Energy
By Carl PopeEnergy  11:44AM EST
18 Reasons Why We Must Invest in America's Infrastructure

In Monday's debate, Hillary Clinton pledged to spend $275 billion investing in America's infrastructure. Donald Trump doubled down, promises lots more. On Tuesday the Senate failed to pass a bill to keep the government open because Democrats insisted—and Republicans rejecting—inclusion of a modest $220 million to repair the toxic contamination in the Flint, Michigan public water system.

The 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which collapsed during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007.

Where the disconnect? That's a small example of the big question at the heart of Upgrading America, today's DC summit on American infrastructure. Everyone agrees our infrastructure is a shambles—D+ according to the Academy of Engineering. Almost everyone agrees that a lot of this infrastructure is essential for a strong America, and requires a federal role. But, as we are reminded today, for the past 30-40 years, we have systematically starved the critical systems that make our country safe, liveable, competitive—and yes, Donald, great. (Trump is right about the third world condition of our airports etc. He is wrong in refusing to support anything that would plausibly pay for improving them.)

A few painful reminders of how bad we have allowed things to get:

  • We have stored 727 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, our insurance policy in case, say, a Middle Eastern crisis shut down Persian Gulf oil. We couldn't get it out as fast as we might need it, Energy Secretary Moniz tells us, because we don't have enough loading docks.
  • We have 200,000 water mains break in the U.S. every year. The average water pipe in Washington DC is 79 years old, meaning half are past their useful life. Cities as diverse as Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Cleveland have suffered lead poisoning from water just like Flint.
  • Enough natural gas leaks from our pipeline system every year to power 7 million homes. Every year we have a major natural gas explosion or leak that kills people or drives them from their homes.
  • Most of America's railway bridges cannot handle double stacked loads. But all our planning for handling the 45 percent increase we expect in goods movement requires such double stacking.
  • There are new challenges as well. Every year, there are now 150 cyber attacks on the U.S. energy system. The system is simply not hardened against such threats, much less against a massive electro-magnetic pulse that a single high altitude nuclear explosion might unleash.

And some economic realities, that should, but won't, sober up Trump:

  • The old way of doing things is getting steadily more expensive. A single new substation in New York City can cost a billion dollars, even thought it is needed only half the time.
  • Cities like Baltimore, after decades of not investing in their water systems, are now raising rates at 10 percent a year—their citizens will soon not be able to pay for water.
  • Even at our present replacement rate, ½ of 1 percent a year, it will cost us $650 billion every ten years to maintain our water and sewer systems. At the end of that time, the average water main will be 200 years old.
  • The wholesale price of electricity has fallen by 30 percent over the last eight years. But the cost of the wires and poles that distribute electricity has increased so fast that the retail price of electricity is up 20 percent.
  • Adding new highway improvements in Washington State at a cost of $2.5 billion are considered a "success" if they cut 90 seconds off the average commute time.

But we have some stunning opportunities if we start thinking systemically, rather than clinging to mid-twentieth century approaches and mind-sets. Efficiency, substituting data for raw materials, and renewables for fossils, are the keys.

  • If we replaced outmoded, leaky water mains, we would immediately recapture 1.7 trillion gallons of water, 25 percent of the treated water we feed into them, water which after collection and treatment at great expense now leaks into the ground.
  • That same $1 billion NY substation became completely unnecessary when ConEdison invested $200 million in modern load smoothing strategies like energy efficiency and demand management.
  • Utilities are currently rewarded for wastefully investing more capital in power plants, wires and poles. Yet we have huge surplus capacity in our system already—New York State uses its power plants only 54 percent of the time. Using new technology to shift demand by only a few hours using energy storage could postpone the need for new capital investment.
  • The cost of renewable power continues to plummet. Over the last eight years prices fell from 41 percent (wind) to 90 percent (LED bulbs). Unsubsidized solar power in the best locations now cost a trivial 2.4 cents a kwh.
  • New prototype Class 8 trucks can save 88 percent of the fuel used by today's models, meaning we won't need as many pipelines to deliver diesel.

And these solutions, thoughtfully designed, can have a phenomenally positive impact on our economy, inequality and our sense of national dignity and unity.

  • Accelerating the repairs on our natural gas pipeline system to eliminate leaks and explosions would generate 300,000 jobs.
  • Restoring high quality public water systems may cost more than we are used to paying—but it would cost perhaps 1/1000 of our current work-around, bottled water. And we would all be equally well served.
  • In California, which has put in place climate policies that generate revenues and discourage pollution, the clean energy sector is now the state's largest single employer, with 500,000 jobs. The sector is growing six times as fast as the state's overall economy, which in turn is growing faster than the U.S. economy.

