Florence’s rains: Coal ash landfill collapses in Carolinas’
Michael Biesecker, Associated Press September 16, 2018
Heavy rains from Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast, Duke Energy says.
Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said late Saturday about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington and that contaminated runoff likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond.
The company has not yet determined whether the weir that drains the lake was open or if contamination may have flowed into the Cape Fear River. That’s roughly enough ash to fill 180 dump trucks.
Florence slammed into the North Carolina coast as a large hurricane Friday, dumping nearly three feet (1 meter) of rain and swelling the region’s rivers. The resulting flooding forced swift-water rescues and left several people dead.
Sheehan said the company had reported the incident to state and federal regulators “out of an abundance of caution.”
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Duke has been under intense scrutiny for the handling of its coal ash since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge.
In a subsequent settlement with federal regulators, Duke agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. The company is in the process of closing all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
Spokeswoman Megan S. Thorpe at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said state regulators will conduct a thorough inspection of the site as soon as safely possible.
“DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event,” Thorpe said. She added that the department, after assessing the damage, will “hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment.”
There are at least two other coal-fired Duke plants in North Carolina that are likely to affected by the storm.
The H.F. Lee Power Station near Goldsboro has three inactive ash basins that flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, exposing a small amount of coal ash that may have flowed into the nearby Neuse River. The old waste pits are capped with soil and vegetation intended to help prevent erosion of the toxic ash beneath.
The Neuse is expected to crest at more than nine feet (3 meters) above flood stage Monday and Sheehan said the company expects the same ash basins are likely to be inundated again.
At the W. H. Weatherspoon Power Station near Lumberton, Sheehan said it had already rained more than 30 inches (75 centimeters) by Saturday evening, causing a nearby swamp to overflow into the plants cooling pond. The Lumber River is expected to crest at more than 11 feet (3.3 meters) above flood stage Sunday, which would put the floodwaters near the top of the earthen dike containing the plant’s coal ash dump.
Environmentalists have been warning for decades that Duke’s coal ash ponds were vulnerable to severe storms and pose a threat to drinking water supplies and public safety.
“Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who has battled the company in court.
“In this instance, it appears that Duke Energy has not done enough to ensure that its new Wilmington landfill safely stores coal ash. After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits.”
Democrats Call To Delay Kavanaugh Vote After His Accuser Goes Public
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 6, 2018. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Top Senate Democrats said Sunday that the Senate should delay further action on confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh until newly revealed allegations of sexual assault from 35 years ago are investigated by the FBI.
The vote was scheduled for this week but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the delay shortly after The Washington Postpublished a story naming the woman who says that Kavanaugh tried to sexually assault her when they were both teenagers.
The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, spoke to the Post on the record and confirmed details that had previously been reported in other outlets, including The New Yorker.
Ford said that one night in the 1980s, when she was in high school, a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, attempted to pull off her clothing and covered her mouth as she tried to scream. She was able to flee after Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, jumped on them.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
At first, she vowed to never speak of the incident, she said. But the trauma eventually drove her to seek therapy. She brought the incident up at a couples therapy session in 2012, she said.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” said Kavanaugh in a statement issued by the White House last week when the allegations began to surface.
But his words have not stemmed a wave of Democrats who are calling for his nomination to be delayed.
“I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Grassley to postpone the vote “until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated.” He added, “To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) echoed their messages on Twitter, saying, “The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to scrutinize SCOTUS nominees. A vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination must be delayed until there is a thorough investigation.”
On Friday, after the contents of the letter were first reported, an FBI official said the agency had not opened a criminal investigation.
A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the allegations should have been brought up earlier. Their timing and nature “raises a lot of questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives to bring this to the rest of the committee’s attention only now rather than during these many steps along the way.”
During the judge’s hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D.-Hawaii) asked Kavanaugh if he had ever made unwanted sexual advances, verbally or physically since becoming a legal adult. Kavanaugh replied “no” to her questions. The allegations made against Kavanaugh would have taken place while he was still a minor.
“It took a lot of courage for Christine Blasey Ford to come forward to share her story of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh,” Hirono said in a statement on Sunday. “This development is yet another reason not to rush Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.”
