Keystone XL Belongs in the ‘Trash Can of History’


By Oil Change International

Keystone XL Belongs in the ‘Trash Can of History’

By Lorne Stockman   August 8, 2017

Hearings began Monday at the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) in Lincoln for the Keystone XL pipeline. The PSC is charged with deciding whether the pipeline’s route is in the interests of the state of Nebraska. If the pipeline is judged to pose unacceptable risks to land, water, wildlife, cultural resources and property values, the PSC could deny a permit to build the 36-inch pipeline carrying toxic tar sands oil oil through the state. No doubt TransCanada will be attempting to make its case that these risks are minimal and/or mitigable, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

But key factors the PSC should be assessing—like whether market demand still exists for the project—have been disqualified from the process. As a result, the PSC is in danger of issuing a permit for a pipeline that may be underutilized and possibly not built at all. While on the surface, it may sound like an underutilized pipeline would come with fewer risks, this is far from the truth. Grave risks associated with these outcomes—like increased potential for spills and the indefinite seizure of private land—must be considered in order to protect Nebraskans.

Photo published for Critical Keystone XL Testimony Denied in Last-Minute Decision

When President Trump signed the federal permit for Keystone XL in the Oval Office in March, there were some uneasy murmurs in the room from TransCanada executives as he jovially quipped that TransCanada could now go ahead and start construction. Transcanada CEO Russ Girling knew that not only did the project still need approval in Nebraska, where it had faced the stiffest opposition in the past, but that as things stood, he did not actually have any customers for the pipeline. That situation has not changed.

A multi-billion dollar pipeline does not get built unless customers that will ship product in the pipeline contractually commit to using the pipeline. This usually takes the form of signing 20-year take-or-pay contracts for the majority of the pipeline’s capacity. So a shipper, which could for example be an oil producer, a refiner or a trader, will sign a contract committing to pay for shipping a specified amount of oil on the pipeline every day for 20 years. It is essentially a long-term reservation of space on the pipeline. TransCanada has stated that it hopes to sign up 90 percent of the project’s 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity. So it needs to sign up nearly 750,000 bpd. This is a tall order in today’s oil market and the future does not look any better.

It was primarily this issue of market need about which I submitted some 13,000 words plus 33 attachments of testimony to the Nebraska PSC back in June. I was expecting to present that testimony in person at the PSC this week. However, in a last minute decision the PSC dismissed my testimony, and that of 39 others, limiting the scope of issues it will consider and thereby ignoring some of the key risks it should be considering.

The key points that the PSC should be considering are this:

  • The future of oil demand, and consequently oil prices, is more uncertain than ever, with new technologies and environmental policies threatening to end oil’s stranglehold on transportation forever.
  • As one of the most expensive to produce sources of oil in the world, the tar sands oil that would potentially fill Keystone XL has no future in a world moving toward cleaner cities and greater climate and energy security.

That the pipeline may not attract enough customers is a major issue for TransCanada. The company has stated several times that it is struggling to sign up committed shippers and will not know if it has enough commitment until November at the earliest.

So why should the PSC consider this? If the pipeline doesn’t get built then how are Nebraskans at risk? If it does get built but then fails to meet expectations, isn’t that only of concern to the company?

Unfortunately, the vagaries of the land easements that would be enforced if the PSC issues the permit, and the greater risk of spills in an underutilized pipeline, mean that the risks of the project failing financially are potentially as bad or worse than if it is a success.

Here’s why.

The land easements that TransCanada has signed with willing landowners, as well as those it would force upon unwilling landowners through eminent domain, give the company rights to the pipeline corridor in perpetuity. This means that if the pipeline is not built TransCanada can sell the easements to the highest bidder. Therefore, landowners will have no control over what happens on their land in the future.

That unwilling landowners will be forced through eminent domain to hand over land for an unspecified use is an outrageous abuse of the principle of eminent domain. No public good has been proven for Keystone XL or any project that may end up in the corridor.

If shippers decide to take the gamble and sign up enough capacity for the project to go ahead—a gamble they may take based on overly optimistic expectations of the oil market—it is highly likely that some of the contracts may not be fulfilled and the pipeline may be underutilized.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reported Monday on the increasing evidence that underutilized pipelines are more prone to spills and those spills are much harder to detect and locate in pipelines operating under low pressure, known as “slack line” conditions.

These spill risks have not been evaluated in the environmental impact assessment of the project, which has assumed the pipeline would operate at or near full capacity.

The Keystone XL project has always been a risky and misguided venture designed to enrich corporate shareholders at the expense of the climate and landowners along the route. Since its original permit was denied, the case for building it, weak as it was, has evaporated.

What remains is a project serving only the political goals of a vain and corrupt administration bent on reversing its predecessor’s achievements no matter who bears the cost. Granting a permit in the state of Nebraska risks ceding control of Nebraskan land to a corporation that has in no way demonstrated a public interest for its project.

The permit should be denied and the Keystone XL pipeline finally confined to the trash can of history where it belongs.

Federal Scientists Leak A Startling Climate Report To Keep Trump From Burying It

Federal Scientists Leak A Startling Climate Report To Keep Trump From Burying It

News Image

Chris D’Angelo, HuffPost      August 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — Government scientists agree that, contrary to President Donald Trump and his team’s repeated claims, climate change is already having a dramatic effect in the U.S., according to a new report.