Finally, replacing wasteful consumption of fossil fuels, leaky gas and water mains, and outmoded electrical infrastructure with knowledge driven, higher performance, low carbon infrastructure and technology is, quite simply, the single most powerful economic development strategy available to us. To cite one example, (probably the biggest, but only one), there was tremendous excitement last month at the news that the economic recovery was finally reaching the average American. Median family incomes increased by 5.2 percent. But it turns out that if energy prices in 2015 had tracked the rest of the consumer price index, instead of falling 17 percent, the household benefit would have been only 3.4 percent. And if the U.S. had not invested in more efficient cars and trucks beginning in 2007, if renewables and efficiency weren't displacing natural gas and coal, then that fall in energy prices would not have occurred—and household income would have grown far less rapidly.

Investing in innovative and less wasteful, less carbon and resource intensive infrastructure, does have an upfront cost: but it pays off in so many ways that voters ought to be doubling down on Donald Trump's bid. America ought to set a goal—improving our infrastructure from D- to B+ say—and make sure that politicians of both parties get it done.

Watch John Oliver as he discusses "America's crumbling infrastructure: It's not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one":

...
By Dan ZukowskiEnergy  08:49AM EST
21 Arrested During Peaceful Prayer Ceremony at Standing Rock

The Morton County Sheriff's Department, whose officers used mace and unleashed dogs on Dakota Access Pipeline protestors earlier this month, sent in armored vehicles and arrested 21 people Wednesday at two sites. But a video released by those at the Sacred Ground Camp shows unarmed protestors conducting a prayer ceremony involving the planting of willow and corn.

"We had a really nice ceremony," said a Sicangu Lakota grandmother. "Then we looked and over that way, there were a few police and the next thing we knew there were 40 police all in riot gear."

Police moved in as peaceful demonstrators stood with their hands up. The video then shows officers confronting the protestors, grabbing women and ordering everyone into their cars.

"I've never had a gun pointed at me," said the grandmother. "I went into shock."

In a press release issued Wednesday by the Morton County Sheriff's Department, they allege that "a protester on horseback charged at an officer in what was viewed as an act of aggression."

Another video shows at least three riders on horseback but does not show any "charging" toward officers. At least one officer raised his weapon toward the civilians even as they shouted, "We are unarmed. We have no weapons."

According to the Indian Country news site, Indianz.com, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier "has previously come under fire for spreading his own rumors. As thousands began to flock to North Dakota in early August, he claimed there were pipe bombs at the encampment but resisters told The New York Times that he was mistaken by the presence of sacred Chanunpa pipes used during ceremonies."

The military-style show of force came as a surprise to the 60-vehicle caravan traveling to three sacred sites. The first of these was the Sacred Ground Camp, where ancestral sites have been desecrated. This was the location of the Sept. 3 attack using dogs. In a separate video posted by Indigenous EnviroNet on Twitter, they argue that North Dakota media has portrayed the protestors as violent and stress that their movement has always been about non-violence, prayer and peace.

Thomas H. Joseph II, who filmed one of the videos from yesterday's arrests, posted on Facebook, "Today's action where uncalled for, the police was a direct threat to woman and children."

Famed actor Robert Redford spoke out Wednesday in defense of those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. "If this is legal, one must seriously question the laws of the land," Redford said. "They are laws that prioritize the profits of energy companies over the rights of people who actually have to live on the land, drink its water and eat its food."

...
By Common DreamsEnergy  01:44PM EST
50% of EU Residents Could Be Generating Their Own Renewable Energy by 2050

By Nadia Prupis

A people-powered energy revolution—an era in which people can produce their own electricity—is possible, and could happen soon, according to a new report released Monday by the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE).

birgstockphoto.com

The report, The Potential of Energy Citizens in the European Union, finds that over half the residents of the EU could be generating their own renewable electricity by 2050. That's 264 million "energy citizens" meeting 45 percent of the region's energy demand through a democratized, citizen-owned system that allows people to be the operators of their own utilities—taking power away, in more ways than one, from a market monopolized by large corporations.

"[People] have the power to revolutionize Europe's energy system, reclaiming power from big energy companies, and putting the planet first. We need to enshrine the right for people to produce their own renewable energy in European and national legislation," Molly Walsh, FOEE community power campaigner, said.

The report also found that overall, 83 percent of European households, whether individually or as part of a utility collective, have the potential to help create, store or help provide renewable energy.

Electricity production by energy citizens, potential to 2050 per Member State.Friends of the Earth Europe

The researchers analyzed the potential for renewable energy generation, storage, and distribution for different categories of "energy citizens"—households generating energy individually; households producing energy collectively as part of a co-op or association; public entities such as schools, hospitals and government buildings; and small enterprises with less than 50 people on staff.

