Trump Auctions Off 150,000 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks
Arches National Park. Chris Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah’s most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Dozens of Utahns gathered at the state Capitol to protest the lease sale, which included lands within 10 miles of internationally known protected areas. In addition to Arches and Canyonlands, the Bureau of Land Management leased public lands for fracking near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep national monuments and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
“Utahns have demonstrated their commitment to transition away from dirty fossil fuels through clean energy resolutions passed in municipalities across our state. Yet, these commitments continue to be undermined by rampant oil and gas lease sales, which threaten our public health, public lands, and economy. While Utah’s recreational and tourism economies continue to flourish, these attempts to develop sacred cultural, environmental, and recreational spaces for dirty fuels remain a grave and growing threat.” said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. “Utah is our home and the reckless sale of our public lands with limited public engagement is simply unacceptable and short-sighted.”
Fracking in these areas threatens sensitive plants and animals, including the black-footed ferret, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Graham’s beardtongue. It also will worsen air pollution problems in the Uinta Basin and use tremendous amounts of groundwater. Utah just experienced its driest year in recorded history. 12-12-18
Living near oil and gas wells linked to increase in cardiovascular disease: Study
Those near more intense oil and gas development showed higher blood pressure, changes in the stiffness of blood vessels, and markers of inflammation.
People who live near oil and gas operations are more likely to have early indicators of cardiovascular disease than those who don’t, according to a recent study.
Cardiovascular disease resulted in 900,000 deaths in 2016, and is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S. and more than 17.4 million Americans now live within one mile of an active oil and gas well.
The small pilot study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research on December 6, found that those who live in areas with more intense oil and gas development, including fracking, showed more early signs of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure, changes in the stiffness of blood vessels, and markers of inflammation.
Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health examined 97 relatively healthy adults living in an area of Northeastern Colorado with pockets of dense oil and gas activity, including extensive truck traffic, pipelines, and both fracking and traditional well pads.
“To date most of the research on the health impacts of oil and gas development has used data from existing health registries,” lead author and assistant research professor at the Colorado School of Public Health Lisa McKenzie told EHN. “For this study, we actually went out and took direct measurements from people, which meant we knew a lot more about them.” 12-12-18
Trump Prepares to Unveil a Vast Reworking of Clean Water Protections
A bullfrog in a farm pond in Kentucky. The Trump administration plans to lay out changes to clean water rules. CreditCreditEducation Images/UIG, via Getty Images
The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to unveil a plan that would weaken federal clean water rules designed to protect millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams nationwide from pesticide runoff and other pollutants.
Environmentalists say the proposal represents a historic assault on wetlands regulation at a moment when Mr. Trump has repeatedly voiced a commitment to “crystal-clean water.” The proposed new rule would chip away at safeguards put in place a quarter century ago, during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, who implemented a policy designed to ensure that no wetlands lost federal protection.
“They’re definitely rolling things back to the pre-George H.W. Bush era,” said Blan Holman, who works on water regulations with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Wetlands play key roles in filtering surface water and protecting against floods, while also providing wildlife habitat.
President Trump, who made a pledge of weakening a 2015 Obama-era rule one of his central campaign pledges, is expected to tout his plan as ending a federal land grab that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their property as they see fit. 12-10-18
Trump’s pursuit of ‘American energy dominance’ threatens the entire planet
President Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on April 28, 2017, before signing an Executive Order directing the Interior Department to begin review of restrictive drilling policies for the outer-continental shelf. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
President Trump upended decades of U.S. policy that started with Richard Nixon when he declared that the goal of the United States was no longer “energy independence” but rather “American energy dominance.” This wasn’t Trumpian hyperbole. Few policies have been pursued by the administration with more cohesiveness, zeal, and success — or with more potential to yield great and lasting harm.
Trump has unleashed a massive, untethered expansion of oil, natural gas and coal production, designed to make this country the world’s foremost dirty energy powerhouse. The policy not only worsens catastrophic climate change, it pushes the U.S. into a small and increasingly isolated club of autocratic regimes intent on maintaining a global commitment to fossil fuels.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke laid out Trump’s energy policy in Secretarial Order 3351: “Achieving American energy dominance begins with recognizing that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves. For too long America has been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. The Department is committed to an America-first energy strategy.”
Trump’s policy brings the U.S. into a small and increasingly isolated club of autocratic regimes intent on maintaining a global commitment to fossil fuels. 12-09-18
Trump Drilling Plan Threatens 9 Million Acres of Sage Grouse Habitat
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday detailed its plan to open nine million acres to drilling and mining by stripping away protections for the sage grouse, an imperiled ground-nesting bird that oil companies have long considered an obstacle to some of the richest deposits in the American West.
