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Crew members Eva Jones and Chris Farley, residents of Mingo County, work the soil. It is compacted, composed of blasted rock, and lacks organic matter. Paul Corbit Brown / YES! Magazine

Turning Appalachia’s Mountaintop Coal Mines Into Farms

By Catherine V. Moore

On a surface-mine-turned-farm in Mingo County, West Virginia, former coal miner Wilburn Jude plunks down three objects on the bed of his work truck: a piece of coal, a sponge and a peach. He's been tasked with bringing in items that represent his life's past, present and future. "This is my heritage right here," he said, picking up the coal. Since the time of his Irish immigrant great-grandfathers, all the males in his family have been miners.

"Right now I'm a sponge," he said, pointing to the next object, "learning up here on this job, in school, everywhere, and doing the best I can to change everything around me."

Then he holds up the peach. "And then my future. I'm going to be a piece of fruit. I'm going to be able to put out good things to help other people."

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Chef Tarik Abdullah / Digital Manatee

This Seattle Chef Is Empowering Children Through Food

By Angela Fichter

Early in his career, chef Tarik Abdullah wanted to do more than work in a restaurant. It has been more than 20 years since he found his calling while volunteering as a children's cooking instructor. Since then, his devotion hasn't waned.

The Seattle native has worked tirelessly to share his passion with his community over the years. His talents have landed him time hosting VICE series Munchies. He was a finalist on ABC cooking show The Taste, and in Seattle, he's best known for his highly favored Morning Star Brunch pop-ups and his four years as a sous chef at popular Mediterranean eatery Cicchetti.

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Food items redistributed by The Free Store include salads, sandwiches, pies, rice meals and other pastries. Benjamin Johnson

How a Free Grocery Store Is Cutting Food Waste—and Hunger

By Rina Diane

On a windy late afternoon, dozens of people have lined up in front of a 20-foot-long repurposed shipping container situated on a church parking lot. Inside, volunteers are unloading food items from custom-built shopping carts and stacking them onto rows of shelves. There are hearty rice meals and healthy salads, thick sandwiches, pies and other savory and sweet items. This is just another busy day for The Free Store.

The Free Store is a nonprofit organization that redistributes surplus food from local businesses in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, to those in need. It was inspired by a two-week art project in 2010 where artist Kim Paton filled a shop with surplus food items from bakeries and supermarkets. Anyone visiting the shop could take what they wanted free of charge.

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The Possibility Alliance is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes. James Garcia / Unsplash

This 110-Acre Homestead Runs Without Fossil Fuels

By Peter Kalmus

I stepped off the train in the farm town of La Plata, Missouri, with my 9-year-old son, Zane. Thomas was waiting to meet us with two well-maintained bikes, one with a trailer for our backpacks, the other with a long wooden seat for passengers, to make the 6-mile trip to the Possibility Alliance (PA).

The PA is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes, who have two young daughters. Their reliance on fossil fuels is limited to trains for long-distance trips, municipal water and a telephone landline. They purchase bike parts, bulk grains and tin roofing, as needed—but that's about it. No electricity, no gas, no cars, no planes. With the imminent release of my book on how life using radically less fossil fuel turns out to be more satisfying, I'd been curious to visit the PA both to glean technical knowledge and—more importantly—to see whether their experience of increased joy and satisfaction matched my own.

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From Jan. 1 to Aug. 2, Earth's 7.5 billion people will have used as much biocapacity as the planet can regenerate in a year. freemixer / iStock.

We'll Soon Be Using More Than Earth Can Provide

By David Korten

Four days after President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on Aug. 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.

The basic point is quite simple: From Jan. 1 to Aug. 2, the world's 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth's biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth's reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere.

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Farm to School Program Saves Big Bucks, Slashes Carbon Footprint at 100 Oakland Schools

By Melissa Hellmann

When her eldest son was in elementary school in the Oakland Unified School District, Ruth Woodruff became alarmed by the meals he was being served at school. A lot of it was frozen, processed foods, packed with preservatives. At home, she was feeding her children locally sourced, organic foods.

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This Student-Built Website Is Keeping Government Climate Data Safe

By Terri Hansen

It wasn't long after President Trump took office that chaos took hold at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Throughout his campaign, Trump had promised to get rid of the agency, leaving just "little tidbits left." He wasted little time.

Out of the gate, Trump's transition team was set to remove former President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan and other climate data, reported InsideEPA on Jan. 17. Trump officials told EPA staff on Jan. 24 to remove the agency's climate change page from its website, according to Science. The next day, EPA staffers were told to hold off. Then, two days later, the words "climate change" were erased from the EPA site altogether. Then they were back.

