Train cars carrying crude oil have been derailing and exploding with frightening frequency lately, in Canada and North Dakota and Alabama and Philadelphia. There are fears that Albany, capital of the great state of New York, may be next in line.
In mid-December the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Act 13 is unconstitutional. This is a law that allowed state government to override local communities’ zoning decisions to limit hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The decision stems from a lawsuit by seven Pennsylvania municipalities, a doctor and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Earthjustice submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, representing 22 organizations, including Marcellus Protest, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth and Berks Gas Truth.
Two years ago, after a decades-long struggle that involved Native Americans, biologists, Earthjustice, and eventually Congress itself, engineers began to dismantle two century-old dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The river is only 70 miles long, but most of it is in the Olympic National Park, and so is in pretty good shape, having avoided the fate of other Pacific Coast streams, that have been badly damaged by logging.
The use of coal in the U.S. has declined over the past few years, and orders for new plants are being cancelled at an increasing rate, owing to pressure from Earthjustice and others and competition from cheaper natural gas.
The first responsibility of a physician is to do no harm. The first responsibility of an environmentalist is never to accept a dumb solution to a problem when a better solution is available.
Case in point: Devil’s Slide south of San Francisco, a stretch of Highway 1 that would crumble into the Pacific every 10 years or so during a big storm. Rebuilding was time-consuming and expensive. The state of California sought a more permanent solution—and seized on one that ignited two decades of opposition resolved only when a doughty Earthjustice attorney finally stepped in.
David Brower was the most prominent, influential and controversial environmental leader of the second half of the 20th century. He was a visionary, a brilliant publicist, and also prickly and demanding. This and much more comes through clearly in a new book published by Heyday of Berkeley to celebrate Brower’s 100th birthday.
Bill McKibben, who first alerted the non-scientific world to global climate change two decades ago with The End of Nature has a new piece in Rolling Stone that he says is the most important thing he’s written in the past 20 years, and he’s written hundreds of articles and books during that period.
As I write this, ships are being prepared to steam northward from several ports to begin poking holes in the floor of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in search of oil.
Thanks to legal action by Earthjustice over the last few years, and thanks also to a one-year time-out called in the wake of the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the drilling has been forestalled, but it could finally begin this July. Legal challenges are still pending, but the odds seem long against them.
That said, this is closer to the beginning of this struggle than to its end.
I'm going to stand back and just give you a taste of a report from the Earth Policy Institute. Scary. I recommend you read the whole thing and send it around. There are still people who should know better denying climate change. They are welcome to believe whatever they like, but they shouldn't be playing any role in setting policy. Here are the excerpts:
The New York Times describes Joe Nocera as a business columnist, but a quick scan of recent columns is very heavy on pieces about the woes of the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association. If today’s column is any indication, we’d all be better off if he stuck with sports.
Last Sunday, Dec. 4, the weekly review/opinion section of The New York Times carried a sober and sobering piece by Robert Semple, a Times editorial writer who seldom gets to sign his pieces. He wrote of the climate meetings taking place this week in Durban, South Africa, where no one seems to think much progress will be made.
“Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.” So sayeth the pupulist firebrand Mary Elizabeth Lease in 1890. "She should see us now," comments Bill Moyers in a ringing speech reprinted inThe Nation.
<In a major victory for Earthjustice and its supporters, today the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated The Roadless Rule, which protects nearly 50 million acres of National Forest lands against exploitation. Tom Turner, who literally wrote the book ("Roadless Rules") on the case, provides some background here.>
There’s an interesting piece in the latest Earth Island Journal titled “Ready or Not: Climate Change is Coming; Time to Adapt.” The author, Maureen Nandini Mitra, argues that, whether we like or not, the climate is already on the way to significant changes and we have no choice but to figure out how to adapt—as we continue to fight to reverse the trend.
Loggerhead turtles are beset by a bewildering and deadly series of challenges, much as the other species of sea turtles are. People raid their nests and steal eggs. Hundreds used to die in shrimpers' nets until the advent of turtle excluder devices. Miles of their nesting beaches have been "armored," that is, lined with boulders to defeat natural erosion. Hundreds used to die feeding on baited hooks aimed at catching swordfish and tuna.
There is a curious technique employed by some companies involved in the resource-extraction game: When you have a controversial activity underway that is getting increasing—and unwelcome—scrutiny from the government and the public, take your case to the under-10 set.
The long and winding saga of the Roadless Rule, adopted in the Clinton administration after an exhaustive public process, just took a new turn, though it smacks of desperation.
To recap, the Roadless Rule was put in place to protect 58.5 million acres of undeveloped and otherwise unprotected land on the national forests. The rule has been subject of nine lawsuits. An appeals court in Denver has yet to rule on a lawsuit out of Wyoming; the others have concluded with the Roadless Rule still standing.
Friends of the Earth New Zealand has just published a short, dense booklet that no one will want to read but that everyone should.
"Cars at the End of an Era--Transport Issues in the New Zealand Greenhouse" by Dr. John Robinson makes a very convincing case that the days of both the private automobile and the era of travel by aircraft will one day come to an end--or at least be severely curtailed--probably sooner than later. This is for fairly obvious reasons.