In one stroke, the action would open more land to drilling than any other step the administration has taken, environmental policy experts said. It drew immediate criticism from environmentalists while energy-industry representatives praised the move, saying that the earlier policy represented an overreach of federal authority.
“This is millions and millions of acres of Western land that stretch across the spine of this nation,” said Bobby McEnaney, an expert in Western land use at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “With this single action, the administration is saying: This landscape doesn’t matter. This species doesn’t matter. Oil and gas matter.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies based in Denver, said in an email, “These plans will conserve the sage grouse without needlessly stifling economic activity.” 12-06-18
Historically, more than 50 percent of the northern hemisphere has had snow cover in winter. Now warmer temperatures are reducing the depth and duration of winter snow cover. Many people assume that winter is a dormant time for organisms in cold climates, but decades of research now shows that winter climate conditions—particularly snowpack—are important regulators of the health of forest ecosystems and organisms that live in them.
In particular, ourwork over the last decade shows that declining snow cover may impair tree health and reduce forests’ ability to filter air and water. Our latest study finds that continued winter warming could greatly reduce snow cover across the northeastern U.S., causing large declines in tree growth and forest carbon storage. 12-03-18
We broke down what climate change will do, region by region
Yeah, we read each chapter of the report so you don’t have to.
Look, at this point, even the most stubborn among us know that climate change is coming for our asses. We really don’t have much time until the climate plagues we’re already getting previews of — mega-wildfires, rising sea-levels, superstorm after superstorm — start increasing in frequency. The 4th National Climate Assessment says all that and much more is on its way.
Here’s the thing: Not all regions in the U.S. are going to experience climate change in the same way. Your backyard might suffer different climate consequences than my backyard. And, let’s be honest, we need to know what’s happening in our respective spaces so we can be prepared. I’m not saying it’s time to start prepping your bunker, but I would like to know if my family should consider moving to higher ground or stock up on maple syrup.
Luckily, that new report — which Trump tried to bury on Black Friday — breaks down climate change’s likely impacts on 10 specific regions. Unluckily, the chapters are super dense.
Silver lining: We at Grist divvied up the chapters and translated them into news you can actually use. 11-29-18
On Wednesday, Danish energy company Orsted announced a major investment program as it seeks to become one of the “renewable majors” leading a global shift away from planet-warming fuels, Reuters reported.
Offshore wind projects will receive 75-85 percent of the total investment, while onshore investments will receive the remaining 15-20 percent. Bioenergy and customer solutions will constitute 0 to 5 percent of the spending.
Overall, Orsted (formerly Dong Energy) seeks to bump its share of green energy production to 99 percent by 2025, up from 64 percent in 2017. 11-28-18
That’s the good news. The bad news is that, during that airtime, non-experts made numerous false and misleading statements about the climate report and the scientists who wrote it. Those statements went largely unchallenged by the journalists in charge of gatekeeping the conversations.
It’s difficult to challenge falsehoods in real-time. But that’s why high-profile political journalists like Chuck Todd and George Stephanopoulos get paid the big bucks. Plus, the majority of falsehoods spread about climate change on Sunday’s news programs weren’t exactly new or novel. They were the same global warming talking points Republicans have been using for several years. They’re all easily refutable. There’s no reason why prominent political journalists shouldn’t be able to do it by now.
As Trump questions warming, climate report warns of dire risks to U.S.
The United States already warmed on average 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century and will warm at least 3 more degrees by 2100 unless fossil fuel use is dramatically curtailed, scientists from more than a dozen federal agencies concluded in their latest in-depth assessment.
The 13-agency consensus, authored by more than 300 researchers, found in the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment makes it clear the world is barreling toward catastrophic — perhaps irreversible — climate change. The report concluded that warming “could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century” without significant emissions reductions.
“Observations of global average temperature provide clear and compelling evidence the global average temperature is much higher and is rising more rapidly than anything modern civilization has experienced,” said David Easterling, chief of the scientific services division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “This warming trend can only be explained by human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”
It’s the sort of staggering reality the Trump administration seems eager to minimize. Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump antagonized climate scientists by tweeting, once again, that he believes cold weather disproves long-term trends of a warming climate.
“Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” he posted Wednesday on Twitter.
Energy priorities shift as a new administration takes hold
After eight years of what some call obstructionist policies, renewables advocates look forward to Janet Mills in the Blaine House.