The 543-page report, an unreleased draft published Monday by The New York Times, is written by scientists from 13 federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It concludes that temperatures in the U.S. have risen sharply, by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, over the last 150 years and that it is “extremely likely that most of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on climate.”

Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report states. “Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes.”

The report, completed this year and part of the National Climate Assessment, has already been approved by the National Academy of Sciences, according to the Times. Its release hinges on the Trump administration’s approval, and one scientist who worked on the report told the Times that he and others feared the president would withhold it.

The report also finds that the average annual temperature will continue to rise throughout the century. Even if humans ceased burning fossil fuels altogether, global temperatures would climb another half a degree Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) over this century.

With “very high confidence,” the scientists concluded that “the magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the additional amount of greenhouse gases emitted globally.”

Also, the frequency of extreme weather events, including heavy rain and heat waves, have increased and are very likely to continue to do so. And since 1880, global sea levels have risen 8 to 9 inches — roughly 3 of those inches since 1990 — with human activity playing a substantial role, according to the report.

In a post to Twitter, Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that nothing in the report is surprising for people working in the field but that it may be “shocking to those that think [climate change] is just a future problem.”

The report delivers a strikingly different message than the one being pushed by Trump and his Cabinet members, who continue to downplay the urgency of the threat as they work toward “energy dominance.” Since taking office, Trump — who famously called climate change “bullshit” and a Chinese “hoax” — has moved quickly to derail America’s actions to combat climate change, including rolling back President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a policy limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump has pegged himself as a savior of America’s dying coal industry and has vowed to increase oil and gas production, opening now protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling.

In June he announced plans to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change ― the international accord in which nearly 200 countries committed to slashing carbon emissions in an effort to prevent global temperatures from increasing 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the line scientists say the world must stay below to stave off the very worst effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, his Cabinet members have refused to say whether Trump believes climate change is real and continue to question how much the scientific community understands about the threat and the role humans play in observed changes.

In March, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt told CNBC, “No, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” And in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry echoed Pruitt’s comments, saying “no” when asked by CNBC whether he believes carbon dioxide “is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate.”

“Most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in,” Perry said. “I mean, the fact is, this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing? Is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are. The question should be, you know, just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that?”

Perry went on to defend his and others’ climate change denial, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent.

Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting “right after the end of the Ice Age” and that it has “been a consistent melt.” He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

New York Times

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

By Lisa Friedman       August 7, 2017


The coal-burning Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., is one of the top emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States. A draft report by government scientists concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. Credit Branden Camp/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they wrote.

The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

One government scientist who worked on the report, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, called the conclusions among “the most comprehensive climate science reports” to be published. Another scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed.


Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report

A draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public but was obtained by The New York Times, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.

OPEN Document

The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return calls or respond to emails requesting comment on Monday night.

The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared with today. The projected actual rise, scientists say, will be as much as 2 degrees Celsius.

A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius and one of 2 degrees Celsius, for example, could mean longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.

Among the more significant of the study’s findings is that it is possible to attribute some extreme weather to climate change. The field known as “attribution science” has advanced rapidly in response to increasing risks from climate change.

The E.P.A. is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 18. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“It’s a fraught situation,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”

Scientists say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report. But those who challenge scientific data on human-caused climate change say they are equally worried that the draft report, as well as the larger National Climate Assessment, will be publicly released.

The National Climate Assessment “seems to be on autopilot” because of a lack of political direction, said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The report says significant advances have been made linking human influence to individual extreme weather events since the last National Climate Assessment was produced in 2014. Still, it notes, crucial uncertainties remain.

It cites the European heat wave of 2003 and the record heat in Australia in 2013 as specific episodes where “relatively strong evidence” showed that a man-made factor contributed to the extreme weather.

In the United States, the authors write, the heat wave that broiled Texas in 2011 was more complicated. That year was Texas’ driest on record, and one study cited in the report said local weather variability and La Niña were the primary causes, with a “relatively small” warming contribution. Another study had concluded that climate change made extreme events 20 times more likely in Texas.

Based on those and other conflicting studies, the federal draft concludes that there was a medium likelihood that climate change played a role in the Texas heat wave. But it avoids assessing other individual weather events for their link to climate change. Generally, the report described linking recent major droughts in the United States to human activity as “complicated,” saying that while many droughts have been long and severe, they have not been unprecedented in the earth’s hydrologic natural variation.

Worldwide, the draft report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.

In the United States, the report concludes with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.

Graphic: How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps


The study examines every corner of the United States and finds that all of it was touched by climate change. The average annual temperature in the United States will continue to rise, the authors write, making recent record-setting years “relatively common” in the near future. It projects increases of 5.0 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 to 4.8 degrees Celsius) by the late century, depending on the level of future emissions.

It says the average annual rainfall across the country has increased by about 4 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. Parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast are drying up, while the Southern Plains and the Midwest are getting wetter.

With a medium degree of confidence, the authors linked the contribution of human-caused warming to rising temperatures over the Western and Northern United States. It found no direct link in the Southeast.

Additionally, the government scientists wrote that surface, air and ground temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising at a frighteningly fast rate — twice as fast as the global average.

“It is very likely that the accelerated rate of Arctic warming will have a significant consequence for the United States due to accelerating land and sea ice melting that is driving changes in the ocean including sea level rise threatening our coastal communities,” the report says.