The sources of renewable energy analyzed in the report included on- and off-shore wind farms, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, stationary batteries and electric boilers.

Number of energy citizens for the various technologies assessed, potential to 2050 for the EU28.Friends of the Earth Europe

The report found that:

"[About] 115 million EU households will have an electric vehicle in 2050, 70 million may have a smart electric boiler, 60 million may have solar PV on their roof and 42 million may have stationary batteries on their premises. Another 64 million households could participate in renewable energy production through an energy collective."

[...] About 161 million can potentially provide flexible demand services with an EV, (smart) electric boiler or stationary batteries. A large share of the households that could have demand flexibility could also be an energy producer."

"Citizens are already playing a role in renewable energy projects across Europe—benefiting the local economy, as well as creating public support for the energy transition. Their potential is huge, and this research shows these projects could, and should, be the norm," Dirk Vansintjan, president of the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives, said.

Potential energy storage by energy citizens, estimates for 2015, 2030 and 2050.Friends of the Earth Europe

The report was commissioned by the European Renewable Energies Federation, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace EU Unit, and the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives. The organizations are calling for a framework to promote citizen-owned energy within the European Commission's Energy Union package, the commission's strategy for ushering in a low-carbon economy.

Such a call aligns with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's wish for "the EU to become the world number one in renewable energies," the groups said.

Because the data surrounding renewable energy is limited, there are some uncertainties surrounding the findings, the report cautions, but that in itself is evidence that more in-depth research need to be devoted to the industry and that policymakers should undertake measures to tap the potential of citizens' collective energy creation.

"The EU should be clearing a path for forward-thinking, nimble energy citizens, not supporting big, polluting utilities," Tara Connolly, energy policy adviser for Greenpeace EU, said. "The age of energy dinosaurs is over."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

...
By Food & Water WatchEnergy  10:15AM EST
EPA Must 'Correct Top Claim in Major Fracking Study'

Led by Food & Water Watch, more than 200 public interest and environmental groups sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, urging the agency to heed the recommendation of its own independent Science Advisory Board (SAB) and clarify the seemingly unsupported top-line finding of the June 2015 draft fracking report.

The EPA's June 2015 draft of the study featured a dismissive and unsupported topline finding—that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic" problems nationally, as if that should be the bar. The groups back the SAB's recommendation that the EPA either drop the controversial language or provide a "quantitative analysis" to support it.

The letter, signed by hundreds of national, statewide and local environmental and public interest groups, representing millions of members, was sent directly to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. It is being sent on the heels of an EnergyWire FOIA report indicating that the Obama White House was engaged in the "messaging" for the rollout of the controversial EPA study, stating that "White House aides kept tabs on what the 'topline messages' would be."

In the letter, environmental groups specifically call on the EPA to revisit its statement of findings, consistent with the SAB recommendations, and resolve the three major problems with the controversial line:

1. The EPA did not provide a sense of what the agency would have considered "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States."

2. The "widespread, systemic" line is problematic because it presumes, without discussion, that looking on a national scale, over several years, provides an appropriate metric for evaluating the significance of known impacts.

3. The "widespread, systemic" line is problematic because the EPA failed to explain adequately the impediments to arriving at quantitative estimates for the frequencies and severities of the impacts already occurring.

The letter continues:

"By dismissing fracking's impacts on drinking water resources as not 'widespread, systemic,' the EPA seriously misrepresented the findings of its underlying study. This has done the public a disservice. We feel the agency now owes it to the public—and particularly to those already impacted by 'hydraulic fracturing activities'—to address these criticisms."

Other organizations that signed today's letter include: Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and Clean Water Action.

...
By Climate News NetworkEnergy  09:29AM EST
This Fabric Can Power Your Phone

Scientists in the U.S. and China have fashioned the ultimate in power dressing: a fabric that recovers energy from movement and at the same time turns sunlight into electricity.

A bracelet made from fabric woven with special energy-harvesting strands that collect electricity from the sun and motion.Georgia Institute of Technology

It may be a while before the new material reaches the high street stores and delivers significant energy savings, but it means that a smartphone in a pocket could charge itself from the fabric around it.

And it stands as yet another example of the burst of global ingenuity by materials scientists and engineers in response to the spectrum of climate change driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers have already tested a "bionic leaf" that can harvest sunlight energy 10 times more efficiently than chlorophyll-powered foliage.

Carbon Emissions

They have crafted windows and solar panels from wood, tested a "carbon negative" car battery that replaces its cathode material from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and confected a brew of conifer essence and gut bacteria to make high-octane rocket fuel.

