember 7, 43 and 50.

American Wind Energy Association

John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals

EcoWatch

The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals

By Center For Media and Democracy July 27, 2017

https://resize.rbl.ms/simage/https%3A%2F%2Fassets.rbl.ms%2F10126244%2Forigin.jpg/1200%2C630/F0N7iVpOYvrBA1rj/img.jpgRisa Scott / RF Scott Imagery

The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy released a trove of rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents Wednesday stretching back to the 1920s. The documents are available here.

Together, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment.

“These documents represent a tremendous trove of previously hidden or lost evidence on chemical regulatory activity and chemical safety. What is most striking about these documents is their heavy focus on the activities of regulators,” Dr. Jonathan Latham, executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, said. “Time and time again regulators went to the extreme lengths of setting up secret committees, deceiving the media and the public, and covering up evidence of human exposure and human harm. These secret activities extended and increased human exposure to chemicals they knew to be toxic.”

The Poison Papers are a compilation of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests and public interest litigation. They include scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions and sworn testimonies.

The majority of these documents have been scanned and digitized for the first time and represent nearly three tons of material. The regulatory agency sources of these documents include: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. Chemical manufacturers referenced in the documents include: Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and Union Carbide, as well as many smaller manufacturers and the commercial testing companies who worked for them.

The Poison Papers catalogue the secret concerns of industry and regulators over the hazards of pesticides and other chemicals and their efforts to conceal those concerns.

Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum.

“In total, the stark truth revealed by these 50 years of documents is that the entire pesticide industry could not exist without lies, coverups, rampant fraud, and government enablers,” said Van Strum, who authored the 1983 book Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights.

Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is the abundant evidence that EPA and other regulators were often knowing participants or even primary instigators of these cover-ups. These regulators failed to inform the public of the hazards of dioxins and other chemicals; of evidence of fraudulent independent testing; and of widespread human exposure. The papers thus reveal, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves, an elaborate universe of deception and deceit surrounding many pesticides and synthetic chemicals.

The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include dioxins, herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dicamba, Permethrin, Atrazine and Agent Orange) and PCBs. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic and persistent ever manufactured. Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold today, either as products or as product contaminants.

“The Poison Papers will be a tremendous resource for researchers, the media, and everyday Americans worried about many of the chemicals used on farm fields and in common consumer products,” said Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Explore: Some of the 20,000+ documents in this repository have surfaced over the years. Many have never been seen online or publicly written about. The Poison Papers therefore offer a unique opportunity for researchers, the public and the media to discover much more about what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom.

Access: You can access the papers at PoisonPapers.org. Important instructions on how best to search these old documents are also available here and on the website.

Poison Papers Reveal:

Secrecy — They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high-level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. Internal minutes contradict the agency’s longstanding refusal to regulate dioxins or set legal limits.

Collusion — They demonstrate EPA collusion with the pulp and paper industry to “suppress, modify or delay” the results of the congressionally-mandated National Dioxin Study, which found high levels of dioxins in everyday products, such as baby diapers and coffee filters, as well as pulp and paper mill effluents.

Deception — They provide important new data on the infamous Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) scandal. By the late 1970s, it was known that more than 800 safety studies performed by IBT on 140 chemicals produced by 38 chemical manufacturers were nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid. The Poison Papers, however, show that EPA and its Canadian counterpart, the Health Protection Branch (HPB), colluded with pesticide manufacturers, to keep invalidly registered products on the market and covered up massive problems with many IBT tests.

Cover-up — The papers also show that EPA staff had evidence that this IBT scandal involved more independent testing companies and more products than ever officially acknowledged.

Concealment —Show that EPA concealed and falsely its own studies finding high levels of dioxin–2,3,7,8-TCDD–in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange) by the federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Intent — Show that Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers were written up untruthfully for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects. These fraudulent studies were heavily relied upon by EPA to avoid regulating dioxins. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.

