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Erin Brockovich Helps Pawnee Nation Sue Fracking Companies Over Induced Earthquakes
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is helping Oklahoma's Pawnee Nation take on several fracking companies in a lawsuit alleging that damages to its tribal buildings and reservation property was the result of man-made, or induced, earthquakes.
National Geographic reports that the Native American tribe has retained the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, with the aid of Brockovich, to sue Eagle Road Oil LLC, Cummings Oil Company, and 25 other oil and gas companies.
In September 2016, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake—the state's largest ever recorded—struck near the town of Pawnee. The tribe alleges that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the record-breaking quake and is seeking damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of "knowingly causing" the tremors and that their actions "constitute wanton or reckless disregard for public or private safety."
The case will be heard in tribal court. "The Nation wanted this to be an assertion of their sovereignty," Curt Marshall, counsel for Weitz & Luxenberg representing the Pawnee, told National Geographic. "After all, they are a nation, a sovereign nation: they have jurisdiction, even over non-Indians, on their land."
A growing body of research has linked Oklahoma's alarming spate of earthquakes to wastewater disposal deep underground. These fluids can cause pressure changes to faults and make them more likely to move. Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon as "induced earthquakes" as they are triggered by human activities as opposed to "natural" seismicity.
The Midwestern state is not previously known for seismic activity. Before 2009, Oklahoma felt two earthquakes per year. But in 2014, the numbers jumped to about 2,500 in 2014, 4,000 in 2015 and 2,500 in 2016.
The U.S. Geological Survey said that the decline in 2016 quakes could be due to injection restrictions implemented by the state officials.
Although there were fewer tremors last year, Oklahoma felt more 4.0+ quakes in 2016 than in any other year. Another damaging quake struck the state in November—a 5.0 near Cushing, one of the largest oil hubs in the world.
Earlier this year, Brockovich and lawyers from Weitz & Luxenberg traveled to the state to speak with residents about the earthquake swarm.
"The communities definitely [are] feeling frustrated and voiceless and helpless and not sure where to turn" Brockovich said after a Pawnee meeting in January.
Brockovich, who currently lives in Los Angeles, recounted to National Geographic about her summers in Oklahoma as a child.
"The only thing I'd worry about growing up there was tornadoes," Brockovich said. "Now I'd be afraid not of a tornado, but an earthquake? That's just bizarre."
It's difficult, she added, "to go back to Oklahoma, to see how on edge [the Pawnee people] are. The question they keep asking is, 'When will it end?'"
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.