They have even devised an ultra-thin membrane that could capture nine-tenths of the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power stations.

But the latest report from the laboratories—published in Nature Energy journal—could end up being tested in the field, as a tent fabric, or in the office, as curtains that could power a lighting system or as clothing that could exploit the wearer's activity and place in the sun.

The scientists used commercially-available machinery to weave together solar cells fashioned from lightweight polymer fibers with a second and very different thread of fibre-based nanogenerators that exploit the tribo-electric effect: that is, threads that could recover electrical power from any form of movement—rotation, sliding or vibration.

"This hybrid power textile device presents a novel solution to charging devices in the field, from something as simple as the wind blowing on a sunny day," professor Zhong Lin Wang, specialist in nanomaterials synthesis at Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, said.

A piece of fabric woven with special strands of material that harvest electricity from the sun and motion.Georgia Institute of Technology

Highly Flexible

The new fabric is 320 millionths of a meter thick, woven together with strands of wool. It is, Professor Wang said, "highly flexible, breathable, lightweight and adaptable to a range of uses."

The energy-harvesting textile is based on common polymer materials that, he said, are not expensive to make and are environmentally friendly. The electrodes are also delivered by a low-cost process, so large-scale manufacture should be possible.

The scientists report that a 4 centimeter by 5 centimeter fragment of the hybrid power textile is capable of stably delivering output power of 0.5 milliwatts, and has been shown to charge a commercial capacitor up to two volts in one minute in ambient sunlight while being mechanically moved.

"The textile could continuously power an electronic watch, directly charge a cell phone, or drive water-splitting reactions," the authors, from Georgia Tech and from Chongqing University and Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems in China, said.

...
By Lorraine ChowEnergy  10:15AM EST
'Groundbreaking' Study Links Texas Earthquakes to Wastewater Injection From Fracking

Even though scientists are pretty certain that wastewater injection from fracking and conventional drilling has led to the unprecedented spate of earthquakes rollicking Oklahoma, Texas and other states in recent years. Definitive proof, however, is rare. But now, in a study published Thursday in Science, researchers have fastened another nail in the "man-made earthquakes" coffin.

Earthquakes in Texas in November 2014.NBC Dallas-Fort Worth

Using satellite imagery, the researchers found that a series of earthquakes that struck Texas between 2012 and 2013— including the largest-ever quake recorded in eastern Texas—were caused by the injection of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities into deep underground wells.

As Mashable explained from the study:

Wastewater not only puts pressure on underground fault lines, causing "induced" earthquakes, but also pushes up the surface of the ground—a phenomenon called "uplifting" that can be seen from space.

Researchers used satellite images of ground uplifting to show how wastewater disposal in eastern Texas eventually triggered a magnitude-4.8 earthquake in May 2012, the largest earthquake recorded in that half of the Lone Star state.

"Our research is the first to provide an answer to the questions of why some wastewater injection causes earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops," said study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

As a Stanford press release described, the researchers used Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (or satellite-based radar) to detect tiny, highly precise deformations near four high-volume wastewater disposal wells where the 2012 temblor occurred.

These wells had operated between 2005 and 2007, injecting about 200 million gallons of wastewater annually underground at its peak—or, as Science pointed out, "about an Olympic swimming pool's worth of wastewater pumped underground each day."

This uplift, as a result of pumping so much fluid into the ground, caused the terrain between two sets of injection wells to bulge up to 3 millimeters a year on average between May 2007 and November 2010, Science noted. Over time, excess fluids seeped away from the injection point into tiny spaces in surrounding subsurface rocks, boosting water pressure—aka pore pressure. The ever-expanding pore pressure then reached fault zones, thus triggering earthquakes.

As explained in the Stanford press release, the rising pore pressure built up until it triggered earthquakes in 2012 along an ancient fault line. "The quakes ended in late 2013, when pressures began to decline after wastewater injections were scaled back considerably," it stated.

Fracking has become an increasingly controversial oil and gas extraction method especially due to its briney, chemically laden wastewater byproduct. Every day, two billion gallons of this wastewater is injected into roughly 180,000 disposal wells scattered throughout states such as Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Mounting evidence shows that this injecting of wastewater is causing damaging earthquakes in areas that had never seen much seismic activity, especially in Oklahoma, which has surpassed California in becoming the country's earthquake capital. Just this month, the Sooner State was rocked by a 5.8 earthquake in Pawnee, the largest ever in the state.

Dauntingly, the researchers in the current study found that seismic activity increased even as wastewater injection rates declined because pore pressure from earlier injections continuing to diffuse.