 

The Gulf Of Mexico’s Dead Zone Is The Biggest Ever Seen

NPR Food For Thought-The Salt, What’s on Your Plate

The Gulf Of Mexico’s Dead Zone Is The Biggest Ever Seen

Dan Charles, Heard on Morning Addition     August 3, 2017

 The teal blue area along the Louisiana coastline represents a “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water. Resulting from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River, it can potentially hurt fisheries. NASA/Getty Images

It has become a rite of summer. Every year, a “dead zone” appears in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an area where water doesn’t have enough oxygen for fish to survive. And every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissions scientists to venture out into the Gulf to measure it.

This week, NOAA announced that this year’s dead zone is the biggest one ever measured. It covers 8,776 square miles — an area the size of New Jersey. And it’s adding fuel to a debate over whether state and federal governments are doing enough to cut pollution that comes from farms.

The debate actually goes back many years, at least to 1985, when Don Scavia was a scientist at the NOAA. He and his colleagues asked some scientists, for the first time, to go look for a dead zone in the Gulf.

“We expected it to be there,” Scavia recalls. They expected to find it because they knew that the Mississippi River delivers a heavy load of nutrient pollution, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, into the Gulf.

Every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tasks scientists with measuring the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s map, based on that data, shows a zone the collective size of New Jersey. Courtesy of NOAA

“Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus that drives this problem comes from the Upper Midwest,” Scavia says. “It’s coming from agriculture.”

Farmers use those nutrients on fields as fertilizer. Rain washes them into nearby streams and rivers. And when they reach the Gulf of Mexico, those nutrients unleash blooms of algae, which then die and decompose. That is what uses up the oxygen in a thick layer of water at the bottom of the Gulf, in a band that follows the coastline.

“Fish that can swim will move out of the way. Organisms that are living on the bottom, that the fish feed on, can’t move, and they often die,” says Scavia, who now is a professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan.

The record-breaking dead zone this year is the result of unusually heavy rains in the Midwest, which flushed a lot of nutrients into the Gulf.

The dead zone is invisible from the surface of the ocean. Scientists lower instruments into the water to measure oxygen levels near the bottom. But Scavia describes it as a kind of hidden environmental disaster. “You know, it’s 8,000 square miles of no oxygen. That can’t be good!” he says. Potentially, it could have huge economic costs as well, because it imperils Louisiana’s shrimp industry.

Federal and state agencies have promised to take action against the dead zone. As part of their “action plan” to shrink it, they’re encouraging Midwestern farmers to try to keep nutrients from washing away by doing such things as planting wide grassy strips along streams to trap fertilizer runoff.

Scavia, however, recently published a blog post calling these voluntary measures inadequate. In a separate scientific paper, he also calculated that meeting the government’s goal for a smaller dead zone will require dramatic cuts in nutrient pollution from farms.

Scavia argues that the Gulf should get the same kind of protection as the Chesapeake Bay, on the East Coast. The Chesapeake has had a similar dead zone problem. In 2010, though, despite fierce objections from farmers, the federal government set mandatory limits on nutrient pollution entering the bay. State governments spent billions of dollars to meet those targets. Now pollution in the bay is down, and some wildlife in the Chesapeake is starting to recover.

Largest dead zone ever hits the Gulf of Mexico

ThinkProgress

Largest dead zone ever hits the Gulf of Mexico

And climate change will only make dead zones worse.

Natasha Geiling       Aug 3, 2017

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Scientists have measured a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest-ever dead zone recorded in the area, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

A dead zone occurs when nutrient pollution — largely from agricultural runoff like fertilizer and manure — makes its way into bodies of water, fueling algal growth. When the algae dies, it decomposes, creating oxygen-free zones that can no longer sustain marine life.

This year’s dead zone measures 8,776 square miles, beating out the previous record of 8,497 square miles set in 2002. For the last 32 years of monitoring, the dead zone in the Gulf has averaged 5,309 square miles.

“The results from this year reflect the nitrate flux into the Gulf, which was high,” says Nancy Rabalais, a research professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who helped measure the dead zone, told National Geographic. “It’s a matter of addressing the sources of the nitrate—where they first start—which is in a field of agricultural crops.”