Last week we wrote about an effort by three Republican members of the House of Representatives to repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that protects nearly 60 million acres of unspoiled lands on the national forests and to deny the Bureau of Land Management's authority to declare its unspoiled areas "wilderness study areas" and protect them until Congress can decide whether to give them permanent protection.
Three mad hatters--Steve Pearce (R-NM), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are gathering--or trying to gather--cosponsors for what they're callling the Wilderness & Roadless Area Release Act, a law that would open national forest roadless areas and Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas to development. This would put a bit more than 70 million of wild lands at risk.
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted at the end of the Clinton administration, banned most logging and road-building on the last 58.5 million unspoiled and unprotected acres on the national forests. It was immediately challenged by states, timber companies and other interests in nine lawsuits, one of which is still awaiting final resolution.
About three years ago I visited a friend who works for Henry Waxman, the Southern California congressman who was such a magnificent thorn in the side of the Bush administration. My friend proudly took me to lunch in the cafeteria. This was soon after the Democrats reclaimed the House and voted in Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.
You've probably read news stories, or seen reports on TV, or heard reports on the radio about how House Speaker Boehner has allowed dozens of amendments to come to the House floor to be voted on, congratulating himself on his transparency (is that his liver I see in there?) and openness. In response to this invitation, house members came forward with an astonishing variety of bills, one worse than the next.
On Feb. 8, a federal judge in Washington State sided with conservationists, energy efficiency boosters and the state's building code council, upholding new standards for energy conservation in new home construction. The homebuilders’ association had challenged the new standards, which went into effect this past Jan. 1, claiming they were in conflict with federal law.
Coho and chinook salmon, along with their steelhead cousins, are making some promising headway in California's North Coast streams. The San Francisco Chronicle carried a front-page story on Dec. 19 describing a higher-than-expected return of spawning coho in Lagunitas Creek. The same trend holds true for the Garcia and several other streams.
A company called Verdant Power has just received permission to install up to 30 turbines in the eastern channel of the East River in New York to harvest the power of the natural currents and feed electricity into the grid for use mainly in New York City. The plan has been underway for 10 years, and stage three—the scaling-up to commercial scale—has just been approved.
One of the more frustrating tactics used repeatedly by the Bush administration in environmental matters was something we called “sue and settle.” These were cases filed against the government by states, industrial interests, or others seeking, for example, to open up wild lands to development.
American politics is a wonder. Let’s say you’re unhappy with the climate bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives a while back. You think you might be able to influence the Senate and an eventual conference committee if you could get an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. Who would be your best messenger? A respected scientist to argue about the science? A Nobel prizewinning economist to attack the economics of the bill? Maybe a former government energy official from the not too distant past? How about Sarah Palin?
As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to "uphold and defend" the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which set out to protect nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forest lands across the country. Not long ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has responsibility for the Forest Service among many things, announced that he will personally review any projects proposed in roadless areas. This move was labelled a year-long "time out" for road building and logging by some in the media, but in fact, there's no guarantee.
The pictures are not what you'd generally call beautiful, but they're stirring nonetheless: the early stages of the demolition of the Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River in Oregon, which has been killing salmon for decades.
The demolition is the result of yeoman (yeowoman too) efforts by a cast of hundreds, including Earthjustice's Mike Sherwood, who jumped through dozens of hoops, went to court, raised hell, and finally prevailed. Demolition will take some months yet—a celebration at the site is planned for October 10, though that could change a little. Go to Waterwatch for updates. Savage Rapids Dam Is Dead. Long Live Savage Rapids.
A good case could be made that the most important U.S. federal environmental laws are the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. And what do they have in common? They were enacted (amended since in some cases) in the early 1970s and signed into law by Richard Nixon, a conservative republican.
Which makes the reaction of the Republican right wing to the recent House passage of a compromise climate bill so interesting.
Remember the John Birch Society? The virulent right-wing McCarthyist outfit born in Indianapolis in 1958? I hadn't heard of it for years, would have guessed it had passed quietly back into the fourteenth century, but low and behold it's still alive, kicking, screaming, and denying the fact of global warming and climate change.
The Alabama-based environmental law firm Wildlaw has just announced the hiring of Mark Rey as a part-time lobbyist to work on national forest restoration projects in the Southeast and to help with land acquisition efforts.
Two long and thoughtful pieces today, one from the Daily Journal, the other from Greenwire, discuss in painful detail the thumping environmental cases suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court this term. In each case, the court overturned a pro-environment ruling from a court of appeals.
The other day I happened to tune in to the Diane Rehm show on NPR to hear John Holdren, the president's science advisor, talk about the new climate change report that made stark headlines last week, reporting that warming is here, is having serious negative effects already, and is largely caused by human activity.
Remember "Healthy Forests"? This was one of the euphonious program names hatched by Karl Rove or another of the Bush wordsmiths to mask a real purpose. There was also the Clear Skies Initiative, which actually aimed to weaken the Clean Air Act.
Healthy Forests argued that the best way to control wildlfire and protect rural communities was to thin the forests of dead brush and sick trees, such growth having accumulated to dangerous levels owing to decades of fire suppression.