Human activity, the report goes on to say, is a primary culprit.

The study does not make policy recommendations, but it notes that stabilizing the global mean temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius — what scientists have referred to as the guardrail beyond which changes become catastrophic — will require significant reductions in global levels of carbon dioxide.

Nearly 200 nations agreed as part of the Paris accords to limit or cut fossil fuel emissions. If countries make good on those promises, the federal report says, that will be a key step toward keeping global warming at manageable levels.

Mr. Trump announced this year that the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, saying the deal was bad for America.

Government report sees drastic climate change impact in US: NYT


Government report sees drastic climate change impact in US: NYT

AFP     August 7, 2017

Washington (AFP) – Average US temperatures have risen dramatically and fast, with recent decades the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a draft federal government report cited by The New York Times on Tuesday.

“Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now,” said the report by 13 federal agencies not yet released or approved by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The report “directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain and that the ability to predict the effects is limited,” the Times said.

The draft report, part of the United States National Climate Assessment, is done every four years. It has been signed by the National Academy of Sciences.

“How much more the climate will change depends on future emissions and the sensitivity of the climate system to those emissions,” the draft report states in the Times article.

The United States just announced Friday it would still take part in international climate change negotiations in order to protect its interests, despite its planned withdrawal from the Paris accord on global warming.

Two months after Trump announced the United States would abandon the 2015 global pact, his administration confirmed it had informed the United Nations of its “intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement” — a process that will take at least until 2020.

The United States is the world’s second biggest producer of greenhouse gases after China and its withdrawal was a seen as a body blow to the Paris agreement.

The accord commits signatories to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, which is blamed for melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and more violent weather events.

They vowed steps to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times and to “pursue efforts” to hold the increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics


Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

Lorraine Chow    August 7, 2017

Costa Rica wants to become the world’s first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

The Central American nation intends to replace these wasteful, ocean-clogging items—such as plastic store bags, straws, coffee stirrers, containers and plastic cutlery—for biodegradable or water-soluble alternatives, or products made of renewable materials (think plant starches).

The initiative is led by Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from local governments, civil society and various private sector groups.

Costa Rican government officials announced the country’s ambitious plan on June 5, World Environment Day.

“Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission,” according to a joint statement from Environment and Energy minister Edgar Gutiérrez, Health minister María Esther Anchía, and Alice Shackelford, resident representative for UNDP Costa Rica.

“It’s not going to be easy, and the government can’t do it alone,” the statement continues. “To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic through five strategic actions: municipal incentives, policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers; replacement of single-use plastic products; research and development—and investment in strategic initiatives.”

“We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls,” the statement notes.

Costa Rica has emerged as an global environmental leader, with its frequent 100 percent renewable energy streaks and its 2021 goal of becoming carbon neutral—a deadline set a decade ago.

However, the officials point out in their statement that Costa Rica’s impressive environmental record still has room for improvement.

“Although the country has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent this year, today one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily is not collected and ends up as part of the Costa Rican landscape, also polluting rivers and beaches,” they explain.

“Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world,” they add. “It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish—measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone.”

“It’s a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet.”

Peru’s glaciers have made it a laboratory for adapting to climate change. It’s not going well.

Washington Post-A flood of problems

Peru’s glaciers have made it a laboratory for adapting to climate change. It’s not going well.

Story by Nick Miroff, Photos by Jabin Botsford      August 7, 2017 Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.


After a day of bright sunshine, a chunk of ice the size of a dump truck broke off the glacier on Mount Pucaranra a few weeks ago. It plunged into the lake below and kicked up a wave nine feet high.

Victor Morales, a small, catlike man with a tattered ski cap who is the lake’s solitary watchman, scrambled up to a stone hut on the side of the mountain and got on the radio. The wave had damaged an emergency drainage system meant to reduce the volume of the lake. But to his great relief, the earthen dam holding back the water was intact.

Sources: National Snow and Ice Data Center, Google Earth

Above: An Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.

“It wasn’t a big avalanche,” Morales said.

Lake Palcacocha is a mile long and 250 feet deep, and the effect of a large avalanche would be similar to dropping a bowling ball in a bathtub. Modeling scenarios predict a 100-foot wave so powerful it would blow out the dam. Three billion gallons of ice water would go roaring down the mountain toward the city of Huaraz, burying its 200,000 residents under an Andean tsunami of mud, trees and bouldersSources: National Snow and Ice Data Center,  Google Earth

Lake Palcacocha is an example of the immediate threats Peru and other developing countries are facing from climate change. The country is especially vulnerable since it is home to 70 percent of the world’s “tropical glaciers” — small, high-altitude ice caps found at the earth’s middle latitudes. Their disappearance has made Peru something of a laboratory for human adaptation to climate change.

So far, it’s not going very well.

“For countries like Peru that are trying to climb out of poverty, there are major social, cultural and economic obstacles to adaptation,” said Nelson Santillán, a researcher at Peru’s national water authority. “Identifying risks is one thing, but doing something about them is another.”

In the weeks since President Trump announced the United States would renege on its commitment to the Paris climate accord, scientists have pointed to new signs the planet is edging closer to a precipice. Maximum temperature records continue falling. New cracks are opening at the polar ice caps.