Rabalais said that this year’s especially large dead zone is likely a result of heavier stream flows in the spring, which helped carry more nutrient pollution from the agricultural fields of the Midwest down to the Gulf.

But a report by the environmental group Mighty suggests that this year’s extra-large dead zone is a direct result of industrial meat production, which feeds nutrient runoff both through manure produced by the animals and fertilizer used to grow animal feed. The report looks at companies responsible for large amounts of nutrient runoff, and implicates Tyson Foods, the largest meat company in the United States, as a key culprit behind the dead zone. According to the report, Tyson has major processing facilities in every state listed by the United States Geological Survey as states from which nutrient runoff flows to the Gulf.

Another report, released last year by Environment America, found that Tyson dumps more waste into American waterways each year than companies like Exxon or Dow Chemical.

“Americans should not have to choose between producing food and having healthy clean water,” Mighty Earth campaign director Lucia von Reusner said in a statement. “Big meat companies like Tyson have left a trail of pollution across the country, and have a responsibility to their customers and the public to clean it up.”

While this year’s dead zone is record-shattering, it’s likely that these zones will only increase in size in the future, as climate change drives more intense precipitation and, in turn, more nutrient pollution. A recent study in Science found that increased precipitation from climate change would translate to a 19 percent increase in nitrogen — a nutrient found in both manure and agricultural fertilizer — in Americans rivers by the end of the century.

Under the Obama administration, the United States Department of Agriculture had begun to take steps to help farmers reduce their nutrient runoff, from encouraging farmers to use precision agriculture techniques — where fertilizer is applied more sparingly to fields, in precise locations — to investing millions in programs aimed at boosting soil health. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency also provided millions of dollars in grants to states to help target non-source pollution.

That appears to be changing under the Trump administration, however. The Trump administration’s budget zeroes out EPA grants for non-source pollution, arguing that the USDA should be the only agency tackling the program. And Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue owned an inorganic fertilizer company before entering into politics, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest in regulating fertilizer use in agriculture.

These are the greatest fears that people have in the world

Business Insider-World

These are the greatest fears that people have in the world

Rebecca Harrington, Skye Gould, Business Insider, August 3, 2017  

Around the world, ISIS and climate change are neck-and-neck for the leading threats people perceive today.

In the 2017 Pew Research Center security threats survey released this week, nearly 42,000 people in 38 countries ranked eight threats, with the militant group and environmental shift topping the list:

BI Graphics_Greatest fears chart

(Skye Gould/Business Insider)

When you look at the results country by country, however, some interesting nuances emerge.

First, the US, most European countries, and Russia see ISIS as the foremost security concern. This was the case last year, as well.

But a growing number of people, particularly those in Africa and the Americas, are now saying that climate change is a bigger threat to them than terrorism, cyber attacks, the refugee crisis, or the economy.

In countries that are hurting economically, like Venezuela and Greece, survey respondents predictably said the condition of the global economy was their biggest concern.

While many Middle Eastern and European countries are still grappling with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, only Hungary listed it as the top threat.

People in South Korea and Vietnam both listed China’s power and influence as the main security issue facing their nations.

BI Graphics_Greatest fears map

(Skye Gould/Business Insider)

And while it didn’t rank as the top threat for any nation, more people now say they worry about the United States’ power and influence than in previous years before President Donald Trump took office.

Worldwide, only 22% of people said in a separate Pew survey that they have confidence in Trump, compared to 64% when former President Barack Obama was in office. Similarly, 49% now have a favorable view of the US, vs. 64% at the end of Obama’s presidency.

Related:

 

Union, feds at odds on countering surge in coal mine deaths

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, Joe Main, third from left, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, and Patricia Silvey, center, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations with MSHA, speak with workers at the Gibson North mine, in Princeton, Ind. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say the inexperience of those new to a mine could share the blame. But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem. Silvey said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked. "We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at a mine in Pennsylvania on July 25.