Biking in to work the other day I heard an underwriting pitch from IBM, touting its new campaign, or slogan, or website, call it what you will, for "A Smarter Planet." Oh boy. Now we’re going to teach the planet new tricks, show it where evolution has fallen short.
Back in my early days at Earthjustice I got into an argument with a colleage that has stuck with me ever since. She (no names) observed that if we—the movement in general—conceded that restoration of damaged ecosystems is possible that we'll never be able to protect forests, wetlands, parks and the like because developers could simply say they'll eventually restore the land to its former glory.
And here I thought the bankruptcy of General Motors might start to spell the end of outrageous profligacy. That is to say, news reports that GM would shut down its Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer divisions and start up a new high-mileage, low-emission model sounded like steps in the right direction. Especially as regards the Hummer.
But wait a minute. An Associated Press story June 3 reports that Hummer is being bought by a Chinese company that heretofore has made only cement mixers and tow trucks. And the small company is not equipped to actually manufacture the gas-guzzling behemoths (the Chinese name of the Hummer is "Bold Horse," according to the AP) in China, so will keep production in the U.S.
That seems like a pretty crazy idea, especially with gas prices zooming upward again. Will the world ever wake up? Let's just give the Hummer a dignified funeral (OK, undignified would be just as welcome) and get on with it.
The wonderful and valuable High Country News has published a very instructive buttal and rebuttal that arise from an article in the print version of the paper that analyzed the long-running struggle over four power dams built on the lower Snake River in the 1960s. Those dams and their reservoirs have long been criticized by scientists and conservationists as inimical to the survival and recovery of once-stupendous salmon runs in the Columbia basin.
(The dams have also been the subject of a long litigation campaign by Earthjustice and its allies, who would like to see the dams removed, or at least breached.)
The Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the dams, has fought vigorously to keep the dams, even arguing in court papers that the structures have been in place so long that they’ve become a permanent, all but natural, fixture in the river, like boulders or eddies.
BPS’s Gregory K. Delwiche wrote a long and fairly sober answer to Ken Olsen’s original piece, that makes good sense—until you read Olsen’s reply. It’s a fascinating exchange, worth taking the time to read. I pretend no particular expertise in this debate, but one of Delwiche’s assertions caught my eye: In response to the claim by Olsen that BPA’s practice is to use all the water in the river for power generation, Delwiche wrote,
The federal agencies operating the hydro system never put "every drop of water" through turbines. It is common practice to spill water around turbines for fish. In 2008, for example, BPA spent $275 million buying replacement power to make up for power not generated at the dams because water was being diverted for fish.
What he didn’t say, and what I know only because of where I work, is that the spilling of water to aid salmon downstream migration came only with a court order, issued by Judge James Redden. Take a look. It’s fascinating stuff.
Meanwhile, Judge Redden has just written to the BPA urging prompt and vigorous efforts to reform river management. One might guess that he’s closer to Olsen than [the BPA guy] in this matter.
A press release came across my screen Wednesday afternoon announcing that a judge had found that Glen Canyon dam's operating scheme is illegal, since it doesn't do enough to protect endangered fish in the river.
It had to come, such things always do. We speak of a shrill attack on the very idea of green jobs, emanating this time from PERC, a collection of free-market economists and ideologues in Bozeman Montana, that was a source of some of the ideas that informed the Bush administration, especially those of Gale Norton, W's first interior secretary.
I worked in the polls on Tuesday, during the special election asking California voters to approve an enormously complicated and controversial set of measures aimed at averting fiscal catastrophe. All but one failed, by nearly two-to-one. The one that passed (by three-to-one) limits lawmakers' raises.
Grist, the most valuable daily green news and comment ezine, published a very interesting piece May 4, talking about "old" environmentalism and "new" environmentalism as exemplified by campaigns to protect wolves (that's the old part) and polar bears (new).
Both efforts have news hooks just now, and one, at least, does not display the Obama administration, particularly Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a good light.
When the going gets tough, call the PR department, and ask it to come up with a spiffy new acronym. It's a recognized ploy with a long history.
Here we go again.
The bold, ambitious plans to push solar power plants, windmill farms, and other green facilities is causing a major backlash among industries used to having their way with government policy -- coal companies, oil companies, the usual suspects.
The blaring headline to the San Francisco Chronicle April 3 was all about our continuing drought and upcoming water rationing. This is not exactly news -- we've been warned for months.
What I wrestle with is how to spread the hardship fairly. The remedy the utility company will impose is across-the-board reductions of 15 percent or more. No hosing down your driveway. No washing your car more than so often.
But what about us noble citizens who already conserve like crazy?
Two million acres of new wilderness, miles of new scenic rivers, the withdrawal of land in the Wyoming Range and elsewhere, all signed into law by President Obama (it still feels really good to type that) just in time for my birthday. The bill, a so-called omnibus, was a patchwork of nearly 170 separate bills, many of which had been kicking around for quite a while.
I only wish they had added one more: A bill to codify the Roadless Rule of 2001.
A couple of weeks ago we jumped the gun and announced that Mineral King, a lovely high-elevation valley in the southern Sierra Nevada in California, would be added to the National Wilderness System along with around 170 other areas totalling about two million acres. Last minute parliamentary tricks in the House kept it from happening then.