Peru’s high-altitude glaciers are tiny by comparison, but millions of people depend on their runoff for water, food and hydroelectricity.

Some of Peru’s glaciers have lost more than 90 percent of their mass. While much of the water trickles harmlessly down the mountainside, in places like Lake Palcacocha, it is pooling in great big puddles of melted ice. Many of these new lakes are held back by glacial moraines, which are essentially mounds of compressed sediments. They may be structurally weak, and as the volume of water pushing on them increases, some will collapse.

“We have glaciers across 19 — no, 18 — mountain ranges,” said Marco Zapata, the head of Peru’s institute for glacier research, correcting himself to reflect the latest monitoring data.

“They’re all shrinking.”

For Peruvian authorities, this is becoming more of an engineering problem than an environmental lament. Without reliable glacial runoff, the country’s water and irrigation systems will need to be retooled. New dams and reservoirs will be needed to more effectively store water. Investments in agriculture and other water-intensive industries will need to be recalculated.

“The glacier used to come down to there,” said Tomás Rosario, 45, who farms in the shadow of 22,000-foot Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak. He pointed at a ridge above his village, where bare rock was exposed. “Now the snow is gone and we’re running out of water.”

Victor Morales, the solitary watchman whose job is to call the city of Huaraz to warn of potential floods, waits for breakfast in his stone hut near Lake Palcacocha, a swollen glacial lake in the Andes mountain range.

Drought’s dire impact

Last November, in the middle of a crippling drought, a rumor began to spread in Rosario’s tiny town of Soledad and in other Quechua-speaking villages whose residents grow potatoes and corn on the flanks of mountains here.

The rainy season was late, the fields were parched and livestock were dying. The government said global warming was making matters worse.

The villagers, not unlike climate-change skeptics in the United States, did not believe it.

Their suspicions fell instead on the strange machines that foreign scientists and aid workers from the nonprofit group CARE Peru had installed with great fanfare at Lago 513, another swollen glacial lake not far from Lake Palcacocha.

Alejandro Rosales, 61, talks about about his poor corn harvest this year because of low rainfall. He wants the regional government to complete an irrigation project that would grant his town access to more water from the glacial runoff in Yarush.

The $250,000 emergency warning system included a monitoring station to alert residents living downstream in the town of Carhuaz (population 13,000) in case of a dam rupture. A 2010 flood triggered by an icefall at Lago 513 destroyed dozens of homes.

But in the middle of a drought, no one was especially worried about flooding. Years of disappointing rainfall were sowing anxieties up and down the valley.

Then the rumors picked up. “Everyone was saying that the gringos’ machines were scaring away the rain,” said Feliciana Quito, who farms a small plot downstream from the lake.

Jesús Caballero, the Carhuaz mayor, said he wanted to set the villagers straight, so he offered to hike up to the lake one morning in November to show them the “gringo machines” were harmless.

But when Caballero arrived at the lake that day, he said, it was clear the villagers were not interested in a climate lecture. Some of the young men were carrying sticks. This was a lynch mob.

“I told them the equipment had nothing to do with the rain,” Caballero said. “But I was rowing against the current.”

The villagers attacked the monitoring station, tearing out the antennas and solar panels. They bludgeoned some of the instruments and carried the rest back down the mountain, triumphant, as if they had slayed a dragon.

The rains came three days later, ending the drought. The villagers were jubilant. Their climate science was vindicated.

But now the lake has no emergency warning system in case the dam bursts. The farmers say they will not allow the foreigners to put the equipment back in, let alone drive through their village. When CARE Peru sent a team to inspect the damage, they were stopped on the road by women carrying rocks, threatening to stone them.

“We’re not going to let anyone put anything up there that interferes with the rain,” said Rosario, who was one of the expeditionaries who went to the lake that day.

Caballero said the episode has demonstrated the need for greater sensitivity to the fears of rural villagers whose lives and traditions are upended by water shortages and extreme weather.

What is left of the old monitoring system is now locked in a storage room opposite the Carhuaz city hall. Caballero said he thinks he can get the villagers’ approval to put the equipment back in if there is another drought this fall, because it would prove his point that the machines have nothing to do with the rain.

Then again, he said, the villagers may direct their anger at the emergency monitoring systems installed at other nearby lakes, such as Lake Palcacocha. “If the rains don’t come, I worry they’ll march up there and tear the other equipment out, too,” he said.

A sheep joins a group of people as they sit at an overlook in Huaraz. Police officers cordon off streets during a drill to prepare for a potential flood triggered by a dam rupture at the swollen glacial lake upstream in Huaraz. People make their way through the market near Plaza de Armas in Carhuaz.

Population boom 

It would be especially unwise to attack the monitoring station at Lake Palcacocha.

A moraine dam at the lake collapsed in December 1941, and the flood it unleashed killed several thousand people in Huaraz. The city only had 17,000 residents at the time. Since then its population has exploded, as farmers in the surrounding hills have been lured to the city by jobs in mining and tourism.

Land was cheap along the riverbanks, and today the flood zone is the most heavily populated part of the Huaraz, with schools, hospitals and a stadium.

Siphon pipes lead up the mountain to Lake Palcacocha. The siphons were installed to reduce the lake’s volume and to prevent a dam rupture. Nonetheless, the siphons were damaged in the recent icefall, and only a pair remains in operation.