Before Ford broke her silence, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Sunday on Fox that Kavanaugh’s nomination process as an “intergalactic freak show” and that “I don’t know what our Democratic friends expect us to do” about the sexual assault allegation because of its secrecy. He predicted that every Republican would vote for Kavanaugh.
The Post reported that Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist and professor, contacted the paper in early July — after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his intention to retire and Kavanaugh was shortlisted as his potential replacement.
On the advice of civil rights lawyer Debra Katz, who specializes in sexual harassment cases, she even took a polygraph test which reportedly demonstrated that her allegations were accurate. There are also therapist’s notes which describe the incident.
She said, “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”
Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California, told The Washington Post that she had feared Kavanaugh “might inadvertently kill” her as he held her down and groped her while they were both high school students around 1982.
Ford alleges another teenager watched as a drunken Kavanaugh attempted to remove her clothing at a gathering outside Washington in suburban Maryland. She tried to scream, but Kavanaugh covered her mouth to silence her, she told the Post. She said she escaped after Kavanaugh’s friend entered the room and jumped on top of both of them.
“I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years,” Ford told the Post of the alleged assault. She described the incident as a “rape attempt” during a therapy session in 2012, according to her therapist’s notes obtained by the Post.
Kavanaugh, 53, has denied any wrongdoing.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” Kavanaugh said in a statement last week when news of the letter first surfaced. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Ford had been requesting anonymity, but she decided to identify herself in the Post article published early Sunday afternoon.
Ford sent the letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) during the summer, after Kavanaugh was nominated for the high court vacancy by President Donald Trump, to share her concerns about him.
After weeks of media speculation, Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will decide whether to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, confirmed the existence of the letter on Thursday. She also said she referred the matter to the FBI.
Ford told the Post she hadn’t wanted to identify herself publicly, but after details of her letter began to leak, she decided she wanted to be the one to tell her story.
The Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh is scheduled for Thursday, but Feinstein said the panel should wait to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation until the FBI has conducted its review into the matter.
“I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation,” Feinstein said in a statement Sunday. “This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee.”
Taylor Foy, a spokeswoman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), on Sunday termed “disturbing” the timing of “uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago, during high school.”
Foy said that if Feinstein and other committee Democrats “took this claim seriously, they should have brought it to the full committee’s attention much earlier.” She also called on Feinstein to release the letter she received from Ford in July “so that everyone can know what she’s known for weeks.”
Several other Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), on Sunday echoed Feinstein’s call for a delayed vote on Kavanaugh.
Grassley “must postpone the vote until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated,” Schumer said in a statement.
The White House reiterated its support for Kavanaugh, a federal appellate court judge, in the wake of the latest development.
“We are standing with Judge Kavanaugh’s denial,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement to Fox News on Sunday.
This story has been updated with comment from Feinstein and Schumer. Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
A rattled Collins has resorted to calling this “bribery” in an “exclusive statement” to right-wing website Newsmax, which tells us exactly which audience she’s attempting to shore up and gain sympathy from.
This claim is just plain silly since no one is planning on actually paying her the money. She should look up Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission for a definition of bribery, a ruling handed down by several justices for whom she voted, and a ruling which she’s benefited from in the form of corporate donations.
Perhaps Collins, who seems to have lived in that cocoon in which senators who’ve been in office for decades often find themselves, is suddenly realizing that we’re in a different time and that she’s sealed her fate. Who knows what Trump may have promised Collins or what she’s afraid he might do to her if she were now to go back on any assurances she may have given on Kavanaugh. Perhaps Collins is worried about a primary challenge from the right in 2020. I would be.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), meanwhile, is begging for help from the same GOP leaders he’s attacked in the past (like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Cruz called a “liar” a few years back) as he tries to fend off a serious challenge from Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is galvanizing support across Texas and coming up even with Cruz in polls. It appears grassroots fundraising has slowed for Cruz and exploded for O’Rourke.
Perhaps Collins is worried about a primary challenge from the right in 2020. I would be.