Today, under new rules, the House passed this monumental bill -- the greatest single expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years. President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.
Mineral King is especially close to our hearts because it was a lawsuit in the late 1960s challenging plans for a huge ski resort in the valley that gave birth to modern environmental law and to Earthjustice itself.
Quick—what country exports the most oil into the United States? Saudi Arabia? Venezuela? Iraq?
Nope. Canada. And the oil we get from our northern neighbor is about the most ridiculous energy bargain imaginable. Most of the stuff comes from vast deposits of tar sands in Alberta. Eventual emissions of CO2 are three times as much as from an equivalent amount of conventional crude oil. Mining the sands requires razing wide expanses of boreal forests and the peat soil beneath the trees, an inconvenient substance the industry sometimes calls "overburden." This is clearly disastrous for wildlife as well as for groundwater and air quality.
And now the capper—extraction of the tar sands and conversion to usable oil is so energy intensive that Canada is considering building nuclear plants to generate the electricity necessary to mine and refine the sands. This would be, according to a series of articles and links gathered by Grist magazine (make sure to look at the photographs), the first time so-called "clean" nuclear electricity would be used to provide decidedly unclean fossil fuels to keep global warming rocketing along on track.
A few weeks back, the Senate passed a bill providing for a two-million acre expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and we all cheered. It was a umbrella bill that encompassed some 170 smaller bills, many of which had been pending for years.
The Obama administration signalled today that it is rescinding a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration that eliminated a requirement that executive agencies (the Forest Service, for example) must consult with scientific experts in the Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA when a project may affect protected species. When Bush instituted the change last December, Earthjustice immediately challenged the rule change in federal court.
I just received notice that Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, has put a hold on the nominations of John Holdren to be Science Advisor in the White House and Jane Lubchenko, who is slated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to anonymous sources quoted by the Washington Post, the senator has no objection to these individuals but wants to force senators to focus their attention on some matter having to do with Cuba.
I have no opinion one way or another about Sen. Menendez, but I have a very strong feeling that both these individuals should be confirmed instantly. There’s an endless amount of work to do, and both are supremely qualified to do it.
If you go to the senator's website, there’s a form to fill out for comments. Give him a piece of your mind.
As longtime readers of this screed know all too well, I’ve been obsessed by the Roadless Rule for a long time. The trigger for this was when several states, the timber industry, a few counties, some off-road vehicle interests, and an Indian tribe challenged the rule in court.
One of my favorite memories is of being in Brighton, England, in June 1985 when the International Whaling Commission, after a struggle that lasted well over a decade, adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, to last for at least five years. It has lasted for almost 24 years, but now seems in jeopardy of being fatally watered down.
I never know whether to dignify irrational wing-nut attacks on environmentalists in general and specific organizations in particular by mentioning them in print, but the latest is so over the top that I can't resist.
Something called the Capital Research Center recently published a screed titled, "EarthJustice [sic] Legal Defense Fund [sic]: How Environmentalism Weakens U.S. National Security."
After writing a blog item about the storied Mineral King valley, I crafted an essay about it for the High Country News. The news is that it is about to be declared America's newest wilderness. Here's how I started the HCN article:
"A half-million abandoned mines litter the American West, many dribbling poisons into rivers and streams. But after more than a century of healing, one such place is poised to become one of America's newest wilderness areas. It's a testament to the resilience of nature and the vision of the people who fought to preserve it."
When the history of our times is written, I bet the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president will be seen as one of the more bizarre political aberrations in American history, which has already had plenty. One would think that the resounding repudiation she and Senator McCain suffered in the general election would have chastened both, but while the senator has been mostly dignified and supportive of the new administration, Gov. Palin rumbles along as if she should be taken seriously. I mean, what’s up with that?
Earthjustice Press Secretary Kathleen Sutcliffe provides this report on the grave threats posed by toxic coal ash produced at our nation's coal-fired power plants, and the quick action taken by Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans after recent coal ash spills
Quick quiz, readers.
The byproduct of coal-fired power plants is:
a) the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream;
Not to reveal my age or anything, but Tuesday's was the eleventh inauguration held since I went to work for the Sierra Club. Over the next 40 years, it was always monumentally frustrating that concerns for the earth were almost altogether missing from the rhetoric during the campaign and especially the inaugural speeches.
Full circle time, in a sense. The establishment of this organization was sparked, in part, by a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 1969, challenging a ski resort proposed for a valley in the Sierra Nevada called Mineral King. The club had no objection to skiing per se, but this was to be a humongous affair that would have completely overwhelmed the valley and its wildlife and largely wrecked it for hiking, camping, and backpacking.
This morning, the US. Supreme Court heard arguments from Earthjustice about why the Clean Water Act should not be interpreted to allow mining companies to dump mine wastes into our nation's streams, rivers and lakes. A mining company attorney told the court that an Alaskan lake would be better off in the long run after a mining company dumped its tailings into it, killing all the fish and most other life. Justice David Souter described that logic as "Orwellian." We will be blogging after the arguments are concluded. Read the entire transcript of today's Supreme Court hearing on the Clean Water Act.