On an industry-positive note, this research presents a new tool to pinpoint which earthquakes are man-made or natural and to even forecast further seismic activity.

Arizona State University geophysicist and study co-author Manoochehr Shirzaei called the findings "very groundbreaking" and "very new," and explained how this study can, in a sense, make wastewater disposal safer.

"This research opens new possibilities for the operation of wastewater disposal wells in ways that could reduce earthquake hazards," Shirzaei said. Shirzaei indicated he was neither pro or against fracking.

"So now the goal, the scope of every scientist across the U.S.A., and maybe abroad, is to make that injection safer" by "reducing the number of earthquakes as much as we can," he said.

...
By Bill McKibbenClimate  09:19AM EST
Fighting Big Oil and Big Banks to Save Sacred Lands, Precious Water and Unraveling Climate

Most Americans live far from the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline—they won't be able to visit the encampments on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where representatives of more than 200 tribes have come together in the most dramatic show of force of this environmental moment. They won't be able to participate in the daily nonviolent battle along the Missouri River against a $3.7 billion infrastructure project that threatens precious water and myriad sacred sites, not to mention the planet's unraveling climate.

TD Bank in Providence, Rhode Island, became the target of environmental and Native American rights activists.Steve Ahlquist / RIFuture.org

But most of us live near a bank.

Maybe there's a Citibank branch in your neighborhood. Or Wells Fargo or Bank of America or HSBC. Maybe you even keep your money in one—if so, you inadvertently helped pay for the guard dogs that attacked Native Americans as they tried to keep bulldozers from mowing down ancestral grave sites.

Maybe you have a retirement plan invested with Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley—if so, you helped buy the pepper spray that the company used to clear the way for its crews as they cleared the right of way straight to the Missouri River.

Perhaps you bank overseas. Credit Agricole? Deutsche Bank? Sumitomo? Royal Bank of Scotland? Barclays? Yeah, them too.

In fact, virtually every name in the financial pantheon has extended credit in some form to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, according to a remarkable dossier assembled by the organization Food & Water Watch. It shows a credit line of $10.25 billion (that's a b) for the companies directly involved in building the project—from 38 banks—a list of names that, the group adds, "might give you flashbacks to the 2007 financial crisis."

Sporadic protests have begun at some of the banks—activists occupied a Vancouver branch of TD Bank and across the continent in Philadelphia held a protest outside another of the giant's outlets. The same thing happened at a Citibank in downtown Chicago.

"It's unlikely that Citibank customers support poisoning indigenous peoples' water, desecrating sacred burial sites, or contributing to global climate change," said Gloria Fallon of Rising Tide Chicago. Which is true.

But banks love these kinds of deals precisely because they're so capital-intensive. (And because they're financially stacked in favor of the developers: Federal tax breaks worth more than $600 million helped make the balance sheet for Dakota Access Pipeline.)

The key Dakota Access Pipeline loan, said Rainforest Action Network's Amanda Starbuck, is still pending. It's a multibillion-dollar line of credit, but only $1.1 billion of the loan can be doled out until the company "resolves certain governmental permits." Citi, Mizuho, Bank of Tokyo MUFJ, and Mizuho Bank are leaders on that loan.

Many of these banks may be vulnerable to pressure. For one thing, they're eager to appear green: Bank of America, for instance, recently announced plans to make all its bank branches "carbon-neutral" by 2020. Which is nice—solar panels on the roof of the drive-thru tellers are better than no solar panels. But as Starbuck said, it's basically meaningless stacked up against Bank of America's lending portfolio, chock full of loans to develop "extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world."

Put another way: They're going to be the vegan owners of a global chain of slaughterhouses.

Rainforest Action Network's numbers make clear just how mammoth this problem is for those of us fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground: In June, it reported that just 25 banks have invested "$784 billion in coal mining, coal power, 'extreme oil' and liquefied natural gas facilities between 2013 and 2015."

But there are success stories: Australian campaigners, led by indigenous groups downunder and working with campaigners across three continents, persuaded most of the world's banks to stop bankrolling plans for what would have been the world's largest coal mine and port, and in turn, that has helped bring the project to a standstill.

The pressure will increase after this week's release of a new report from Oil Change International, which makes clear that the oil fields, gas wells, and coal mines already in operation have enough carbon to carry us past the 2-degree target the world set in Paris a year ago (and to absolutely annihilate the stretch goal of 1.5 degrees).

That is to say: At this point, anyone who finances any fossil fuel infrastructure is attempting to make money on the guaranteed destruction of the planet.

