With public lands at stake, outdoors enthusiasts head to D.C.
Professional rock climber Tommy Caldwell admits he feels more comfortable climbing sheer cliff faces thousands of feet in the air than discussing public policy with national lawmakers.
“Climbing big walls is what I know,” says the 38-year-old climber, who made national headlines for bagging the first free ascent of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall in 2015. “Getting dressed up in a suit and going up to Capitol Hill is definitely not my safe spot.”
Nevertheless, Caldwell, along with a number of the world’s top climbers like Alex Honnold, Kai Lightner, Sasha DiGiulian, and Libby Sauter, joined advocacy groups and outdoor industry representatives in Washington, D.C., last Thursday to lobby for the protection of our nation’s public lands.
“I’ve spent my entire life on public lands. More than 50 percent of the days of my life have been spent in national parks,” Caldwell says. “I think public lands may be the best thing about America, and I don’t want that going away.”
“One of the goals was to provide a unique voice so that congressional representatives could understand a different perspective on public lands,” says Erik Murdock, policy director at the Access Fund, one of the advocacy groups behind the event. “About 60 percent of our climbing areas across the country are on federal lands. Our mission is to make sure that these areas are protected and conserved for future generations.” 05-21-17
Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas Has a Problem with Science – and with Voters
For most of his four years as chair of the Science Committee, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas has served up more spectacle than policy. As arguably the showiest climate denier and opponent of environmental regulations in Congress, Smith has orchestrated climate change hearings that are the scientific equivalent of pro-wrestling matches. Stacked with skeptics who mocked mainstream climate science, they offered virtually no chance for significant dialogue. Similarly, Smith’s challenge to the well-documented relationship between air pollution and lung disease was seen as little more than a craven nod to the energy companies that were responsible for that pollution. And his repeated use of his subpoena power has served mostly to attract attention and make life difficult for the scientists and government workers he has targeted.
But Smith, who has boldly argued against funding for an institute that studies the toxicity of substances such as lead and asbestos, and has rushed to the defense of Monsanto’s RoundUp, is no longer just throwing bombs from the margins. With Trump in the White House and Scott Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, Smith now has the power to turn his visions of regulatory rollback into realities.
Already this session Smith revived two bills that, before the election, had been dismissed as nuisances. The Honest Act, which grew out of a strategy developed by the tobacco industry, is designed to prohibit the EPA from using public health research; the other bill, known as the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, was crafted to allow industry representatives to serve on scientific boards. Both bills were passed by the House in March. 05-20-17
Climate change is messing with all your favorite birds
Timing is everything for migratory songbirds chirping away in North America’s trees
If they arrive too late, they’ll get only the scraps of spring’s insect buffet. Plus, the best nesting spots and mates will be taken, leaving them with lackluster prospects for making baby birds. Arrive too early, and they’ll face a hostile winter chill.
Yet climate change is making it harder for birds to get it right. Spring is arriving earlier in the eastern states and later in the west, disrupting the timing of dozens of songbird species, a new study found.
As birds struggle to settle in and lay eggs, it could create a “domino effect” that threatens the survival of many popular backyard species, U.S. and Canadian researchers said in a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports. 05-16-17
U.S. Population Reaches New Milestone
The total number of people living in the U.S. surpassed 325 million Sunday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the past 50 years, as the global human population has doubled, wildlife populations have been halved. During that same period, the U.S. grew by more than 100 million people. The United Nations predicts that the world’s human population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and exceed 11 billion by 2100.
“Hitting this population record highlights the danger of the Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive healthcare and environmental protections,” said Leigh Moyer, a population organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We’re crowding out wildlife and destroying wild places at alarming rates, and Trump’s reckless actions will worsen the effects of our unsustainable population growth, overconsumption and urban sprawl.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population grows by one person every 14 seconds. While the U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population, it is responsible for at least 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Trump administration has already instituted policies that prevent U.S. dollars from funding clinics that provide family planning and reproductive health aid if they also provide abortion service, despite the fact that government money is not used to fund abortion. The administration has also taken steps to roll back protections for wildlife, clean air and water and the climate, which all face increased pressure with a growing population. 05-15-17
Germany Breaks Record: 85% of Energy Comes From Renewables Last Weekend
Thanks to a particularly breezy and sunny Sunday, renewables such as wind and solar, along with some biomass and hydropower, peaked at a record 85 percent, or 55.2 gigawatts, and even came along with negative prices for several hours at the electricity exchange.
Conversely, coal use was at an all-time minimum. According to DW, on April 30, coal-fired power stations were only operational between 3 and 4 p.m. and produced less than eight gigawatts of energy, well below the maximum output of about 50 gigawatts. 05-04-17
Glacier National Park used to have 150 glaciers. Now it has 26.