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, Joe Main, third from left, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, and Patricia Silvey, center, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations with MSHA, speak with workers at the Gibson North mine, in Princeton, Ind. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say the inexperience of those new to a mine could share the blame. But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem. Silvey said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked. “We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at a mine in Pennsylvania on July 25. Timothy D. Easley, File AP Photo

 

Louisville, Ky. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say workers who are new to a mine have been especially vulnerable to fatal accidents.

But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem.

Ten coal miners have died on the job so far this year, compared to a record low of eight deaths last year.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is responding to the uptick in deaths with a summer initiative, sending officials to observe and train miners new to a particular mine on safer working habits. The push comes during a transition for the agency, amid signals from President Donald Trump that he intends to ease the industry’s regulatory burden.

The miner’s union, the United Mine Workers of America, says the agency initiative falls short. It notes federal inspectors who conduct such training visits are barred from punishing the mine if they spot any safety violations.

“To take away the inspector’s right to issue a violation takes away the one and only enforcement power the inspector and the agency has,” union president Cecil Roberts wrote in a recent letter to the federal agency.

Patricia Silvey, a deputy assistant secretary at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked.

“We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at mine in Pennsylvania on July 25.

Silvey pointed to a death last May at West Virginia’s Pinnacle Mine where a miner riding a trolley rose up and struck his head on the mine roof. She said the fatality could have been due to the miner’s unfamiliarity with the mine. The miner had worked there nine weeks, according to an accident report. And in the most recent death, a miner less than two weeks into the job at a mine in eastern Pennsylvania was run over by a bulldozer July 25.

Five of the 10 coal mining deaths this year have occurred in West Virginia, and two more in Kentucky. Alabama, Montana and Pennsylvania each had one coal mining death. Nine of the miners killed this year had several years’ experience working at other mines.

The mine safety agency’s injury numbers show that workers who were new to a mine had more than double the injuries. Going back to October 2015, miners who worked at a specific mine less than a year suffered 903 injuries, compared to 418 for miners working at a mine one to two years.

The mine safety agency says it will visit mines and “offer suggestions” on training miners who have been at a mine less than a year. Silvey said the union is correct that inspectors won’t be writing safety violations, but that the initiative “has in no way undermined our regular inspection program.”

The miner’s union said the federal agency should not expect safety suggestions to carry the same weight as citations and fines.

“To believe that an operator will comply with the law on their own free will is contrary to historical experience and naive on MSHA’s part,” the letter said.

A former MSHA official said the agency would be “tying the hands” of inspectors if they don’t allow them to write citations on the training visits.

“The record low fatal injury rate among coal miners in recent years is because of strong enforcement of the law,” said Celeste Monforton, who served on a governor-appointed panel that investigated West Virginia’s 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners. There were 12 coal mining deaths in 2015 and 16 in 2014.

“It would be a disgrace to see that trend reversed,” she said.

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the miner’s union, said the union’s safety department met recently with MSHA on the dispute, but MSHA maintained it has the authority to conduct observation visits without enforcement.

The mine safety agency’s top position has been vacant since former Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main left in January. Main, a former miner’s union official, focused on eliminating hazards at troubled mines by increasing aggressive inspections after West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch explosion. Main declined to comment.

Silvey said a vacancy at the mine safety agency’s top position hasn’t hindered their efforts. She said she knew of no timetable for hiring a new assistant secretary of Labor to oversee the mine safety agency.

“I know one thing, it’s a presidential appointment,” she said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article165133337.html#storylink=cpy

Why drilling for oil in the Arctic is pointless

Tennessean

Why drilling for oil in the Arctic is pointless

Whitfield Bailey Published     July 31, 2017

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

Story Highlights

  • Opinion: Trump’s proposal suggests Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be opened for oil drilling.
  • Whitfield Bailey resides in Knoxville.

As both a fiscal conservative and someone who cares deeply about protecting our nation’s natural resources, I was appalled to see a certain provision tucked away in President Trump’s budget proposal: an unwarranted sneak attack on one of our nation’s most prized units of public land, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic Refuge in northern Alaska is the crown jewel of America’s National Wildlife Refuge System and is an internationally recognized wildlife haven renowned for its biodiversity. Fifty species of mammals and more than 200 species of migratory birds from all 50 states, like the yellow-rumped warbler, call this refuge home. The refuge remains one of the largest pristine ecosystems in the world.