Ironically, Cruz is also turning to the same man who helped turn the GOP radioactive: Trump, who announced he’s heading to Texas to stump for Cruz next month. The same Cruz whom Trump called “Lyin’ Ted.” The same Trump whom Cruz called a “sniveling coward” and “serial philanderer.”
And now McConnell is openly fretting about losing Republican control of the Senate.
While the House has been in play for Democrats for months, their chances only grow by the day to take control of the chamber, as new polls show further momentum. But control of the Senate, seen as a long shot just weeks ago, is also now a realistic, less-daunting possibility. McConnell even told reporters this week, “I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority.”
GOP leaders mused in the recent past about taking seats from Democrats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan ― all states Trump won. But those efforts have largely evaporated. Now McConnell and GOP leaders are diverting precious time and money to states where McConnell sees a “knife fight in an alley” to retain or take seats: Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida.
Fighting to keep Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee was never in the GOP’s game plan (nor in anyone else’s wildest imagination).
Republicans can only blame themselves for this state of affairs. After first occasionally standing up to Trump post-election, they’ve completely thrown their lot in with him, fearful of their shrinking party’s Trump-loving base. (The GOP now represents only about one-fourth of voters, according to recent surveys, declining since the 2016 election.)
Now, Trump is all they’ve got. Their tax law, benefiting the wealthy and corporations, went nowhere in galvanizing voters for the midterms (many having likely seen it for the scam that it is). According to a recent Fox News poll, it’s now more unpopular (40 percent) than Obamacare (51 percent). Vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric, always a desperate last resort, only hurt the GOP in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial and legislative races and in special elections across the country.
But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from deploying racist attacks this election season in full force. As Frank Sharry of the immigration group America’s Voice notes, we can expect “an ugly midterm election strategy: smear immigrants as criminals and attack Democrats for defending them.”
There are now few states the GOP can send Trump ― who, on his own, is deciding where he wants to go anyway ― because even if he may help in a statewide race, he will hurt GOP House candidates in suburban districts in that same state who are running as far away from him as they can. As has been said many times, anything Trump touches, he destroys.
None of this, of course, is certain, underscoring why progressives must double down their energy. With voter suppression, possible Russian electorial interference and the usual GOP arsenal of dirty tricks, Republicans may be able to cling to power in both chambers. Gerrymandering has helped to rig the system, too.
And even if Republicans are hurt by embracing Trump, much of it is cold comfort for progressives and all who care about the future of America. Collins may pay a price in 2020 for voting to confirm Kavanaugh, but we’ll still be stuck with Kavanaugh and a radical shift of the Supreme Court for decades. The country will experience profound change, from the gutting of Roe v. Wade and threatening LGBTQ rights to an expansion of presidential power and further assaults on the environment.
A lot of the damage that Trump has caused unilaterally or with the help of the GOP Congress will be difficult or even impossible to undo, even if Democrats were to take both the Senate and the House, keep control of each chamber for several years, and even win the presidency in 2020.
But we must start somewhere at turning things around as we face the most devastating and harrowing political reality of our lifetimes. That’s only going to happen when the GOP hits rock bottom as progressive momentum surges. And it’s appearing that may happen this November.
Michelangelo Signorile is an editor-at-large for HuffPost.
Homeland Security Shifted $10 Million From FEMA For Immigrant Crackdown, Senator Says
Nick Visser, HuffPost September 12, 2018
Homeland Security shifted $10 million from FEMA for crackdown on immigration
The Trump administration transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year to fund immigrant detention and deportation efforts, according to a document released Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore).
The lawmaker first shared the documents with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, saying that the Department of Homeland Security requested the money “just as hurricane season [was] starting” and as it was attempting to fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the midst of its new “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The controversial crackdown resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents, hundreds of whom have yet to be reunited.
“This is a scandal. At the start of hurricane season — when American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts — the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA,” Merkley said in a statement to HuffPost. “And for what? To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero tolerance’ policy. It wasn’t enough to rip thousands of children out of the arms of their parents — the administration chose to partly pay for this horrific program by taking away from the ability to respond to damage from this year’s upcoming and potentially devastating hurricane season.”