Glacier National Park is losing its namesake glaciers and new research shows just how quickly: Over the past 50 years, 39 of the park’s glaciers have shrunk dramatically, some by as much as 85 percent.
Of the 150 glaciers that existed it the park in the late 19th century, only 26 remain.
“The trend is consistent, there’s been no reversal,” Daniel Fagre, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist who led the research, said.
The loss of glaciers potentially affects not just tourism to the park, which hit a record 2.9 million visitors last year, but also local ecosystems that depend on the summer release of glacial meltwater.
The pristine, 1 million–acre park sits along the border with Canada in Montana and has long been a poster child for climate change in U.S. national parks. Side-by-side photo comparisons show in the starkest terms just how far some glaciers have retreated, with some only reduced to small nubs of ice. 05-11-17
Hog poop bacteria from big NC farms taints nearby homes
As the state bats around a bill shielding hog farms from some nuisance lawsuits, new evidence filed in court last week finds harmful bacteria on homes near large confinement farms.
Bacteria from large-scale industrial hog farms in North Carolina are contaminating the homes, lawns and air of nearby private homes, according to new evidence.
The bacteria, called pig2bac, are a marker for pig poop, which contains hundreds of other pathogens many of which can make people sick.
The evidence was filed in federal court last Friday and comes as state Republicans are pushing forward a bill to shield large-scale farms from many of the legal claims that seek to recover damages from lost property value, health effects and overall suffering from living near hog farm pollution and smells.
The evidence was from a study by Shane Rogers, a professor and researcher at Clarkston University in New York, who tested the air and land and exterior walls of 17 homes near a Smithfield Foods hog confinement operation. The testing was done was done in 2016.
Rogers, who is an expert witness in a lawsuit by hundreds of people from North Carolina against a Smithfield Foods subsidiary, reported that 14 of the homes tested positive for the pig2bac bacteria.
In the six dust samples he collected from the air and yards of four residences he found “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hog feces DNA particles.” 05-11-17
Huge Victory: Natural Gas Storage Plan Halted at Seneca Lake
Deep in the third paragraph of section B, this wholly owned subsidiary of the Houston-based gas storage and transportation giant, Crestwood Midstream, announced that it was walking away from its FERC-approved plan to increase its storage of methane (natural gas) in unlined, abandoned salt caverns along the shoreline of Seneca Lake.
In its own words, “Arlington has discontinued efforts to complete the Gallery 2 Expansion Project.”
It was a blandly expressed ending to a dramatic conflict that has roiled New York’s Finger Lakes region for more than six years. Together with a separate—and still unresolved—plan for lakeside storage of propane (LPG) in adjacent salt caverns, Crestwood’s Arlington operation has been the focus of massive, unrelenting citizen opposition that has taken many forms. 05-11-17
Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says
Officials underestimate the role that preserving forests can play in addressing the climate crisis, according to the Dogwood Alliance.
The report also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.
“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report. 05-05-17
Florida’s building boom threatens wildlife-rich lagoon
The most biologically diverse waterway in America is seriously ill.
The Indian River Lagoon is repeatedly being choked with oxygen-robbing algae, its surface increasingly dotted with thousands of dead fish, manatees, birds and other creatures.
The culprits: farm runoff and a huge influx of people that has sent lawn fertilizer and other pollutants into the lagoon, which runs 156 miles along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, almost to Palm Beach, and includes the Cape Canaveral area.
“It’s the death by a thousand cuts,” said Bob Knight, an environmental scientist with the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute who has studied Florida’s waters for 40 years.
The lagoon’s woes threaten the region’s $2.5 billion recreation, fishing and tourism economy, alarming kayak tour operators, charter boat captains, restaurateurs and organizers of bird-watching festivals.
Environmentalists are distressed to see the lagoon’s rich variety of life threatened in a crisis similar to what has happened in recent decades in such places as the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico. 05-04-17
Not a Drill
Last Friday, the president signed an executive order to open up territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to offshore oil and gas exploration. On Wednesday, the group Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands joined other environmental groups — including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council — in filing a lawsuit in federal court to stop that order.
President Trump was aiming to undo a move that then-President Obama made in December, one month before Trump’s inauguration. Obama banned oil drilling in nearly all of the U.S.-held Arctic, as well as underwater canyons in the Atlantic. Obama’s move relied on an obscure law from the 1950s which literally states that the president can “from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf.” 05-03-17
Omnibus deal ignores Trump calls for deep energy, enviro cuts
Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal last night to fund the government through the rest of the year that avoids steep cuts for U.S. EPA and renewable energy programs sought by the Trump administration.