On this coming Monday - while the media are riveted by the upcoming inauguration - the fate of our nation’s waters will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in an Earthjustice case that has implications for rivers, lakes, and streams across the country.
The case concerns a gold mine north of Juneau, Alaska. The Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for the mine to Coeur Alaska. One provision of the permit allows Coeur to deposit its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake after raising the level of the lake by building a long earthen dam.
The San Francisco Chronicle (and many other papers) carries a weekly feature at the bottom of the weather page called Earthweek — a Diary of the Planet. It's often fascinating, with tiny snippets about oddments of weather, earthquakes, animals, and other events and phenomena. On Jan. 3, it was more like Earthyear, with a litany of scary blurbs followed by one that should inspire hope — or a chuckle or two.
As we said in our last missive, the emerging Obama team, cabinet and otherwise, is looking very promising with a few question marks. The president-elect is said to enjoy having people of differing views around him and listening as they discuss their differences, which is a healthy attitude. The truth will out and all that.
Reaction from environmental groups to almost-president Obama's cabinet choices has been interesting. Most of the choices have been welcomed by most organizations (Carl Pope made incoming labor secretary Hilda Solis sound like a green Mother Theresa).
Reservations I've heard have been voiced about the National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, who is said by some to be a climate change nonbeliever, but that's a bit outside the purview of his new job and he's wildly outnumbered by believers in the cabinet and the White House.
We tend to think of ships as an environmentally friendly way to travel and transport goods. Measured by miles per gallon per a given amount of weight, they can't be beat. There's the not-so-little problem of air pollution from ships docked at various ports, of course, and Earthjustice is working with Friends of the Earth and other groups to do something about that.
At the just-concluded U.N. climate negotiations in Poznan, Poland, Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal advocated for rapid action to reduce emissions of black carbon, now considered one of the most effective strategies to slow near-term global and Arctic warming.
This could prevent catastrophic, irreversible tipping points such as the melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, and buy time for implementation of critical strategies to cut long-lived greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent studies identify black carbon, a component of ultrafine particulate air pollution, as a critical climate warming agent both in the atmosphere and when deposited on snow and ice. Technologies exist to rapidly reduce black carbon emissions from diesel and coal sources, and fast-track mitigation efforts will have an immediate cooling effect. As black carbon is a leading cause of mortality from air pollution and accelerates the melting of glaciers that provide fresh water for millions, controlling these emissions is critical to promote sustainable development, improve human health and save lives.
Yes, one knows that the economy and the climate are jobs one through ten, but I can't help but be a tiny bit concerned that the new Obama administration still lacks a Secretary of the Interior, a Secretary of Agriculture, a Secretary of Energy, an Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a Chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. Plus and all the under secretaries and assistant secretaries and directors and assistant administrators who will eventually be nominated and confirmed to carry out extremely sensitive and important tasks. I have no reason to think that these nominations will not be up to the standard of the nominations we've seen so far, but I hope this doesn't signal a back-burner approach to wildlife and public lands and national parks and national forests, and so forth. A large fraction of our oil and gas, for example, come from the public lands and a smaller but important fraction of our lumber and pulp too. One thing we're going to have to be vigilant about over the next months and years is to ensure that environmental regulations are not sacrificed in the name of economic recovery—and you can be sure that such suggestions will be made. We need strong, bright people to run the environmental agencies, people who have the full support of the president.
As faithful readers will recall, we’ve been reporting on the saga of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule for a very long time. Put in place at the end of the Clinton administration and immediately hamstrung by Bush operatives, the rule, which bans most roadbuilding and logging on roadless areas of the national forests, has bounced around a dozen courthouses, with Earthjustice lawyers defending the measure from attacks by states and the timber industry as the new government talked out of four sides of its mouth.
The Guardian, over there across the pond, has just published a splendid piece that should help put to rest some misconceptions about the ease, expense, and possibility of converting the world to a sustanable/green/you name it energy system. The writer is Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet.
It appears that Compassionate Conservatism, the muddled sound bite that was supposed to guide activities early in the reign of George II, has made a comeback, at least insofar as it applies to killers of wildlife.
This blog posting by Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen appeared this week in Celsias.
For all Americans who care about our environment, which is most of us, a hopeful dawn broke with the election of Barack Obama.
During the last eight years the administration did everything it could to privatize the great natural areas in America, to privatize the commons all Americans share. We all know the story. Our rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, wildlife, fisheries, and minerals were all for sale to the highest bidder.
Mathis Wackernagel of the Global Footprint Network had an important (and scary) piece in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day that one hopes the new administration and the new Congress will take note of.
Now let's see if I’ve got this straight. Thanks to two very expensive wars, tax cuts for people who don’t need them, and assorted combinations of malfeasance and corruption, the federal budget deficit is at an all-time high and growing like kudzu.
We speak of the current band of varlets and scoundrels just ending their eight-year reign of terror in our nation's capital. With both presidential candidates lambasting Mr. Bush and his henchmen daily, the lame ducks are hell-bent on wreaking as much havoc as they can in these last not-quite-three-months of their joyride.
So the fate of the Roadless Rule is now in the hands of three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, at least its immediate fate, following a hearing this week in San Francisco.