The Peruvian government launched dozens of flood control projects across the Andes after the 1941 disaster, adding an emergency spillway at Lake Palcacocha. When a 7.9 earthquake hit in 1970 and much of Huaraz was destroyed again, thousands died, but the dam held.

But since then the volume of the lake has increased 34-fold as glacial melting accelerates. Lake Palcacocha rose so high in 2011 that authorities declared an emergency, and soon after a series of flexible plastic pipes were installed to siphon off water from the surface like giant soda straws.

The siphons lowered the height of the lake by nearly 20 feet, but they were damaged in recent icefall, and only two are now working.

A major avalanche would toss the pipes from the lake like wet noodles, and the spillway tunnel that is the dam’s last safety valve would be quickly clogged with rock and ice.

Draining the lake to a safer level can be done with relatively simple engineering techniques that would cost only about $7 million, environment ministry officials say. In contrast, a dam failure and catastrophic flooding in Huaraz would inflict more than $2.5 billion in damage, in addition to causing thousands of deaths.

But fixing Palcacocha has become a source of fierce debate. The lake is inside a national park, where big engineering projects are not welcome. While the central government in Lima is eager to drain the lake, local farmers say they need the water, and want new reservoirs that would store it elsewhere and redistribute the load.

These proposals are muddied by deep distrust. The last three regional governors from Huaraz have been jailed on graft charges, and the reputation of the central government in Lima isn’t much better, as two former presidents are also under indictment for corruption.

While the threats of climate change are new, the shortcomings of the political system are not, said Jahir Anicama, head of the CARE Peru office in Huaraz. “In the end, it’s a matter of effective government,” he said.

Officials and aid groups have been focused on disaster prevention, but he said the latest conflicts show the need to address the full range of fears that will probably intensify as the glaciers vanish and water supplies grow more irregular.

“We’ve been focused on future flood risks, but that’s not the biggest worry for these farmers,” he said. “They want projects that give them access to water, and they want them now.”

From spectacular vistas to the pits: A decades-long public land battle continues in the California desert

The Los Angeles Times

From spectacular vistas to the pits: A decades-long public land battle continues in the California desert

The Eagle Mountain iron mine closed more than 30 years ago, and it still haunts the park that borders it on three sides.

By Bettina Boxall, Contact Reporter, Reporting From Desert Center, California   August 7, 2017

Just beyond the southeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park, rows of boarded-up houses, gouged mountainsides and concrete ruins are an ugly reminder of the never-ending battle over the West’s public lands.

This scarred piece of California desert is what’s left of one of the country’s largest open-pit mining operations and the little company town that Kaiser Steel Corp. built after World War II. More than three decades after the Eagle Mountain iron mine closed, it still haunts the park that borders it on three sides.

Plans to turn the site into a huge landfill and dump as much as 20,000 tons a day of Southland garbage into the gaping mine pits died in 2013 after years of court battles. Now, a private company wants to use the pits for a $2-billion hydropower project.

The plant, proponents say, would help boost renewable energy use in Southern California and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But park officials fear the hydropower project could draw down local groundwater levels and harm wildlife.

The Eagle Mountain tract, shaped like a handgun aimed at the park’s interior, offers a lesson in what can happen when federal monument protections are stripped from public lands — as President Trump’s administration is considering doing at a number of national monuments in the West.

“It’s been a sordid history,” said Mark Butler, a former Joshua Tree superintendent who is retired from the National Park Service.

It’s been a sordid history.

Steve Lowe, president of Eagle Crest Energy Co., stands amid the ruins of the ore loading area.

— Mark Butler, former Joshua Tree National Park superintendent Steve Lowe, president of Eagle Crest Energy Co., stands amid the ruins of the ore loading area. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Joshua Tree National Monument on roughly 825,000 acres of federal and railroad holdings northeast of Palm Springs, capping a hard-fought campaign to conserve a singular desert landscape of Joshua trees, massive boulders and spectacular vistas.

But the monument’s ban on new mining claims infuriated gold and silver prospectors who’d long mined the area. In the 1940s, Kaiser Steel bought old patented claims to iron deposits in the Eagle Mountains and started digging them up.

In 1950, Congress shrank the monument by more than a third, chopping a chunk off the northern boundary and the Eagle Mountain area. The way was cleared for Kaiser to blast millions of tons of iron ore out of the mountainsides over the next three decades and ship it by rail to the roaring blast furnaces of the company’s Fontana steel plant.

The 1994 California Desert Protection Act that upgraded Joshua Tree to a national park added much of the Eagle Mountains to the park. But the law omitted the abandoned mine and surrounding federal land.

The reservoirs would be part of what Steve Lowe calls “an elegant solution” to a problem California is confronting.

On a recent day, the town remnants baked in 120-degree heat beneath a mountain of mine tailings. The hulking ruins of the ore loading area looked like a bombed-out village in Afghanistan. Rock benches traced the excavation of four huge pits.

Jeff Harvey and Steve Lowe of Eagle Crest Energy Co. climbed to the top of a metal tower that Kaiser foremen had used to direct mine traffic.

The 360-degree view swept from park peaks to the north, over the moonscape of the mine to the haze-veiled Chuckwalla Valley in the distance.

“This would be full of water,” said Harvey, looking at one of two pits that Eagle Crest wants to convert to reservoirs.