From a fiscal point of view, the proposal to desecrate the Coastal Plain of the refuge with a web of destructive pipelines and drills makes little sense. Alaska politicians have been pushing this misguided attack on the refuge because they believe that drilling would lead to a windfall for Alaska. But this supposed revenue is highly theoretical, if not downright dubious.

In 1985, Chevron spent $40 million to drill three miles below the refuge to see if there was oil there. The results of this test have been kept secret ever since, suggesting nothing too exciting was found.

In the 1980s, oil prices were skyrocketing and Americans were eager to drill.  But we are in a different position now. Oil and gas prices have been falling for years as the United States moves towards energy independence. New drilling technologies have fueled the Shale Revolution and allowed us to tap into previously inaccessible oil and natural gas fields. Additionally, the renewable energy industry is experiencing a boom in production, intense job growth, and rapid decreases in costs. President Trump’s own budget acknowledges this new state of affairs, since it proposes selling off half of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, further underscoring the fact that the United States is not as reliant on foreign oil today.

If we are willing to sell off half of the SPR, then surely we do not need to drill in the Arctic Refuge.

The environmental value of the refuge is immeasurable, and drilling there would be incompatible with the mission of the refuge to protect wildlife. Proponents of drilling argue that oil companies would only drill in a few square miles of the Coastal Plain.  But this argument is specious, because a drill site that only takes up a few square miles depends on a spider web of pipelines, pads, roads, and other infrastructure – and an oil leak from even a small pipeline can have devastating effects on the fragile ecosystem of the pristine Coastal Plain.

The Coastal Plain is home to grizzlies, muskoxen, wolverines, and arctic foxes, and is an important denning site for polar bears.  It is home to the 180,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, one of the largest herds in North America.  This herd is especially important for the native Gwich’in people who live in the area.

The Gwich’in rely on the caribou to maintain their centuries-old subsistence way of life and cultural identity. This is the reason the Gwich’in refer to the Coastal Plain as “the sacred place where life begins.” It is not just an economic and environmental issue – it is also a human rights issue.

Congress should reject President Trump’s dangerous budget proposal – for the sake of wildlife, for the Gwich’in people, and for basic economic sense.

Whitfield Bailey resides in Knoxville.

Keystone XL Pipeline in Limbo: Developer May Not Build as Landowners Put Solar Array on Proposed Route

EcoWatch

Keystone XL Pipeline in Limbo: Developer May Not Build as Landowners Put Solar Array on Proposed Route

Climate Nexus      July 31, 2017

First “Solar XL” installation of USA-made solar panels in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. Bold Nebraska / Faceboo

 

Keystone XL owner TransCanada told investors Friday that the company was still assessing demand for the project with oil companies, increasing speculation that the controversial pipeline may not see the light of day.

On an investor call, a TransCanada executive called for an “open season” on the Keystone project to attract investor bids, and said the company would assess interest and make a decision on the pipeline by November.

As reported by Politico:

“It was the strongest acknowledgment from TransCanada to date that the nearly decade-long Keystone saga may end in failure—despite President Donald Trump’s overwhelming support for the project, which he green-lit as one of his first acts in office.”

TransCanada is also still awaiting approval from Nebraskan regulators to finalize the pipeline’s proposed route through the state. A final Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing on Keystone last week showcased the depth of opposition to the pipeline in the state, while a local farmer has attracted attention for installing American-made solar panels on his land to protest the project.

Jim Carlson said he rejected offers as high as $307,000 from TransCanada Corporation to lay pipe across his land.

“They’ll have to go under it, around it or tear it down to get their dirty oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico,” Carlson told NBC Nebraska.

Carlson is a pipeline fighter with Bold Nebraska, a grassroots organization opposing Keystone XL. Jane Kleeb, the group’s founder, told NTV that they’ve raised more than $40,000 to install solar projects in the path of the proposed pipeline.