The document’s release comes just days before Hurricane Florence, a powerful Category 4 storm, is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas’. Millions of people are currently evacuating or hunkering down.
“$10 million comes out of FEMA when we’re facing a hurricane season knowing what’s happened last year,” Merkley told Maddow on Tuesday. “And look what we’ve had since, a hurricane just barely miss Hawaii. … Now we have this hurricane, Florence, bearing down on the Carolinas.”
DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton late Tuesday called the senator’s appearance a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda,” saying the administration was instead “focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”
“The money in question — transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses — could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations,” Houlton wrote on Twitter. “DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.”
The document released by Merkley, which was supplied to HuffPost, states that more than $2.3 million from a total of about $9.8 million had been diverted from FEMA’s “response and recovery” budget. Other funding was transferred from regional operations, mitigation efforts, preparedness and protection, and mission support budgets.
The amount transferred is less than 1 percent of FEMA’s budget for the fiscal year, according to the document, which also notes that the agency’s “mission impact” would be minimized as FEMA would only be required to “curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance, and IT investments.”
The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to move a limited amount of money around within its budget. In the past, Congress had limited DHS from shuffling more than $5 million from one approved program to another through the process known as “reprogramming.”
A coalition of human rights groups penned a letter on June 27 asking the Senate Committee on Appropriations to oppose attempts by DHS to up the amount of funding for immigrant detention, accusing the department of “dramatically overspending its appropriated budget in ways both morally reprehensible and fiscally irresponsible.”
The $10 million of additional funds that DHS aims to use to expand immigrant detention amounts to less than 1 percent of the ICE budget for locking up immigrants, which tops $1.4 billion.
Here’s what would happen if the Sahara was covered in solar and wind farms
Luke Dormehl, Digital September 11, 2018
With swirling dust storms, barely any rain, and daytime temperatures reaching up to 104-degrees Fahrenheit, the Sahara desert is one of the world’s least hospitable environments. But the 3.6 million square mile stretch also represents a whole lot of untapped prime real estate — which a new study suggests could be used for housing the biggest solar and wind farms in the world. As it turns out, not only would covering the entire area in solar and wind farms more than meet the world’s energy demands, it would also transform the local climate. According to a team of international researchers, this could more than double local rainfall and result in a moderate “greening” of the region. What’s not to like?
“The Sahara is quite dry and its surface is covered with little vegetation,” Yan Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, told Digital Trends. “The additional rainfall and vegetation would certainly provide a much-needed relief to this dry, bare desert.”
In their study, the researchers simulated the effects of covering the entire area with these solar and wind farms. They concluded that wind farms would generate, on average, around three terawatts of power and 79 terawatts through solar farms. This is significantly more than the 18 terawatts that made up the 2017 global energy demand.
This climate modeling study is one of the first times that researchers have modeled the effects of wind and solar installation, along with the ways that vegetation changes with heat and precipitation. The reasons for the changes in climate are complex, but they are related to effects like wind farms’ turbine blades pulling warm air down to the desert’s surface, along with solar farms increasing surface reflectiveness.
Of course, building this many solar and wind farms probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But it may not need to. As noted, doing this would produce far more energy than we currently require. It also wouldn’t take this major an intervention to get the beneficial effects on local precipitation and vegetation. When the researchers conducted experiments for farms of smaller scales, their results suggested that covering only the northwest quadrant of the Sahara would have almost the same climate benefits as covering the entire thing.
Trump administration rushes to lease federal lands
Alexander Nazaryan September 11, 2018
White House rushes to lease federal lands
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Donald Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News, photos: AP (2), Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Department of Interior is quietly preparing to offer hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for leasing to energy companies, a move critics have charged is being undertaken with minimal public input and little consideration for ecological and cultural preservation.
According to data compiled by environmental groups, the Bureau of Land Management will put 2.9 million acres up for potential leasing in the next four months. Because the land in question — in states including New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona — lacks designation as a national park or monument, it can be used for commercial purposes such as mining for minerals and drilling for oil and gas. Supporters say that bolstering the extractive industries will ensure energy independence for the United States, though shifting energy preferences and falling oil prices appear to undermine that assertion.