Many scientists didn't wait to find out what was up, what was down or what was going which way. At risk was years of data on greenhouse gas emissions, temperature trends, sea level rise and shrinking sea ice—data essential to our understanding of the enormous environmental shifts our planet is undergoing. Worldwide, they scrambled to capture the information from the websites of the EPA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. Hackathons were organized to download the data to university servers and sites like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive for the fear that Scott Pruitt would be confirmed as head of the EPA; he was confirmed by the Senate on Feb 17.

Even outside of scientific circles, concerned citizens recognized a need to act. When John Rozsa, a graduate student in technology studies at Eastern Michigan University, heard about these efforts, he thought the more copies, the better. So, between classes and his full-time job, he began to download the pre-Trump version of the EPA website—28,000 files and counting.

"I used a variety of Windows and Linux-based high-tech tools that look at every corner of the website and grab every single file," he said. "I repeated the process four times and then compared the data sets. Once I confirmed my data sets were reliable, I backed them up and then sorted the files."

Now he's uploading the files to a website he calls EPA Data Dump. It's very simplistic, he said, "due to the fact that less than one week ago the website was just a small project of mine." The website is not quite ready for prime time—it's still under construction—but already it's getting a lot of attention.

EPA Data Dump has seen more than 200,000 users to date, so much traffic that its server nearly crashed. Rozsa had to start a modest online fundraiser to pay for a dedicated server, more bandwidth and increased security. The site will soon include a search engine, he said, but first the files must be organized by librarians and other volunteers.

Already many people, including an aerospace data manager, have offered their skills to further the project. And Rozsa has received messages from students and individuals in academia who said the data on his website have helped them significantly.

Rozsa has degrees in computer science and technology management. He is now studying for his master's degree in technology studies and he calls himself an activist. One audience that appreciates his type of activism is journalists who cover science and the environment.

"Journalists and the public rely on the EPA's website for accurate public information about climate change, EPA regulatory actions, greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution data," said Bobby Magill, senior science writer at Climate Central and president of the Society of Environmental Journalists. "It's among the first places members of the public may go to find information about climate change and how human carbon dioxide and methane pollution contribute to it."

Ensuring that accurate information remains available to the public is critical to understanding government efforts to keep our air and water clean and to address climate change. "The EPA greenhouse gas emissions database is valuable because it helps journalists and the public identify emissions sources and trends," Magill said. "There is an inherent public good in maintaining those databases online so that accurate environmental information is available to the public."

When Rozsa created EPA Data Dump, he did so believing that the public should have access to information about climate change, regardless of who the president was. For many scientists, whose individual decades of study are built on generations of accumulated research, open access to information is essential.

"Any climate data that has been collected and published by government scientists or as a result of government-funded or government-sponsored research, belongs in the public domain," said Michael Mann, professor and director of the Pennsylvania State University Earth System Science Center and lead-author of the now-famous "hockey stick graph" of rising global average temperatures.

"The public has a right to know that it is safe and that it will be preserved for posterity, despite the fluctuations in the prevailing political winds," he said. "The fact that scientists are fearful that climate data inconvenient to the vested interests that have funded President Trump and congressional republicans will be scrubbed from government websites is a testament to the truly chilling nature of the fossil fuel industry-funded assault on climate science."

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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Jenni Monet reports on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests on Oct. 27.

First Amendment Under Siege as Another Journalist Arrested at Standing Rock

By Mark Trahant

Jenni Monet, a Native American journalist, was arrested last week while covering Standing Rock. You'd think that would trigger a lot of support from the national and regional news media.

There is an idea in law enforcement called the "thin blue line." It basically means that police work together. A call goes out from Morton County and, right or wrong, law enforcement from around the country provides back up.

Jenni Monet was arrested while covering the Standing Rock movement last week. But most of the press has been silent about the charges she faces—and the implications for the First Amendment.Aboriginal People's Television Network

You would think journalism would be like that, too.

When one journalist is threatened, we all are threatened. We cannot do our jobs when we worry about being injured or worse. And when a journalist is arrested? Well, everyone who claims the First Amendment as a framework should object loudly.

Last Wednesday, Monet was arrested near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. She was interviewing water protectors who were setting up a new camp near the Dakota Access Pipeline route on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. Law enforcement from Morton County surrounded the camp and captured everyone within the circle. A press release from the sheriff's Department puts it this way: "Approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protestors were arrested." Most were charged with criminal trespassing and inciting a riot.

As was Monet. She now faces serious charges and the judicial process will go forward. The truth must come out.

But this story is about the failure of journalism institutions.

The Native press and the institutions that carry her work had Monet's back. That includes Indian Country Media Network, YES! Magazine and the Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal. In Canada the Aboriginal People's Television Network reported on the story during its evening news. And, the Los Angeles Times has now weighed as well in with its own story written by Sandy Tolan who's done some great reporting from Standing Rock.