“We’re not just out in the streets protesting with signs, but we’re actually building the type of energy we want to see,” Kleeb said.

“With the threat of Keystone XL destroying our water and taking away property rights from farmers, we decided to build solar, directly inside the route where the Keystone XL is proposed to go because the contract says you can’t have anything permanent in the route, so we are building permanent clean energy.”

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Robert Reich: Introducing Donald Trump, The Biggest Loser

Newsweek-Politics

Robert Reich: Introducing Donald Trump, The Biggest Loser

Robert Reich, Newsweek      July 31, 2017 

This article first appeared on RobertReich.org.

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is hardly the end of the story. Donald Trump will not let this loss stand.

Since its inception in 2010, Republicans made the Affordable Care Act into a symbol of Obama-Clinton overreach – part of a supposed plot by liberal elites to expand government, burden the white working class, and transfer benefits to poor blacks and Latinos.

Ever the political opportunist, Trump poured his own poisonous salt into this festering wound. Although he never really understood the Affordable Care Act, he used it to prey upon resentments of class, race, ethnicity, and religiosity that propelled him into the White House.

Repealing “Obamacare” has remained one of Trump’s central rallying cries to his increasingly angry base. “The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican, is whether they will side with Obamacare’s architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or with its forgotten victims,” Trump said last Monday, adding that any senator who failed to vote against it “is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.”

Now, having lost that fight, Trump will try to subvert the Act by delaying subsidies so some insurance companies won’t be able to participate, failing to enforce the individual mandate so funding won’t be adequate, not informing those who are eligible about when to sign up and how to do so, and looking the other way when states don’t comply.

But that’s not all. Trump doesn’t want his base to perceive him as a loser.

So be prepared for scorched-earth politics from the Oval Office, including more savage verbal attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, more baseless charges of voter fraud in the 2016 election, and further escalation of the culture wars.

Most Americans won’t be swayed by these pyrotechnics because they’ve become inured to our unhinged president.

But that’s not the point. They’ll be intended to shore up Trump’s “base” – the third of the country that supports him, who still believe they’re “victims” of Obamacare, who continue to believe Trump himself is the victim of a liberal conspiracy to unseat him.

Trump wants his base to become increasingly angry and politically mobilized, so they’ll continue to exert an outsized influence on the Republican Party.

There is a deeper danger here. As Harvard political scientist Archon Fung has argued, stable democracies require that citizens be committed to the rule of law even if they fail to achieve their preferred policies.

Settling our differences through ballots and agreed-upon processes rather than through force is what separates democracy from authoritarianism.

But Donald Trump has never been committed to the rule of law. For him, it’s all about winning. If he can’t win through established democratic processes, he’ll mobilize his base to change them.

Trump is already demanding that Mitch McConnell and senate Republicans obliterate the filibuster, thereby allowing anything to be passed with a bare majority.

Last Saturday he tweeted “Republican Senate must get rid of 60 vote NOW!” adding the filibuster “allows 8 Dems to control country,” and “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time.”

What’s particularly worrisome about Trump’s attack on the long established processes of our democracy is that his assault comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who regard the other party as a fundamental threat is growing.

In 2014 – even before acrimony of 2016 presidential campaign – 35 percent of Republicans saw the Democratic Party as a “threat to the nation’s well being” and 27 percent of Democrats regarded Republicans the same way, according to the Pew Research Center.

Those percentages are undoubtedly higher today. If Trump succeeds, they’ll be higher still.

Anyone who regards the other party as a threat to the nation’s well being is less apt to accept outcomes in which the other party prevails – whether it’s a decision not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or even the outcome of a presidential election.

As a practical matter, when large numbers of citizens aren’t willing to accept such outcomes, we’re no longer part of the same democracy.

I fear this is where Trump intends to take his followers, along with much of the Republican Party: Toward a rejection of political outcomes they regard as illegitimate, and therefore a rejection of democracy as we know it.

That way, Trump will always win.

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All.

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