Separated by about 1,400 feet of elevation, the reservoirs would be part of what Lowe calls “an elegant solution” to a problem California is confronting as it boosts renewable energy production.

The sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow according to peak electricity demand. Utilities need some way of storing wind and solar power — or shifting the production time.

One way is with battery systems. Another is through pumped water — the method that Eagle Crest proposes to use in an area that averages less than 4 inches of rain a year.

When the solar panels and wind turbines that are sprouting from the desert floor churn out more power than the electrical grid needs, Eagle Crest would use some of that excess to pump water through an underground tunnel system to the 191-acre upper reservoir.

Later in the day, when energy demand climbs, the water would be released back into the tunnel system, powering turbines and generating electricity at it flowed downhill to the 163-acre lower reservoir.

Pumped storage is not new. There are seven of the operations scattered around California at reservoirs and lakes. Eagle Mountain would be the biggest in the state, capable of producing 1,300 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply nearly 1 million homes.

Like all pumped hydropower systems, it would actually consume more energy pushing water uphill than it generates with the downhill flow.

Unlike the other California operations, Eagle Crest would use groundwater — piped from three new wells drilled on private land in the Chuckwalla Valley to the south.

Over the project’s four-decade life, the company says, it would withdraw a total of about 100,000 acre-feet from the Chuckwalla aquifer. That is enough to supply 200,000 homes for a year.

It is also enough to worry park officials.

They don’t think groundwater feeds their springs. But the Pinto Basin aquifer on Joshua Tree’s east side supplies the Chuckwalla with underflow. Draw down the Chuckwalla, they fear, and groundwater levels in the park could drop.

“The aquifers that underlie the park are ancient,” Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith said. “Once you start depleting those reservoirs, no one knows what’s actually going to happen. How will that affect the park.… I don’t want to take that risk.”

He cited a 2012 research paper by federal scientists who concluded that groundwater recharge rates in the Chuckwalla Basin may be much lower than previously estimated, suggesting the aquifer is already in overdraft.

A view of the lower portion of the Eagle Mountain mine site and abandoned company town. A large solar farm is in the distance.

A view of the lower portion of the Eagle Mountain mine site and abandoned company town. A large solar farm is in the distance. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Eagle Crest, which bought the 10,000-acre Eagle Mountain site two years ago for $25 million, disputes the paper. Even if it is accurate, Harvey says, company wells would deplete the Chuckwalla aquifer by less than 1%.

Groundwater isn’t the park’s only worry. The hydropower project would disturb an area that has been largely quiet for decades, allowing bighorn sheep and other wildlife to return.

Butler warns that plopping two artificial lakes on such arid land would attract ravens and other predators that could prey on threatened desert tortoises and other park wildlife.

“You’re going to be essentially changing the ecology of that region,” said Butler, who was Joshua Tree’s superintendent from 2011 to 2014.

Despite the park service objections, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Eagle Crest a hydropower license in 2014.

In April, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced it was preparing to approve a right of way on federal land outside of the park for 12 miles of Eagle Crest transmission lines and a 15-mile, buried water pipeline from the wells.

Both agencies essentially concluded that the hydropower project would not cause significant environmental harm and would not deplete the aquifer over the long term.

“It’s a FERC-licensed project, so it is pretty much the law of the land right now,” Smith said with an air of resignation.

He grew up in San Diego County, the son of desert rats who headed for Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on the weekends. He learned how to climb on Joshua Tree’s boulders. He got his first permanent park service job there.

“I love Joshua Tree. It’s part of who I am as a person,” said Smith, who succeeded Butler as superintendent.

He manages a park that is surging in popularity — Smith expects 3 million visitors this year — and is beset by outside pressures.

Development is on its doorstep. The nitrogen in Southland smog fertilizes invasive grasses that spread across the park, carrying ecologically destructive wildfires with them. Global warming threatens the park’s signature Joshua trees.

“Once you start depleting those reservoirs, no one knows what’s actually going to happen…. I don’t want to take that risk.”

— David Smith, superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park

Weed-filled streets and boarded-up houses are all that is left of the company town.Weed-filled streets and boarded-up houses are all that is left of the company town. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Yes, he acknowledges, the Eagle Crest project could help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. “My concern is that the solution does not cause problems in the park,” he said.

Lowe, Eagle Crest’s president, ticks off the ways in which the abandoned mine is “a great site” for his project.

It is close to existing electrical transmission corridors and solar farms — a new one glints just down Kaiser Road. And, he says, it’s “repurposing a brownfield site that is never going to wind up the way it was.”

Lowe and his late father, Art, founded the company in 1991 and started pursuing the hydropower project despite the competing landfill proposal.

Initially, they eyed the wind turbines popping up in the desert. Now, with the growth of solar and California’s push for renewable energy, Lowe figures his time has come.

“The grid needs this,” said Lowe, who runs the company out of Santa Monica.

Two years ago Eagle Crest signed up a development partner, NextEra Energy, a large energy producer with several solar farms in the California desert, including Desert Sunlight, the 4,000-acre operation down the road.

But Lowe has yet to line up utility customers for the hydropower. And conservation groups have filed protests of the pending right-of-way approval in a move that foreshadows another court fight.

The long battle over Eagle Mountain, it seems, is not yet over.

“Since those boundaries were changed, there’s been almost 70 years of fighting over this landscape,” said David Lamfrom, California desert director for one of the groups, the National Parks Conservation Assn.