The Bureau of Land Management is part of the Department of the Interior, which is today headed by Ryan Zinke, a Montana native who has styled himself a rugged conservationist, even as he maintains close ties to private enterprise. Many of his closest advisers at Interior have ties to the oil and gas industry, either as lobbyists or executives. His top deputy, for example, is David L. Bernhardt, a veteran Republican operative who has also lobbied on behalf of California agribusiness.
Leasing land was a common practice before Trump. What’s different now, detractors say, is that the Bureau of Land Management is moving with uncommon speed to make improper determinations without allowing public to comment. That has led, these critics say, to widespread damage to the environment of the American West.
“We can’t just get it back,” says Nada Culver, a leader in the Wilderness Society’s land-use division. “Mistakes are made when you’re rushing.”
The Obama administration offered plenty of land to energy and mineral prospectors, but it did so in far more considered fashion. In 2016, the Obama administration put 1.9 million acres up for leasing, down from a high of 6.1 million acres offered in 2012. In its first year, the Trump administration offered 11.9 acres, the vast majority of them in Alaska. In the end, only 792,000 acres were leased, which represented just 7 percent of the offerings. In 2016, conversely, the Obama administration offered a much smaller total number of acres (1.9 million), but sold a far greater share: 47 percent, or 921,240. That suggests the Obama administration was more judicious in determining lands that would be desirable to industry.
Those numbers, however, do not tell the full story. Less important than the amount of land offered, conservationists say, is where those parcels are located, as well as their significance as either natural resources or cultural landmarks. In this, too, the Obama administration appears to have been significantly more successful than its successor. In 2012, for example, only 17 percent of the parcels offered by the Obama administration were “protested” by the public (those figures are for fiscal years, where as the compilation of acres offered is for calendar years; the two correlate closely, if not exactly). Conversely, of the parcels offered in 2017, a full 88 percent were contested, suggesting the Trump administration has been largely indiscriminate in the land it is offering.
An even higher percentage of lands could be contested this year, given how close they are to protected areas in some of the country’s most rugged, cherished regions. The greatest share of offerings are in Wyoming, where about 1.1 million acres are being offered for lease. There were also 721,705 acres offered in Nevada, 329,826 in Utah and 230,944 in Colorado, along with smaller parcels in New Mexico, Montana and Arizona. Some of these are near national monuments and national parks, including Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Canyonlands National Park in Utah and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.
Many of the lands also represent habitat of the sage grouse, a bird whose native habitat is the high desert of the West. The sage grouse’s numbers have been drastically diminished by commercial and residential development.
President Obama considered protecting the grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Similar protection for the spotted owl in 1990 had laid waste to many a logger’s plans. Instead, in 2015, his Interior Department struck a deal with Western states. The sage grouse remained off the endangered species list, but there were 98 separate plans across the region to protect the bird —and, just as importantly, the landscape it lived on.
Zinke ordered those plans reviewed in the fall of 2018, indicating that he was preparing to offer some of the land set aside for sage grouse to energy or mineral-extraction companies. It’s unlikely that Zinke had personal animosity towards the bird. Rather, the sage grouse stands in the way of greater development of open lands across the West.
Aware that leasing land across the West could prove highly unpopular, the bureau canceled a 30-day comment period on any proposed lease, and the time to appeal a proposed lease already in the works was reduced to a mere 10 days. During the Obama administration, the total time for both comment and appeal had been 60 days.
“Were operating under a new guidance that has radically cut out opportunities for public input,” says Culver of the Wilderness Society.
Not only that, but Interior officials who worked in parks and national monuments were pressured to make land available for leasing, even when it was clear that studding that land with oil derricks and mining equipment would destroy the landscape and drive away the millions of tourists, both foreign and domestic, who came to see it each year.
“Why in the world, for a short-term gain, would you jeopardize those places by doing something stupid?” wonders Walt Dabney, who served as a park ranger for many decades and is now retired and living in Utah. He says that Moab, Utah, where he lives, is full of tourists and that French and Mandarin are commonly heard in local stores. The tourists bring millions to the local economy, and they “don’t boom-bust like the oil and gas business.”