The Forest Service, represented by the Justice Department, wants the three judges to overturn a Sept. 2006 decision that found the rule the Bush administration cooked up to replace the original rule illegal.
The late Dan Luten was sneakily brilliant, somewhat iconoclastic, and possibly a maverick had that word not been so debased lately. In his fifties, he left a job as a chemist with Shell Oil to teach geography at Cal and became deeply involved in conservation. He served on the board of Friends of the Earth, which is how I got to know him pretty well.
One bon mot he tossed off that stuck with me was, "The country does not exist to serve its economy."
Chevron has long been a leader in image advertising, spending an immense amount of money on print and television ads explaining to the public just how utterly wonderful the company is. Years ago, their tag line was "People Do," in answer to rhetorical questions like, "Do people really care what happens to our precious wetlands? People do." These tended to appear when the company was angling for permission to drill wells in sensitive marshes.
It's not all that often that front-rank political leaders call for civil disobedience, but that's just what Al Gore did in New York on September 24 at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. "I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration," the ex-veep and planetary crusader said, "to loud applause," according to Reuters.
Earthjustice has been accused of being many things, including preferring birds over people (which reminds me of a fine old quote. Charles Callison, a stalwart of the Audubon Society, was once asked whether he liked people or birds better. He said, "I like the people who like birds.").
I heard Al Gore on "NPR Science Friday" a few weeks back talking about what it would take to get us out of the climate catastrophe that's bearing down on us. The biggest single step, he said, would be to convert the entire U.S. vehicle fleet to electricity. He said that is possible within 10 years if we—industry and government in the main—mount an effort akin to what we did for World War II.
All well and good, but government and industry almost never move that fast.
Until now. The Wall Street-mortgage-Fannie-Freddie-Merrill-AIG-who's-next crisis has politicians, bureaucrats, and captains of industry moving faster than they ever have before, and we're about to see a $700 billion bailout that may not even work.
Just think if those same forces took the climate crisis seriously enough to do something similar on that score. We could turn the climate mess around in Al Gore's 10 years, easy. And everyone would be the better for it, including Wall Street.
Judge Clarence Brimmer of the federal district court in Wyoming must feel a bit under siege. He's doing battle with two other federal district court judges, one in San Francisco, the other in Washington, DC. Judges are encouraged to respect each other's opinions—it's called comity, otherwise known as courtesy or deference—and comity is taking a bit of a beating these days.
A few weeks ago we wrote of a former Earthjustic law clerk, Jamie Saul, who was blackballed out of a job at the Department of Justice because he favored vigorous enforcement of environmental laws. Maybe blackballed is the wrong word—he applied for a job and didn't get it for reasons that were certainly improper and possibly illegal.
The DoJ looked into such hiring practices in the wake over the scandal over the firing of several U.S. attorneys for what sure look like political reasons. Turns out politics infected decisions involving more than U.S. attorneys.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Judge Clarence Brimmer of the federal district court in Wyoming last week declared illegal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted in the waning hours of the Clinton administration. The judge had blocked the rule five years ago, but a ruling from a federal judge in California two years ago had blocked a substitute rule put forward by the Bush administration and reinstated the Clinton rule.
Brimmer's 100-page ruling heaped scorn on both President Clinton and Judge Elizabeth Laporte, the San Francisco judge who reinstated the Clinton rule.
The legal tussle over the wolves in the Northern Rockies, which took a turn for the better a week or so back, has overshadowed another uplifting wolf story: confirmation of a breeding pack of wolves in northeast Oregon for the first time since the animals were shot, trapped, and poisoned out of the state more than 50 years ago.
Many of us, self included, have long lamented that environmental issues never play much of a role in presidential elections. I firmly believed that if Al Gore had stressed some of those issues in 2000 he'd be the one now winding up his second term. John Kerry likewise, maybe.
Well, now we've got a campaign where the environment and energy are front and center and we’re getting hammered.
Jamie Saul is a young lawyer, a graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland and one-time law clerk in the Seattle office of Earthjustice. As he entered his third year of law school, he applied for a position in the Department of Justice in order, as his application said, to "serve as part of the team charged with enforcing the world's most comprehensive environmental laws, and with defending the crucial work of our environmental and resource management agencies," a thoroughly noble sentiment for a lawyer at the beginning of his career.
There was a piece in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle that said that people are abandoning their cars in favor of buses and trains in unprecedented numbers and that the experts say the shift may be permanent.
The reason is high gas prices, of course, and that corroborates what some of us have been saying for years—that gas prices should be high, for this very reason. This is painful for some people, no doubt about that, and someone should figure out ways to help them, but overall this is definitely the proverbial silver lining.
At the very end of the current term of the Supreme Court, the justices announced that they will review a Ninth Circuit decision that forbids Coeur Alaska, a mining company, from dumping mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake north of Juneau, Alaska.
This is not the best news of the week.
The company admits that the tailings will essentially kill all life in the lake but that restoration can be undertaken later. The Army Corps of Engineers, which issued permits for the mine, agreed with Coeur.