So those Dakota Access Pipeline loans should come under new scrutiny—moral, as well as financial—since they assume that governments won't enforce their Paris promises. That's a gamble accountants might want to think twice about, especially after this week's news that the SEC was investigating Exxon for its refusal to write down the value of its reserves in light of the global accords.

And at least one bank is waking up. Amalgamated—the New York-based, labor-affiliated bank—announced jointly with Bank of America that it would make its branches carbon neutral. More significantly, it also announced it was divesting from the fossil fuel business.

"We need to be honest, we have a growing environmental crisis unfolding and Amalgamated Bank will no longer sit on the sideline," said Keith Mestrich, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. "As an industry that prides itself on innovation and bold action, we must all be leaders and take real action to change our course."

Put another way: They're vegans who will now be lending to tofu makers.

But it's probably sustained public pressure that will do the most good.

"Oil companies are always going to drill for oil and build pipelines—it's why they exist," Rainforest Action Network's Scott Parkin. "But the banks funding this pipeline have a choice as to where they put their money. Right now, Citibank, TD Bank and others have chosen to invest in a project that violates indigenous rights and destroys the climate."

Parkin points to the protests that have already sprung up at dozens of banks from DC to New Orleans to Tucson to Long Beach to the Bronx.

"We have the power to derail that loan with a different kind of currency," he said. "Putting our bodies on the line at any financial institution that says 'Dakota Access Pipeline, we're open for business.'"

And if anyone has any doubts that civil disobedience can be useful, remember how the amazing activists at Standing Rock forced the federal government to blink, pausing construction earlier this month. Their nonviolent leadership has inspired all of us—and it should have sent a shiver down the spine of a few bankers.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Yes! Magazine.

...
By TomDispatchClimate  02:24PM EST
Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes: Indians Battle Modern-Day Cowboys to Save Sacred Lands

Cowboys and Indians are at it again.

Americans who don't live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart. Not so.

That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys—well, their right-wing representatives, anyway—are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear.

Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America's Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

@mikewfritz / Twitter

Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project. It's slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them. Keep in mind that, according to global warming's terrible new math, there's enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet—if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don't stop the pipeline.

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

Last Stand at Standing Rock

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline will snake through the headwaters of the Missouri River, a life-giving source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream, including Native Americans. It's supposed to pass under that river just a few miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota. Protestors point out that, eventually, the pipeline is likely to leak into that vital watershed and the contamination could prove catastrophic.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which green-lighted the project's design, and Energy Transfer Partners have continued to insist that there is no such risk—even though, suspiciously enough, they decided to change the pipeline's route to avoid the water supply of North Dakota's capital, Bismark. As ever, tribal leaders point out, they were ignored rather than consulted in the planning stages, even though the project was to pass directly through their lands.

When the Keystone XL pipeline, slated to bring especially carbon-heavy tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was killed thanks to years of fierce environmental protests, the stakes were raised for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Keystone was a disaster for the energy industry. In its wake, opponents claim, the new project was fast-tracked without the usual environmental reviews so that construction could be completed before a Keystone-style opposition formed. Fast as they were, it turns out that they weren't fast enough.

Keep in mind that such a project wasn't exactly a first for the native peoples of the region. In the wake of their defeat and confinement to reservations in the 19th century, they lived through a profound transformation of their landscape. Settlers let cattle loose on meadows cleared of wolves, cougars and bears. The rude stamp of progress followed: fences, roads, dams, mines, sawmills, railroads, power lines, towns, condos, resorts. And in the 21st century, vistas increasingly pockmarked with fracking's drill rigs and service roads.

In the Dakota prairies, hundreds of species of grass and flowers were replaced by monocultures of soy and corn, while millions of cattle were substituted for herds of free-roaming bison. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the neighboring Sioux and Cheyenne lost 200,000 more acres of valuable reservation farmland to dams built without their permission. Entire villages had to relocate. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest of these assaults and yet, in every way, it's potentially more disastrous. As Lakota Chairman David Archambault puts it, "To poison water is to poison the substance of life."

Slaughter, internment and neglect were bad enough, say tribal leaders, but threatening the people's life-giving water was the last straw. As a result, thousands of Native Americans drawn from 280 tribes across the country and even around the world are now camping out at the construction site where the Dakota Access Pipeline nears the tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Almost 2 million signatures have been gathered on a petition opposing the pipeline, dozens of environmental groups have signed on to the resistance and tribes nationwide have expressed their solidarity.

On Sept. 3, the private security guards hired by Energy Transfer Partners used pepper spray and dogs on those trying to block the pipeline. This eruption of violence halted work until U.S. District Judge James Boasberg could rule on the tribe's request for an injunction to block construction while its case was heard in court.