On solar, Gov.-elect Janet Mills supports strengthening “net metering” policies that provide electricity price credits to homeowners who feed excess power onto the grid from their solar panels. Staff photo by Ben McCanna
Efforts to expand natural gas capacity. Hopes of luring discounted Canadian electricity. Measures to stunt the growth of solar power and discourage wind farms on land and sea.
These actions championed for eight years by Gov. Paul LePage and Republican allies will end on Jan. 2, as a new Democratic governor and Legislature abruptly shift the focus of Maine’s energy policy to boosting local, green-power development and blunting the impacts of a warming climate.
“From warming seas and rising ocean waters to an increase in the tick population, climate change is hammering our state and will have a significant impact on our economy,” said Gov.-elect Janet Mills, responding via email to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. “As governor, I will prioritize fighting climate change by embracing and advancing a clean-energy future, including, for example, supporting UMaine’s offshore wind research and by providing incentives for community solar and rooftop solar.”
Mills said her administration will focus on reducing the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change and work with communities, especially along the coast where sea levels are rising, to help make them more resilient. 11-25-18
Rugeley coal plant to be transformed into a sustainable village
Energy firm plans to build 2,000 homes powered by solar panels on the Staffordshire site
Rugeley power station cooling towers at night. Photograph: Northern Nights Photography/Alamy
An old coal power station is set to be transformed into a “sustainable village” of 2,000 homes powered by solar panels, in the biggest redevelopment yet of a former UK power plant.
French firm Engie said it had decided against selling off the Rugeley site in Staffordshire and would instead build super efficient houses on the 139-hectare site as part of its bid to “move beyond energy”.
Half of the energy required by the new homes will come from green sources, predominantly solar, which will be fitted on rooftops, in a field and even floating on a lake.
The company is planning for 10 megawatts of solar capacity in total, equivalent to one of the UK’s smaller solar farms.
Batteries will be used across the site, both in homes and at a communal power storage facility, to balance out electricity supply and demand.
The firm is also claiming the homes will be so efficient they will use nearly a third less energy than average new builds. Heating will come not from gas boilers but electric devices such as heat pumps. 11-19-18
Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties
A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.
The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.
The government levied a mere $5.4 million in fines for the 13 pipeline explosion and fire cases in the last eight years, the analysis found.
“That’s less than one day of profits for one major pipeline company, TransCanada. It’s $2 million less than what [TransCanada CEO Russ Girling] made last year,” Soraghan explained in a tweet.
One of the country’s largest natural gas pipeline accidents—the 2010 San Bruno, California pipeline explosion that resulted in eight deaths—fell under state jurisdiction rather than PHMSA. California authorities imposed a record $1.6 billion fine against Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).
Although serious pipeline incidents are relatively rare—at least when you consider how much natural gas is transported every day by the country’s 3 million miles of mainline and other pipelines—it’s little solace to the people who have suffered from pipeline accidents.
Citing PHMSA data, the Washington Post reported that more than 300 people have died and 1,200 have been injured due to natural gas pipeline incidents in the last 20 years—and the nation’s aging gas distribution network further increases these risks. 11-16-18
California recommends restrictions for popular pesticide
A foreman watches workers pick fruit in an orchard in Arvin, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
California regulators recommended new restrictions Thursday on a widely used pesticide blamed for harming the brains of babies.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation issued temporary guidelines for chlorpyrifos that include banning it from crop dusting, discontinuing its use on most crops and increasing perimeters around where it’s applied.
The DowDuPont pesticide currently used on about 60 different crops — including grapes, almonds and oranges — has increasingly come under fire from regulators, lawmakers and courts.
A federal appeals court in August ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove the pesticide from sale in the United States after it ruled the Trump administration endangered public health by reversing an Obama-era effort to ban the chemical. The EPA is appealing that 2-1 ruling to a full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hawaii passed legislation in June that will ban the use of the pesticide in January.
An environmental group blasted the new recommendations as toothless and said California should be taking the pesticide off the market after scientists for three state agencies found it was toxic and couldn’t be safely used at any levels.
“Unfortunately, these are voluntary recommendations for local officials that have no weight of law behind them,” said Paul Towers of the Pesticide Action Network. “Instead of taking this brain-harming pesticide off the market, California officials are again passing the buck.” 11-15-18
Hormone-Disrupting Weed Killer Taints Tap Water for Millions in Corn Belt
Seasonal spikes of atrazine–a weed killer that can disrupt hormones and harm developing fetuses–contaminate drinking water in corn-growing areas of the Midwest and beyond, according to an analysis of federal records by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data show that in some Corn Belt communities, atrazine levels can spike three to seven times above the legal limit in late spring and early summer. But by avoiding water testing during peak periods, some water utilities stay in compliance with drinking water regulations—and don’t have to tell customers they were exposed to a hazardous chemical in their tap water.