“So when people are thinking about the real implications of rolling back national monuments — they are severe.”

“I’ve spent a decade of my career trying to correct past wrongs as they relate to Joshua Tree National Park,” he added.

Donald Trump’s Bad Deals

Donald Trump's Bad Deals: Marty Rosenberg on Trump Taj Mahal

Donald J. Trump and his billionaire buddy Carl Icahn's bad business deals destroyed jobs for the hard working people of Atlantic City."I want people to see and understand what Mr. Trump is. I am only speaking up because most people won't."#1uVote

Posted by AFL-CIO on Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trump Complains About Polls Showing He’s Least Popular President Ever

Newsweek  Politics

Trump Complains About Polls Showing He’s Least Popular President Ever

T. Marcin, Newsweek August 7, 2017

Hold on to your hats, folks, because this might shock you: President Donald Trump vented his anger online Monday morning. The leader of the free world took to Twitter to share some of the things grinding his gears, as he is wont to do.

Trump posted some of his usual gripes, fake news (otherwise known as news that paints him in a bad light) chief among them. Despite being in the midst of a more than two-week vacation at his Bedminster golf course, Trump also made sure to post that he was “working hard from New Jersey while White House goes through long planned renovation,” which didn’t directly mention Newsweek’s recent viral cover depicting him as a lazy boy-king but could be seen as a response of sorts.

Other tweets from Trump Monday morning were far angrier than the post claiming he was working in New Jersey.

After a standalone tweet railing against The New York Times, Trump posted a series of tweets stating: “The Trump base is far bigger & stronger than ever before (despite some phony Fake News polling). Look at rallies in Penn, Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia. The fact is the Fake News Russian collusion story, record Stock Market, border security, military strength, jobs…..Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation & so much more have driven the Trump base even closer together. Will never change! Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTIMES & WAPO, the Trump base is getting stronger!”

The president has good reason to be upset at polling firms: They’re nearly unanimous in assessing that Americans, by and large, think Trump is doing a bad job in the White House. The weighted average from data-centric website FiveThirtyEight pegged Trump’s approval rating at just 37 percent Monday, while it had his disapproval rating at 57.3 percent. No other president in the history of modern polling has had an approval rating so low on day 199 of their presidency, where Trump is now, and only former President Gerald Ford was close, at 39.4 percent approval—and that was in the wake of pardoning his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace amid the Watergate scandal.

Don’t miss: Trump Says He’s Working Hard, But His Schedule Says Otherwise

To be clear, other presidents have had lower approval ratings, but none so early in their tenure, when leaders are typically gifted a grace period of sorts. Former President George W. Bush sunk to the mid-20s, for instance, but it took eight years, two unpopular wars and a struggling economy to get there.

Trump does appear to still have a base—and perhaps some of those voters are digging in and supporting him even more—but he is wrong to claim his base is growing. A Quinnipiac University poll last week, for instance, found just 43 percent of non-college-educated, white voters approved of the job Trump was doing, while 50 percent disapproved. It’s a remarkable turn of events, considering that is the demographic who voted for the president in droves in November. CNN’s exits polls, for instance, found 66 percent of non-college-educated whites voted for Trump.

More from Newsweek

Drinking Water and Children’s Health

The Environmental Working Group EWG

Drinking Water and Children’s Health

Drinking Water and Children's Health: Read the Report

By Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst     July 26, 2017

Toxic pollutants in drinking water are particularly hazardous for children. Compared to adults, children drink more water per pound of body weight, resulting in greater exposure and greater risk. They’re also more vulnerable to harmful contaminants because their bodies are still growing and toxic chemicals cause more harm to developing organs and tissues.

EWG set out to find which tap water contaminants pose the greatest risks for children in America today. We reviewed drinking water reports from nearly 50,000 water companies or utilities nationwide, collected between 2010 and 2015, and compared test results to science-based health guidelines.

According to EWG’s Tap Water Database, drinking water supplies for millions of American children and adults have higher amounts of 90 contaminants than scientists consider safe, even if the water gets a passing grade from the federal government. This number doesn’t account for the exposures of the more than 40 million people who drink water from private wells, which are not routinely monitored for contaminants.

Some drinking water contaminants are more harmful when exposure occurs during critical windows in a child’s development. These exposures can have serious effects on health that continue for a lifetime, or their impact on health may surface decades later. Overall, the data show:

  • More than 250 detected contaminants – and the more we test the more we find;
  • 93 chemicals linked to cancer;
  • 78 chemicals linked to brain and nervous system problems;
  • 63 contaminants that can harm development of the fetus or young child;
  • 38 contaminants linked to human fertility problems; and
  • At least 45 contaminants linked to hormone disruption.

For some chemicals, researchers don’t know if or how exposure can affect a child’s development or harm the finely balanced hormonal system because subtle alterations can be hard to detect. The data collected by EWG may be an underestimate of the full range of health concerns for drinking water contaminants.

Tap water and bottle-fed babies

Water contamination is especially concerning for bottle-fed infants.

A baby fed exclusively powdered formula mixed with tap water drinks the most water for its small size of any age group. Tap water can be 85 percent of a formula-fed baby’s diet, and this period of intense exposure can last four to six months, until parents start supplementing formula with food.