On Sept. 9, while conceding that "the United States' relationship with Indians has been contentious and tragic," he denied that request. Then, in a move described even by the Sioux as stunning, the Obama administration suddenly stepped between the protesters and the pipeline construction crews. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called for a halt to the process until the permitting procedure could be reviewed.

Although putting an oil pipeline under a major river should have triggered an environmental review, the Corps chose not to do one. Now, it will take a second look. The administration also committed itself to finding better ways to include Native Americans in future land-use decisions.

Where this goes next is anyone's guess. The construction halt could, of course, be lifted if the protesters were to disperse under a false sense of victory. The Sioux now plan to litigate vigorously against the pipeline. One prediction, however, is easy enough. The unity and purpose experienced by the people in that encampment will resonate powerfully for years to come. A movement has been born along the banks of the Missouri River.

Native Americans have played the crucial role in this campaign to "keep it in the ground," just as they were leaders in the successful struggle to block the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would have carried dirty crude across Canada to the Pacific, and the building of a massive coal export port on Canada's Pacific coast. As Native American leader Winona LaDuke puts it, "For people with nothing else but land and a river, I would not bet against them."

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboys have been engaged in a not-so-old-fashioned range war over who can best manage 640 million acres of public lands now owned collectively by the American people. Backed by the Koch Brothers and their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislators across the American West—where most of the public lands are located—are calling on the federal government to cede control and management of them to counties and states. This would include some of our most beloved national parks.

In Utah where I live, the Republican-dominated legislature has put forward the Public Lands Initiative (PLI). It's the latest round in a 30-year feud pitting conservationists and businesses tied to tourism and recreation against ranchers and miners. At stake: whether to give the last publicly controlled wild places in the state formal wilderness status and federal protection or (though this isn't often directly said) let private interests exploit the hell out of them. Every few years the Utah legislature's "cowboy caucus" has pushed just such a "wilderness bill" filled with poison pills and potentially devastating loopholes that the local conservation community can't abide.

Billed this time as a potential grand bargain to settle who controls public lands and how they can be used, the PLI has proven no different. It was, in fact, generated by local fears that President Obama might use his wide-ranging powers under the Antiquities Act to create a new national monument in the state as he left the Oval Office. This was exactly what Bill Clinton did in 1996, establishing the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah's spectacular canyon country, already the home of five national parks.

That 1906 act, passed while Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, gives the president wide-ranging authority to create national monuments from public lands in order to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. Since activities like drilling for oil and gas, mining, timber cutting and grazing are barred or tightly restricted on such protected lands, Western politicians tend to regard them as a tool wielded by conservationists to suppress economic development.

Grave Robbing for Fun and Profit

Sure enough, the nightmare of the cowboys is being realized. A coalition of five tribes, all either presently in Utah or claiming ancestral lands there, is now pushing a bold proposal for just such a national monument—a park co-managed by the five tribes and the U.S. National Park Service (which in itself would be a significant first for the Native American community). It would include 1.9 million acres of the ancestral grounds of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indian tribes and would be known as the Bears Ears after the area's most famous landmark, twin buttes that are said to resemble a bear's ears.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewel recently toured the proposed monument and was amazed by what she saw, including spectacular cliff-house ruins, as well as paintings and rock carvings depicting clan signs, shamanic visions and ghostly herds of bighorn sheep and elk. Bears Ears would possess more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including many of the oldest and most spectacular ruins in the U.S. Members of the coalition of tribes regard them and the ground littered with their ancestors' artifacts and bones as sacred.

A grassroots group, Utah Dine Bikeyah, did extensive groundwork collecting data and interviews to create cultural maps of the region. The extraordinary archaeological and historical record they built effectively made their case that the ancestors of the coalition tribes have relied on that landscape for hunting, gathering and ceremonial activities for centuries. The Utah conservation community, which had mapped out its own plans for such a monument, stepped aside for the tribal proposal.

Protecting the Bears Ears is considered an urgent matter. A mere handful of rangers currently patrol thousands of square miles of rugged canyons where the looting of archaeological sites for fun and profit is a rural tradition. In remote outposts like Blanding, Utah, Indian grave robbing was considered an acceptable family pastime until agents from the FBI infiltrated the black market for artifacts and busted a prominent local family. Ute leader Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk expresses a motivating concern of the tribal leaders.

"Without swift action we fear that the archaeological and cultural riches of the Bears Ears will suffer shameful, disgraceful dissolution and obliteration," she said.

Her fear is well founded. In recent years, for instance, rural county commissioners have led illegal all-terrain-vehicle rallies on a route through Recapture Canyon that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers shut to motorized traffic because it crosses several key archaeological sites.