Energy-related development will drive them away, according to Dabney, who says he’s not against energy. He is only against doing things quickly, and without consideration.
Among those challenging the Bureau of Land Management lease offerings is Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a group whose members lean red — and green. Its president, David Jenkins, has called for 117,000 acres across five states to be set aside by Interior. “It certainly makes no sense to lock up these important public resources,” Jenkins said, since the “oil and gas industry has shown no interest in them,” a reference to the tepid response to 2017’s offerings. The fear, of course, is that the non-Alaska offerings of 2018 will be more enthusiastically received.
Legislators and conservationists have had little recourse but to prepare for the next round of BLM offerings. The two Democratic U.S. Senators from New Mexico, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have introduced legislation that would prevent leasing within 10 miles of of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Previous administration had informally honored such a buffer; the Trump administration does not.
Udall, ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of the Interior’s budget, told Yahoo News, “It is the height of folly to take this ‘drill everywhere all the time’ approach at a time when domestic production from public lands is already at near record levels and U.S. action on climate change is stalling. The Trump administration’s corporate giveaways won’t lead to more energy security — they’ll just lead to more litigation, since the communities and tribes were not consulted. The American people have a right to comment on the management of their lands, and they will fight back against attempts to exploit these special places that belong to all of us.
The Department of Interior says such concerns are unfounded. “Congress specifically requires regular lease opportunities for energy and mineral production on federal lands,” department spokesperson Heather Swift told Yahoo News. “President Trump promised the American people that he would restore the balance of multiple use of federal lands, make America energy dominant, and generate economic growth. Federal lands play a huge part of that.”
The leasing of public lands represents “real money that will go to state governments for education, roads and public safety,” she added.
But because the funds from leased lands are shared between states and the federal government, and because the Trump administration has so far struggled to lease lands, those proceeds are not likely to be especially great. For example, of the 900 lots in Alaska offered by the Department of Interior in 2017, only seven found a leasor.
In all, Alaska received nearly $580,000. That is about a fifth of what the American taxpayer pays for each of Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago.
Wildfire that closed key California highway explodes in size
Associated Press September 9, 2018
SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) — A roaring wildfire that shut down a stretch of a major interstate near the California-Oregon border exploded in size as crews on Saturday scrambled to prevent flames from reaching rural communities.
The blaze in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest was burning out of control after chewing through 58 square miles (150 square kilometers) of timber and brush since Wednesday.
Aircraft were temporarily prevented from making water and retardant drops because heavy smoke was trapped under cloud cover, making for limited visibility for pilots. Firefighters working in rugged terrain were contending with hot temperatures and gusty winds.
Authorities announced Friday that a 45-mile (72-kilometer) section of Interstate 5 north of Redding would remain closed at least until Sunday.
The fire has destroyed thousands of trees — some 70 feet (20 meters) tall — that could fall onto the highway that traverses the entire West Coast from Mexico to Canada and serves as a main artery for commerce.
Truckers and other motorists were forced to take circuitous local routes that added hours to travel times.
Interstate 5 became a ghost road after fire turned hills on either side into walls of flame. Drivers fled in terror and several big-rigs burned.
Nearly 300 homes were considered threatened, but the blaze was not burning near any large towns, fire spokesman Brandon Vacarro said.
Meanwhile crews near California’s border with Nevada gained minimal containment of another wildfire that closed highways on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
A previous fire this year near Redding and another in the Mendocino area — the two largest blazes in the state this year — destroyed or damaged 8,800 homes and 329 businesses.
The Mendocino fire was expected to be fully contained by Sunday, more than six weeks after it started.
Forty-two scientists contributed to a study published in Science Friday that examined how land-based plants had responded to temperature changes of four to seven degrees Celsius since the height of the ice age in order to predict how land-based ecosystems might respond to similar temperature changes predicted for the future.
They found that, if we do not act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s entire terrestrial biome is 75 percent likely to change completely, impacting biodiversity and making life difficult for anyone whose livelihood is based around an ecosystem as it exists now.