One of the first things I ever had published in a book was a chapter in The Environmental Handbook, a Friends of the Earth/Ballantine Books number, published for the first Earth Day, in 1970. It was called, "Ecopornography, or How to Spot an Ecological Phony."
It's time to dust it off and send it around again.
Ecoporn, as defined by us, is image advertising run by large enterprises, often engaged in enriching themselves and their shareholders via the exploitation of public resources. Oil companies, in other words, and mining companies, and so forth.
This is for people who are just in too good a mood and need to be brought down a little.
Or a lot.
We speak of a new report from the Heinz center, available here. John Heinz, for those who don't remember, was a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who died rich and young, heir to a ketchup fortune and a thoroughly admirable fellow.
His widow, Theresa Heinz Kerry, nearly became first lady in 2004. The foundation does good works in the senator's memory.
I got a call the other day from a fellow in Alabama who is a keen student of The Washington Times and its influence on right-wing politics in the U.S., the paper being owned and operated by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, otherwise known as the Moonies.
My caller was incensed by something I had written that dismissed the Times as a silly embarassment that was costing the Reverend Moon and his minions millions of dollars and having no influence to speak of on anything.
One recurring theme among environmentalists, regularly confirmed by pollsters, is that concern over environmental issues seldom guides the way people vote, especially for president. People care, no doubt about that, but generally something else—crime, war, the economy, party loyalty—tips the balance one way or another.
This time will be interesting to watch. There's little question whether global warming will be under discussion—it will be, with the two candidates arguing whose approach will work better, faster. I'm hoping it won't stop there—we need a robust debate about a wide range of environmental issues, from the loss of species to the collapse of the oceans to energy policy. Such matters generally get lost in the clangor of sound bites and spin mongering, but maybe this time will be different.
The fix the planet finds itself in, a predicament that worsens daily, is largely the result of human mismanagement and hubris: too much consumption of all the resources you can think of—fossil fuels, metals, topsoil, fish—by too many people.
I could show you reports and articles from 35 years ago that predicted all this (not yet on-line, for better or for worse), but few listened. It's about time someone did, and an election, for all its excesses and hype, is a time when the media pay some attention to actual issues. Let's hope this time the candidates will talk about what really matters.
I'm into the last stages of a book on the roadless rule—you remember, the rule that protects unroaded areas on the national forests, the one put in place toward the end of the Clinton administration and walked away from by the Bushniks. It's a long, tangled, and fascinating tale and I have two more weeks to get it all down on paper. Well, not on paper these days, but you know what I mean. That's a long way of saying that my columns for this week and next will be pretty thin, but there's much other good stuff to read in Unearthed; I encourage you to sample other columns.
I will, however, put in another of my periodic plugs for one of my favorite sites, Grist (www.grist.org). It's a fine source of information and commentary and it is relentlessly punny. Take a look.
We have just learned that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will appear June 26 in downtown Denver at an Earthjustice program to tell the story of how her bruising fight with coal power interests has helped create a national clean energy agenda. Seating is limited for the breakfast presentation, and reservations are recommended.
First we had the skeptics, the nay-sayers, who denied that the climate is heating up, or, if it is, it's natural and not our fault. Rush Limbaugh still spouts this line, as does Senator Jim Inhofe, but their ranks are dwindling, have in fact dwindled to insignificance.
I've never been quite sure what 'a perfect storm' means (didn't see the movie), but it seems to mean a situation where everything gangs up on you. If so, we seem to be already in perfect storm territory in the building competition between hungry people and thirsty vehicles for corn and other grains.
As everyone knows by now, the administration has moved to give Endangered Species Act protection to the polar bear—sort of. The bear goes on the list, but there a big footnote that says that energy development can proceed unhindered. Interior Secretary Kempthorne proclaimed that the Endangered Species Act must not be used to combat global warming.
Various forces, including the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, pledged to contest the listing in court. To have any hope of success, they'll need some tame scientists on their side. Read on.
We are strictly nonpartisan and apolitical here at Tom's Turn, so we will be naming no names today.
Let's put it this way. Two powerful and influential figures with overweening political ambition have suggested that the federal government should suspend federal gasoline taxes between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year to provide some relief to people suffering from soaring prices.
We don't get very many comments here at Tom's Turn—please comment!—so when we do, we pay attention. To this one, for example, from Brenda Hixenbaugh:
"Considering the track records of certain officials, isn't it time that we get people elected who are directly connected to all of this planet's and our needs? Surely there are a great number of environmentalists who are qualified for all of these jobs, up to and not excluding the presidency?"
"Some courts are taking laws written more than 30 years ago to primarily address local and regional environmental effects, and applying them to global climate change. The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change." —George W. Bush, April 16, 2008
What's the best expression to describe the Bush administration these days? Pig-headed? Stubborn? Incorrigible? Mulish? Headstrong? Dogged? Intractable, Recalcitrant, Rigid? Willful? Indeed, all those adjectives apply to the outgoing (not soon enough) Bush administration, particularly with respect to its environmental activities. A handful of illustrations.
The Bush administration, highly placed sources have revealed exclusively to Tom's Turn, is putting the final touches on one last, sweeping reorganization of the federal environmental bureaucracy. Elements of the plan include:
Bill McKibben is on a crusade. He wants to pound the number 350 into the heads of everyone on the planet, including yours.