State and county politicians were not content to challenge the BLM's closure of that canyon in court. Instead, they openly promoted such rides to defy the feds. The last of these protests in 2014 did, in fact, significantly damage unprotected archeological sites. The indigenous community saw it as a shocking show of disrespect, like driving directly over cemetery graves. The well-armed vigilantes who rode through Recapture Canyon were led by Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and the famous hothead of the Bundy clan.

You may remember the colorful Bundy boys. After all, they became the stars of the "cowboy rebellion" against federal regulation on public lands. In 2014, BLM rangers were dispatched to Nevada to remove Cliven Bundy's cows from lands on which they had been grazing illegally for 20 years. The feds claimed that he owed the taxpayers a million bucks in unpaid grazing fees. He, on the other hand, insisted that such public lands belonged to the ranchers whose grandparents first grazed them.

The rangers sent to enforce the law were met by hundreds of armed cowboys, many of whom took up sniper positions around them. Faced with such overwhelming firepower and the prospect of bloodshed, they withdrew and a range war was on.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

That retreat in Nevada undoubtedly emboldened the Bundy clan and their militia allies to seize Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016. Well-armed, they occupied the visitor center at that bird refuge, leaning on every cowboy cliché in the book. They dressed the part with chaps, boots, buckles and Stetson hats, carried American flags, and regularly posed with their horses for news photographers.

In the end, despite the Marlboro Man look and the Clint Eastwood demeanor, the Bundyites came across as the gang that couldn't shoot straight. The "constitutional revolution" they wanted to spark by seizing Malheur fizzled amid a festival of cognitive dissonance and irony: men carrying assault rifles and threatening to use them proclaimed themselves "peaceful protesters" and, while declaring it off limits, attempted to "return" land to the American people—land that they already owned.

Federal agents eventually arrested all of the principal players in both the earlier Nevada standoff and the Malheur fiasco, except for one killed at a roadblock when he charged armed rangers and reached for his gun. Trials began on Sept. 7 and are slated to last for months.

Given the open hostility of state and local politicians to the protection of sacred sites, as well as their willingness to break the law and offer tacit support for vigilantes like the Bundys, tribal leaders decided to take their concerns about protecting their ancestral grounds to the top. A delegation traveled to Washington and met with President Obama, while a media campaign was begun to persuade others to endorse the plan.

A broader coalition of tribes and the conservation community rallied to the idea, especially because it was the first time that Native American tribes had proposed such a monument. The vision of a park to honor sacred indigenous lands, shaped and directed by Native Americans themselves, caught the public imagination. The New York Times and The Washington Post have both written editorials urging the president to create such a park and Utah polls show a solid majority of citizens in favor of it.

Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes

The genocidal policies that accompanied settlement across North America crested in Sioux country at the close of the 19th century. The survivors of the vanquished indigenous nations there were interned on reservations. Their children were taken from them and sent to boarding schools where their hair was cut and their language and ceremonies banished. This was—and was meant to be—a form of cultural genocide.

In the Bears Ears and Sioux country today, however, the culture of Native Americans endures. The descendants of those warriors who died defending their homeland and of those children taken from their families and their native cultures have proven remarkably resilient. They are once again defending their world and, as it happens, ours too, because even if you don't share the Missouri River watershed, you live on a planet that is being rapidly transformed by the sort of toxic cargo that will fill a future Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the Hollywood Westerns of my youth, Indians were often one-dimensional villains who committed atrocities on good white folks trying to bring civilization to the frontier. As with so many notions I inherited in my youth, reality has turned out to be another story.

Certainly, before the onslaught of colonialism, the way indigenous people across the planet viewed what we now call our environment has come to seem like sanity itself. The land, as the Sioux and other tribal peoples saw it, was a living being saturated with spirits that humans should both acknowledge and respect.

The Indians whom the cowboys and bluecoats fought didn't share European concepts of cash, property, profit, progress, and, most importantly, technology. Once upon a time, we had the guns and they had the bows and arrows, so we rolled over them. But here's the wondrous thing: a story that seemed to have ended long ago turns out to be anything but over. Times have changed, and in the process the previous cast of characters has, it seems, swapped roles.

An economy hooked on carbon is threatening life on Earth. The waters of seas and oceans are warming fast; the weather is becoming unpredictable and harsh. Perhaps it's time to finally listen to and learn from people who lived here sustainably for thousands of years.

Respecting Sioux sovereignty and protecting the sacred sites of tribes in their own co-managed national monument could write the next chapter in our American story, the one in which the Indians finally get to be heroes and heroines fighting to protect our way of life as well as their own.

Reposted with permission from our media associate TomDispatch.

...