“Our investigation found that nearly 30 million Americans have atrazine in their tap water,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG senior science advisor for children’s environmental health. “But many may never know, because outdated federal policies allow utilities to test for atrazine before or after the spike.”
EWG’s investigation is the most comprehensive analysis to date of national data on the pervasive contamination of drinking water by this chemical. EWG found that last year, utilities in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio had atrazine spikes much higher than the federal legal limit of three parts per billion, or ppb. The two highest spikes were reported in Evansville, Ill., at 22 ppb, and Piqua, Ohio, at 16 ppb. 11-14-18
A soybean plant at the Arkansas Agricultural Research & Extension Center’s farm shows damage from dicamba. Agrochemical giant Monsanto has created genetically modified soybean seeds that are resistant to the weed killer, but other plants are susceptible.Credit: Beth Hall for the Food & Environment Reporting Network
Every August, Andrew Joyce used to hunker down in the field beside his house, picking juicy, ripe tomatoes in the blazing sun. He’d load them onto his golf cart, along with buckets of okra, squash and other summer crops, and zip over to the farm stand he runs with his wife, Sara, off a two-lane highway near the Arkansas border. Sara’s Produce fans would drive hours to stock up on the artisanal fare, grown amid the fields of soybeans and cotton that reach toward the horizon of Missouri’s Bootheel.
“Everybody brags on my stuff,” said Joyce, 58, a wistful pride crossing his bronzed, weathered face.
But now, he has nothing to sell.
Joyce leans against the greenhouse he’s building, hands in the pockets of his overalls, peering at the field where he started nearly 800 tomato plants in the spring. It was early August when the telltale signs of trouble emerged. The plants’ broad, flat leaves shriveled and curled, their branches twisted and buckled. Then blossom rot set in. Joyce knew they couldn’t be saved. He climbed onto his tractor and mowed down his bestselling crop – for the third year in a row.
The plague that struck Joyce’s farm in Malden, Missouri, was not a natural disaster, but a man-made weed killer called dicamba. Farmers had applied the drift-prone chemical sparingly for decades. But in the past two years, its use has grown exponentially, and now dicamba is destroying millions of acres of crops worth millions of dollars, pitting farmer against farmer and scientists against manufacturers. 11-13-18
The Zinke effect: how the US interior department became a tool of industry
Trump’s interior secretary has been remaking the agency charged with protecting public lands as an ally of big energy
Ryan Zinke has ushered in ‘dramatic change’ since taking over the interior department. Photograph: Molly Riley/AP
Since his first day on the job, when he surrounded himself with a National Park Service police escort and rode through Washington DC on a white-nosed horse named Tonto, the US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has exhibited a flair for ostentation.
Not long after taking office in March 2017, the new secretary started flying a special flag, adorned with the agency’s bison seal, above the interior department’s elegant New-Deal-era headquarters. At a cost of more than $2,000, he also commissioned commemorative coins emblazoned with his name to hand out to visitors and staff. He replaced the doors in his office to the tune of more than $130,000, and installed a hunting-themed arcade game in the department’s cafeteria.
Yet to some longtime civil servants working at interior headquarters, this flashy behavior was merely a distraction from graver concerns.
“There was a lot of eye-rolling and embarrassment about the flag and the horse and all of the ridiculousness,” said a former senior employee who left last year and requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. For some, the dominant emotional tenor at the time was “fear and anxiety” as Zinke and his team ushered in “dramatic change” at the interior department.
“All the new administration was interested in was their checklist for dismantling regulations and weakening environmental and land use protections,” said the former staffer. “Instead of asking why a senator or lobbyist or CEO was asking for a special favor and whether or not it was allowed under the law, this administration wanted to know why the special favor wasn’t already done and which deep state employee was standing in the way.” 11-12-18
While hundreds of sick laborers celebrate a verdict in Tennessee, the EPA is weakening rules to protect them.
The Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. Credit: Brent Moore/Flickr
Ten years ago, environmental disaster struck Kingston, Tennessee. A dike containing massive amounts of coal waste burst, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of the heavy-metal sludge onto land and into waterways. It was the largest spill of coal ash slurry—a mixture of coal-burning byproduct and water—in United States history. The cleanup at the Kingston Fossil Plant took seven years.