“Having this kind of change occur at such a massive scale in such a short period of time is going to create unprecedented challenges for natural-resource management,” study author and U.S. Geological Survey climate scientist Stephen Jackson told The Atlantic.
The researchers looked at 594 examples of ecosystem change over time to get an understanding of what sorts of changes we could expect from unmitigated global warming.
“Five miles from where I sit is the middle of the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Park,” Jackson told The Atlantic from his desk in Tucson, Arizona. “Today, there’s big saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, ironwood trees. If we were to roll back the calendar 20,000 years, and we went to the same place, we would find a woodland of evergreen trees.”
Jackson gave another example of how the area around Washington, DC has changed from boreal forest like that found today in Canada to hardwood forest, featuring species like oak.
But while the period the researchers studied spanned around 21,000 years, similar temperature changes could occur within the next 100, and the speed of change could have a major impact.
“If you’re a wildlife manager and your ecosystem changes, if you’re a forest manager trying to respond to wildfires, if you’re a water manager who is responsible for converting rainfall estimates into reservoir levels,” Jackson told The Atlantic, “then the old rules are not necessarily going to apply.”
Another study, published Thursday in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, looked at how the individual species within ecosystems might respond to these dramatic temperature changes.
The study, led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen, looked to the past to see how plants and animals had responded to changes in their environment over the past million years.
“From fossils and other biological ‘archives,’ we have access to a nearly limitless number of case studies throughout Earth’s history. This provides us with valuable knowledge of how climate changes of various rates, magnitudes and types can affect biodiversity,” Jackson, who also co-authored the second study, said in a University of Copenhagen press release.
Scientists had previously believed species would simply migrate in response to changing climates, but the historical examples reviewed for this study showed they often adapted over time by changing their behavior or body color or shape.
However, researchers were concerned the pace of current climate change might be too fast for evolution to keep up.
“We know animals and plants have prevented extinction by adapt or migrate in the past. However, the models we use today to predict future climate change, foresee magnitudes and rates of change, which have been exceptionally rare in the last million years,” co-author Francisco Rodriguez-Sanchez from the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) said in the university release.
Rodriquez-Sanchez said more research was needed to predict how species might respond to current climate change, but hoped the past examples of successful adaptation could help policy makers craft effective conservation decisions.
Stunning Victory for Indigenous Nations as Canada Halts Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion
By Lorraine Chow August 30, 2018
Pipeline intended to cross Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Robert McGouey / Getty Images
A Canadian court “quashed” approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on Thursday, a major setback for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government agreed to purchase the controversial project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion Canadian dollars (U.S. $3.5 billion) in May.
It’s a stunning victory for Indigenous groups and environmentalists opposed to the project, which is designed to nearly triple the amount of tar sands transported from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the National Energy Board’s review—as explained by the Canadian Press—”was so flawed that the federal government could not rely on it as a basis for its decision to approve the expansion.”
The project has been at the center of widespread protests from environmental groups and First Nations ever since November 2016, when Trudeau approved a $7.4 billion expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline that would increase the transport of Alberta tar sands oil from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day and increase tanker traffic nearly seven-fold through the Burrard Inlet.
Specifically, the court said it was an “unjustifiable failure” that the National Energy Board did not consider the environmental impacts of the increased tanker traffic.
The court additionally concluded that the government “fell well short” with properly consulting with the Indigenous groups involved in the case, including the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish on British Columbia’s south coast.
The ruling will force the National Energy Board to redo its review of the pipeline and the government to restart consultations with the Indigenous groups. It also means that the construction that has already began in central Alberta must cease.
In effect, the court has halted the 1,150-kilometer project indefinitely and it will remain in “legal limbo until the energy regulator and the government reassess their approvals to satisfy the court’s demands,” CBCwrote about today’s decision.
Notably, the decision was made the same day Kinder Morgan’s shareholders voted to approve the $4.5 billion sale to Canada, which means the country owns a proposed pipeline project that could be subject to years of further review, the publication pointed out.
The court’s judgment could be appealed a final time to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Minister of Finance Bill Morneau said that the government has received the ruling and will review the decision.