The bill would also provide a long-sought, permanent fix to guarantee health care benefits for retired union coal miners and their widows. It does not contain many of the policy riders sought by Republicans to ease environmental regulations.
Lawmakers need to approve the $1.017 trillion deal by the end of the week and avoid a federal shutdown when current, stopgap funding expires late Friday. The legislation would provide funds for the final five months of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.
Appropriators have spent months negotiating the omnibus package, which will include all 11 remaining fiscal 2017 spending bills. In advance of the deal, federal agencies have been operating under fiscal 2016 spending levels with little flexibility in making budget changes. 05-01-17
Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal
A new briefing paper details how Dominion Energy‘s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
The planned 600-mile interstate pipeline will carry 1.44 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through forests, critical animal habitats and pristine mountains that Dominion would be required to “reduce” between 10 to 60 feet, according to the paper released Thursday by the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The paper cites data from the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.
“In light of the discovery that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. 04-28-17
Legislators Retreat from Active CAFO Lawsuit Attack
A Senate committee backs a bill to limit financial awards in farm nuisance lawsuits, but steers clear of current cases.
State legislators appear to have abandoned a drive to restrict court awards potentially available to some 500 Eastern North Carolina residents suing the world’s largest pork producer over farm odors and other alleged nuisances.
Republican members of a Senate committee endorsed a bill Tuesday that would limit compensation in future such cases only to losses in the rental or purchase value of a dwelling.
But in step with a House measure passed two weeks ago, the senators amended the bill to apply only to lawsuits filed after the bill passes.
Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville) introduced the amendment and the bill saying that limiting compensation in future cases will protect livestock farms from excessive financial awards in a nuisance lawsuit.
“We are having frivolous lawsuits and payment amounts have been substantially more than the value of any of the properties. The industry cannot withstand this,” Jackson said. 04-26-17
Thoughts from the Science March in Berkeley
At the urging of my STEM-educated husband, I went to the UC Berkeley campus on Saturday for the science march. Despite living six years in Berkeley during my PhD work, this was my first protest at Sproul Plaza, site of the Free Speech Movement of the sixties, and many legendary protests since.
I had been avoiding this event because I don’t like crowds, and because I expected a flyover-state-bashing smug-fest from my fellow liberals. One of the distinct problems of the politics of our time is that they have become wholly tribal. The only explanation for the average non-ExxonMobil-affiliated conservative rejecting the science on climate change is that for some reason their tribe ended up on the other side. Unlike, say, guns or taxes, most conservatives have zero personal stake in the continuing use of fossil fuels. So seeing my own tribe of political liberals get together for what I thought would be a ritual shaming of the “red-state rubes” didn’t sound like my idea of a good time. 04-23-17
N.C. Bill to Shield CAFOs’ Liability Would Curb Legal Rights for Hundreds of Thousands
North Carolina lawmakers are rushing to pass legislation to fundamentally alter the legal rights of property owners, severely restricting the longstanding right to fair compensation for hundreds of thousands of residents whose air, water, health, quality of life and property values are threatened by the pollution and stench of animal waste from factory farms.
Despite bipartisan outcry that the measure is an unconstitutional attack on traditional property rights, House Bill 467 was fast-tracked through the state House of Representatives and approved April 10 by a vote of 68-47. It is now under consideration by the state Senate, where a nearly identical companion bill, SB 460, is in the Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The legislation would cap the amount of damages that could be sought in so-called nuisance suits brought by owners of property near concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Under the bill, people living near CAFOs or any other “agricultural or forestry operations” could only recover damages equal to an estimate of the reduction in the fair market value or fair market rental value of their property, barring compensation for illness, injury, damage to other physical property, or the inability to use and enjoy the property. 04-17-17
The woman who stopped a fracking truck
Fed up with pollution in her town, one woman decided to block a truck from entering a fracking site – by putting her own body on the line.
Oil and gas extraction releases ozone and methane. So when a fracking boom started near Dallas, Texas, air pollution there got worse. Elida Tamez lives in Denton, where the problem is especially bad.
Tamez: “During the hottest part of the summers, you really can’t go outside and breathe very easily, especially if you’re young, and also if your health is compromised like mine.”
Tamez has cancer, but it has not stopped her from getting involved. Two years ago, the state legislature reversed a city ban on fracking in Denton. So she went out to the fracking site to protest. 04-17-17
North Carolina is Latest in State CAFO Battles
A bill to restrict damages in active lawsuits in North Carolina against the world’s largest hog grower and pork producer may be one of the more aggressive moves nationally to shield intensive livestock agriculture from court penalties. But it’s far from the only example.