Today, 30 of the laborers involved in the cleanup are dead. More than 250 are still sick. This isn’t a coincidence, they argue. The contractor they all worked for, Jacobs Engineering, “lied about the toxicity of coal ash, refused to provide them protective gear, threatened to fire them if they brought their own, [and] manipulated toxicity test results,” according to the workers’ lawsuit against the company.
On Wednesday, a federal jury ruled in the workers’ favor, finding that Jacobs Engineering “failed to ‘exercise reasonable care’ in keeping workers safe and, in its failures, likely caused the poisoning by coal ash of the laborers,” the KnoxvilleNews-Sentinelreported. The verdict means the plaintiffs can seek monetary damages to cover medical testing and treatment of everyone who worked on the cleanup. 11-08-18
The era of bipartisanship on climate is dead. Here’s what comes next.
As the results of the midterms continue to trickle in, one thing is clear: Bipartisan climate action in the U.S. is over.
For decades, there’s been the dream that one day, with the right coalition, the U.S. would pass a nationwide climate policy that could gently steer the country toward a clean energy future. The moderate coalition that might have supported such an effort is now in shambles: Pro-climate Republicans lost big last night. It’s an open question if there are even any Republicans left in Congress that would support bipartisan market-based climate policies (if there ever were).
With Democratic Majority, Climate Change Is Back on U.S. House Agenda
Fossil fuel supporters will still control the Senate, but the House will soon be able to turn a spotlight on climate change and Trump’s retreat from responsibility.
With their win of control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats will now have the numbers to put climate change issues back on the congressional agenda.
But the Republicans reinforced their firewall against any legislative efforts in the Senate by gaining at least two new members with poor records on confronting the climate crisis. That bolsters the power of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to block any measures unfavorable to the fossil fuel industries.
In the states, a pair of ballot initiatives that would have cut climate pollution—in Colorado and Washington—appeared to be headed for defeat after heavy spending by fossil fuel interests that opposed them. But some incoming governors have pledged more aggressive support for clean energy.
And in one House race after another, Republicans who have been out of step with the prevailing scientific consensus on climate change were replaced by Democrats committed to taking action. 11-07-18
The hottest fight in American politics? Arizona’s smackdown over solar power.
It is the hottest, most expensive campaign in Arizona this year — and it’s not the one for the U.S. Senate.
Kris Mayes, a Republican and former Arizona Corporation Commissioner, supports the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative. (Melissa Daniels/AP)
The battle — which has already cost nearly $54.7 million, or about $11.50 for every eligible voter — is over solar power. A ballot initiative would amend the Arizona constitution to require electric utilities to use renewable energy for 50 percent of their power generation by 2035.
With its abundance of sunshine, that should be an easy reach for Arizona. Yet the state gets only 6 percent of its energy from the sun.
The fiercest foe of the measure? Arizona’s biggest utility. Arizona Public Service, or APS, has poured $30.3 million into a political action committee called Arizonans for Affordable Electricity. In an aggressive ad campaign, the group asserts the measure would cost households an additional $1,000 a year.
On the other side is Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, an alliance of about 50 organizations. In its corner is Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and political activist from California who donated virtually all of the $23.6 million raised through the end of September. Only two Senate races this year, Texas and Florida, will feature more spending.
The battle has been ugly, replete with allegations of fraud, corruption and phony economic analyses. 11-02-18
Rural America’s Own Private Flint: Polluted Water Too Dangerous to Drink
Nitrates, a common farming byproduct from manure spreading, have been linked to an array of serious health risks. Credit: Lauren Justice for The New York Times
ARMENIA, Wis. — The groundwater that once ran cool and clean from taps in this Midwestern farming town is now laced with contaminants and fear. People refuse to drink it. They won’t brush their teeth with it. They dread taking showers.
Rural communities call it their own, private Flint— a diffuse, creeping water crisis tied to industrial farms and slack regulations that for years has tainted thousands of residential wells across the Midwest and beyond.
Now, fears and frustration over water quality and contamination have become a potent election-year issue, burbling up in races from the fissured bedrock here in Wisconsin to chemical-tainted wells in New Hampshire to dwindling water reserves in Arizona. President Trump’s actions to loosen clean water rules have intensified a battle over regulations and environmental protections unfolding on the most intensely local level: in people’s own kitchen faucets.
In Wisconsin and other Midwestern states where Republicans run the government, environmental groups say that politicians have cut budgets for environmental enforcement and inspections and weakened pollution rules. In Iowa, for example, the Republican-led Legislature dismissed a package of bills that would have blocked any new large-scale hog operations until the state cleaned up its nitrogen-laden rivers and streams. 11-03-18