Here are five contaminants to watch out for:


A potent neurotoxin, lead is particularly harmful during pregnancy and early childhood. Old, corroded lead pipes and plumbing are common sources of lead in drinking water, and additional exposures come from paint, soil and contaminated household dust.

Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 parts per billion, or ppb, in more than 10 percent of sampled homes, the water utility must apply measures to control lead leaching from the pipes. However, there is no amount of lead exposure scientists consider safe.

Recent Environmental Protection Agency modeling suggests that lead concentrations in excess of 3.8 ppb could boost some children’s lead exposure above acceptable levels. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration limits lead in bottled water to 5 ppb, and California has set a public health goal of 0.2 ppb lead in tap water to protect children’s’ brains and prevent the loss of IQ points.

The data collected by EWG show that more than 19,000 U.S. water utilities have reported some residences with lead levels exceeding 3.8 ppb between 2010 and 2015. Lead levels vary from house to house based on the presence of lead in pipes and solder. Tests performed in your city might not reflect specific lead risks in your home. If you are pregnant or have young children, consider having your tap water tested for lead.

Read more about lead in drinking water. 


The federal government allows up to 10 parts per million, or ppm, of nitrate in

water, but EWG recommends that nitrate levels should not exceed 5 ppm, based on emerging evidence that nitrate causes problems during pregnancy and could increase risks of cancer. In excess of 10 milligrams per liter, nitrate can block the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, which can severely harm bottle-fed infants.

EWG data show that in 2015, 7 million Americans drank water with nitrate levels at an average of 5 ppm or greater, exceeding the level the National Cancer Institute research shows increases the risk of cancer. Additionally, many Americans drink nitrate-contaminated water from private wells, which are not routinely monitored for contamination.

Read more about nitrate in drinking water.


Atrazine, an herbicide linked to hormone disruption, is found in the water supplies of at least 30 million Americans. Federal laws allow up to 3 ppb of atrazine in treated tap water, but human epidemiological studies suggest that federal standards for atrazine are inadequate to protect public health.

In agricultural areas, atrazine and nitrate are frequently present together in drinking water, and the mixture of the chemicals could have a cumulative effect. Researchers from the University of Illinois reported a statistically significant association between the presence of atrazine in drinking water and preterm births. The average concentration of atrazine in the study was one-seventh of the federal legal limit. The same research team found that the effect may be exacerbated by the simultaneous presence of nitrate.

Scientists don’t know exactly how atrazine affects the developing fetus or infant, but the risks from even low levels of exposure are clear. In 1999, scientists in California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a public health goal of 0.15 ppb for atrazine in drinking water. EWG recommends people filter drinking water if it contains atrazine concentrations above this amount.

Read more about atrazine in drinking water.


Manganese is a naturally occurring metal, found in food and water, and may be added to food supplements. It leaches from rocks and soil into drinking water. Several recent studies show lower IQ scores, and lower verbal and behavioral performance scores in children who live in areas with higher concentrations of manganese in water. Scientists remain puzzled by the fact that manganese also occurs naturally in food, but food doesn’t seem to be associated with the same harmful effects.

EWG supports the state of Minnesota’s guideline that formula-fed babies not drink water with more than 100 ppb of manganese. Manganese in excess of this level is found in water served to more than 10 million Americans.

Read more about manganese in drinking water.


Unlike other chemicals monitored by water systems, fluoride is intentionally added to drinking water, even though research clearly shows that fluoride is most effective when used topically in toothpaste and not ingested.

In 2011, responding to a lawsuit by EWG and other advocacy groups, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that water utilities reduce the amount of fluoride added to water to 0.7 ppm – down from the previous federal recommendation allowing up to 1.2 ppm fluoride in drinking water. This new recommendation took effect in 2015.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that if infant formula is mixed with fluoridated water, the baby’s teeth might be affected by dental fluorosis, which appears as white spot markings on the teeth.

EWG recommends that baby formula be mixed with fluoride-free water, especially for infants whose diet is exclusively powdered baby formula.

Federal drinking water regulations do not protect children

EWG believes that federal drinking water regulations must give special consideration to the exposure and toxicity of drinking water contaminants for young children. Yet, many existing national drinking water standards have been developed for an adult weighing 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds – not for a child or an infant. That’s why we published our own EWG Standards, which are limits drawn from the best scientific research that put children’s health first.

What can I do to protect my kids from tap water contaminants?

The best way to reduce your children’s exposures to harmful chemicals in drinking water is to install an effective in-home filter. Look to the EWG Water Filter Guide to find the right filter to remove the specific contaminants in your water and fit your budget.

For atrazine and lead: Even a simple countertop pitcher with a carbon filter can work.

For fluoride, manganese and nitrate: Reverse osmosis is the most reliable system for removing these contaminants. Click here to see reverse osmosis filters.

And after you get a filter for your home, don’t stop there. Reach out to local, state and federal officials to ask them hard questions about water quality, and hold them accountable for making sure all American children have safe water in their homes. Click here to see EWG guide, “7 Questions to Ask Your Elected Officials About Tap Water.”

Look out for future research from EWG on tap water

In the coming months, EWG will publish a series of reports for parents, future parents, and everyone interested in children’s health and drinking water. Look for advice on drinking water during pregnancy and nursing, information on contaminants to avoid, the latest research on chemicals in water such as hormones and hormonal disruptors, and how we can make children’s health a priority in national drinking water policy.