The number of livestock farms converting to densely populated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has grown in recent decades. So have state laws written to shield the farms from interference by neighbors who oppose the odors and other conditions the farms can create.
The latest effort to do so in North Carolina comes as evidence has increased that CAFOs may sometimes pose health risks to people living nearby, such as respiratory problems, increased blood pressure, and increased stress. exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria and mental health strains.
It also arrives as disgruntled CAFOs neighbors in this state, frequently black citizens in low-wealth communities, have more allies than ever, especially lawyers and environmentalists. 04-13-17
House passes limited hog farm liability bill
proposal to limit the financial payoff from citizen lawsuits against North Carolina’s hog farming operations passed the state House on Monday, but only after lawmakers agreed to exempt lawsuits currently pending.
The passage of House Bill 467 keeps alive 26 lawsuits pending in federal court against Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown. The suits, filed by 541 residents of Eastern North Carolina, allege that hog farmers spraying their fields with liquified swine waste causes offensive odors, swarming flies and other problems.
The bill had initially been written to include the pending lawsuits against Murphy-Brown, but several Republicans said during Monday’s debate that interfering with a lawsuit was unconstitutional and would deprive citizens of their legal rights and property rights. The bill, which would now affect only future lawsuits, heads to the state Senate for further debate.
Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a retired farmer from Duplin County who sponsored the bill, said the lawsuits against Murphy-Brown were filed by residents who “are being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers who fly in on Lear jets and troll for clients. 04-10-17
California’s cap-and-trade program isn’t a tax, court rules
State judges told the California Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that its members don’t have a right to pollute, rejecting claims by its attorneys that payments required to release greenhouse gases under a marquee climate program are a kind of tax.
The state appeals court ruling could have profound implications for the future of the state’s embattled cap-and-trade program, making it more likely to survive beyond 2020, when it could help the state meet some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets.
“The onus on us was to demonstrate that it wasn’t a tax,” said Stanley Young, spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board, which operates the cap-and-trade program and defended it in court. “We disproved the tax theory.”
Unless the ruling is overturned by the state’s supreme court, state Democrats may only need a simple majority of the legislature to support an extension of the program beyond 2020. Taxes in California require two-thirds majority votes to enact — a challenging hurdle to overcome despite a Democratic supermajority in both chambers. 04-07-17
7-Eleven to Power 425 Texas Stores With Wind Energy
The energy will come exclusively from wind farms in Texas, which is a state with more than 10,000 turbines. The agreement is 96 months and begins June 1, 2018.
“This agreement is beneficial for 7-Eleven on several fronts,” Ben Tison, 7-Eleven senior vice president of development, said in a press release. “Wind energy is a renewable, more cost-effective resource that will lower the carbon footprint of these stores as well as operating costs. Our customers, particularly Millennials and the younger Generation Z, care about sustainability and reducing environmental impacts, and they’re paying attention to what companies are doing.” 04-05-17
30-Year EPA Veteran: ‘I Have Never Seen Anything Like It’
Echoing this sentiment, retiring EPA climate change specialist Michael Cox sent a damning letter to Administrator Scott Pruitt Friday claiming “morale at EPA is the lowest since I started in 1987.” In his four-page letter, Cox wrote that he become “increasingly alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership.” He cited problems such as “denying fundamental climate science,” “indefensible budget cuts,” “appointing political staff who are openly hostile to EPA” and “lack of understanding of what we do at EPA.”
Emphasizing government’s role to serve the people, Cox said:
“I, and many staff, firmly believe the policies this Administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children breath[e] is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.” 04-04-17
Bill would weaken neighbors’ ability to be compensated in hog farm lawsuits
The civil justice system in North Carolina exists to protect people and their property from unreasonable actions by others. One of the longest standing causes of action in civil courts is for nuisance claims, which allow you to bring suit when your neighbor creates a condition on their property that interferes with your ability to use and enjoy your property, such as excessive noise, poorly stored garbage that might attract vermin or foul odors.
Yet, House Bill 467, which is being fast-tracked through the legislature, would prevent hundreds of rural landowners from recovering more than token damages even if a court were to decide that the corporations responsible for factory farming have committed just such a nuisance.
Nuisance suits are already limited to addressing conditions that are unreasonable for the area where they occur. They also protect pre-existing businesses, such as farms, from suits by people who “come to the nuisance” and then take issue with their surroundings. In rural agricultural areas, some noise, dust and smells are expected and reasonable; our state’s Right to Farm Act adds additional protections for farmers from being sued over such typical agricultural impacts on neighbors. So why eliminate damages for landowners that prove a nuisance which does not involve a typical agriculture impact?