Three fifty is the amount of carbon in parts per million that the atmosphere can handle safely without warming up and melting glaciers, raising the sea level, bringing on killer storms, destroying wildlife habitat, and all the other horrors that pop like mushrooms from your morning paper nearly every day.
Writing this on St. Pat's Day, the holiday that turns thoughts to subjects green. And isn't green all the rage! My friend and colleague Terry Winckler just sent around an email that allows you to order your TV viewing habits by green content, should that be appealing.
I have a simple rule of thumb to decide how to vote on the ever-more-complicated, ever-more numerous propositions that infest the ballot here in California come election time. It is this: Anything that is supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is something that I will enthusiastically vote against. The late Mr. Jarvis and a co-conspirator named Paul Gann managed to get a property tax measure passed in 1978 that ruined the public schools in our fair state and caused much other mischief that we still suffer from.
We've had a spate of stories here in northern California about the crash of the fall run of king salmon returning to spawn in the watershed of the Sacramento River. Historically, many hundreds of thousands of the fish would return annually; this year the count was around ninety thousand, which spells disaster for salmon fishermen up and down the coast. It is also one more indicator that the river system, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in particular, is very sick, largely because of the enormous volume of water diverted via giant pumps for agricultural and domestic use.
If the polar bears aren’t drowning it's flooding somewhere and drying to dust somewhere else. Or, as a folk group from my youth sang, "They're rioting in Africa. . .and Texas needs rain." Plus ça change.
The stimulus package has pretty much disappeared from the front pages with Super Tuesday upon us and the New York Giants pulling off the greatest upset since David smote Goliath. But, in case you missed it, the suggestion we echoed last week that this moment offers a rare chance to get some green projects going quickly is being trumpeted in the Senate. The House has already passed a single-purpose show-me-the-money bill that would give most of us a few hundred bucks to stimulate with. The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, has approved a bill that includes cash for us taxpayers but also would provide some $5.5 billion in renewable energy tax credits, energy bonds, and other encouragements to renewables and energy efficiency. Here's what like-minded groups think about it. And a recent study by the Blue-Green Alliance, a Sierra Club-United Steelworkers project, suggests that such federal encouragements could create upwards of 820,000 new jobs to boot. The President will scorn this approach no doubt, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Senators hold firm. This really is one of those historic opportunities, or so it seems to us—a chance to make concrete the argument that combating global warming offers great economic opportunities.
I'm writing this a few hours before the State of the Union is assessed (for the last time!) by President Bush, so can't be sure of what he'll say. But if I were writing it for him (fat chance), here's what I'd say, cribbing heavily from Eileen Appelbaum, Dean Baker, and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.
This town is obsessed with the coming election. I guess most everyone is, but here, not surprisingly, it's topics A, B, and C. Every conversation I had quickly turned to the primaries, and there was no consensus about what would or should happen. At the gift shop at my hotel you could buy buttons and bumper stickers for Obama, Clinton, Romney, McCain, and all the rest, including those who have called it quits. Collectors' items someday, perhaps. In my experience, however, campaign trinkets like that are passed out free gratis for nothing.
Another domino has toppled from the ranks of the most virulently anti-environment members of Congress. The election of 2006 took out Richard Pombo, then chairman of the House Resources Committee. Last week came the news that his comrade-in-chainsaws, Rep. John Doolittle, will retire at the end of this congress. Mr. Doolittle, who represents northeastern California, is being investigated for ties to Jack Abramoff and has chosen not to seek reelection under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, who feared losing the seat to a Democrat.
The biggest story around here lately has been the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, and what a muddled tragedy it is. Spokespersons for the zoo couldn't even say how tall the wall the tiger got over was for a while. Were the victims high and drunk, as has been alleged? Did they roar at poor Tatiana, even attack her with slingshots? The rumor mill has been churning. And now the survivors have hired Mark Geragos, defender of Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson, the guy who gives lawyers black eyes by the dozen. Meanwhile, I'm wondering, along with many others, whether it's time to close all zoos. The pro-zoo faction argues that they're good for public education, recruit defenders of wildlife, and are a genetic reservoir of disappearing species. Others say that the animals you see in a zoo behave nothing like the way they do in the wild so the education is minimal and skewed, that you can learn more about tigers from Animal Planet, that a zoo is really just entertainment for humans, like a carnival midway. My kids loved going to the zoo, I'm quick to admit, but maybe it's time to close them down and turn our attention to preserving habitat so all those amazing creatures will survive on their own.
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I hate to throw stones, but I can't help but wonder how on earth the Sierra Club decided to give its David Brower journalism award to Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist. It's true that Friedman has been singing green tunes recently about energy and climate. It's also true that he has been the most strident and bombastic proponent of the World Trade Organization and free-trade-at-all-costs, the-environment-and-labor-be-damned. His best seller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, for example, quoted dozens of bankers and corporate bigwigs on the greatness of trade (a rising tide lifts all boats, they say, which is fine unless you're tied up to a pier) and not a single one of the scores of able, even brilliant, critics of trade as currently practiced. I do not think Mr. Brower would be pleased.