The Native American Journalists Association released a statement immediately:

"Yesterday's unlawful arrest of Native journalist Jenni Monet by Morton County officers is patently illegal and a blatant betrayal of our closely held American values of free speech and a free press," NAJA President Bryan Pollard said, "Jenni is an accomplished journalist and consummate professional who was covering a story on behalf of Indian Country Today. Unfortunately, this arrest is not unprecedented, and Morton County officials must review their officer training and department policies to ensure that officers are able and empowered to distinguish between protesters and journalists who are in pursuit of truthful reporting."

Yet in North Dakota you would not know this arrest happened. The press is silent.

I have heard from many, many individual journalists. That's fantastic. But what about the institutions of journalism? There should news stories in print, digital and broadcast. There should be editorials calling out North Dakota for this egregious act. If the institutions let this moment pass, every journalist covering a protest across the country will be at risk of arrest.

After her release from jail, Monet wrote for Indian Country Media Network:

"When Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman was charged with the same allegations I now face—criminal trespassing and rioting—her message to the world embraced the First Amendment. 'There's a reason why journalism is explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution,' she said before a crowd gathered in front of the Morton County courthouse. "Because we're supposed to be the check and balance on power."

The funny thing is that journalism institutions were not quick to embrace Goodman either. I have talked to many journalists who see her as an "other" because she practices a different kind of journalism than they do.

Monet's brand of journalism is rooted in facts and good reporting. She talks to everyone on all sides of the story, including the Morton County Sheriff and North Dakota's new governor. She also has street cred … and knows how to tell a story. Just listen to her podcast and you will know that to be true.

So if we ever need journalism institutions to rally, it's now. It's not Jenni Monet who will be on trial. It's the First Amendment. Journalism is not a crime.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. He writes a regular column at YES!, where he is a contributing editor. Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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Here's How You Can Help Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Jake Tracy

It's been a tumultuous few days for anyone following the ongoing battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Within the course of just over a week, the project's backers tried to get a judge to cancel environmental review of the project, environmental review officially began and, on Jan. 24, President Trump issued a memorandum calling for the Army Corps of Engineers to ditch the Environmental Impact Statement process and approve the pipeline.

Things look bleak, but it's unclear whether Trump's order will actually have any effect.

The exact wording of his statement is that the Army Corps of Engineers should "consider, to the extent permitted by law and as warranted" whether this environmental review should be canceled. Federal courts have previously ruled that agency decisions cannot be reversed simply because a new president is in power, so this order could just be a bunch of hot air.

Because the situation is so uncertain, however, anti-DAPL activists should prepare for both scenarios: one in which the pipeline plows forward in the coming weeks and months and one in which the full environmental review proceeds. If you're willing to take a stand in the streets and in the cold of North Dakota, why not take a few moments to put your concerns into writing?

If Trump's order is not legally actionable, now through Feb. 20 is the only chance we will have to push for a full review of the pipeline's climate impacts. Consider that Trump's picks (and lack thereof) have not yet been appointed to the Army Corps. This means there may still be decision-makers on the inside who are committed to fully analyzing the project.

How the EIS Process Involves the Public

As I explained in detail in a previous article, the environmental review process that has now begun is known as an environmental impact statement or EIS. This is a highly regimented form of review that is part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). An EIS is required any time a federal action (including federal permit approval) will have significant environmental impacts. It requires a full, detailed analysis of those impacts, as well as an evaluation of how alternatives to the project as-proposed would lessen or heighten those impacts. Although the Army Corps originally issued a "Finding of No Significant Impact" for the DAPL, its Dec. 4 announcement reversed that decision, citing that additional review was needed.

A standard pipeline EIS proceeds as follows:

  • Notice of Intent (official announcement of the EIS) is issued.
  • Scoping Period (public input on which impacts and project alternatives should be studied).
  • Army Corps drafts EIS document.
  • Draft EIS is published, and the public is invited to comment (on whether the report is complete or which alternative is best).
  • EIS is modified based on public comment.
  • Final EIS is published (possibly with another comment period).
  • Army Corps decides whether or not to approve a permit for the pipeline crossing.

Though the EIS process itself cannot deny the pipeline, the environmental information gathered through the process can be used by the Army Corps to deny a permit if the project is "injurious to the public interest"—in other words, if the project's impacts outweigh its benefits.

One problem with that is past EISs have only looked at environmental impacts to the immediate project site and surrounding area (in this case, the sliver of land that the Army Corps owns and Lake Oahe). On the other hand, the Army Corps will be weighing those spatially-limited impacts against the overall benefits of the project, such as jobs and tax revenue.

If this seems like an unequal comparison to you, now is your chance to speak up and say so.

The EIS Notice of Intent was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 18. During the 32-day scoping period that began simultaneously, the Army Corps is reaching out to the public for input on which environmental impacts should be studied within the EIS, and what the alternatives to Dakota Access' "preferred route" should be. Unlike the second comment period, this first comment period is solely to decide what the scope of analysis should be.

What Kind of Impacts to Comment On

One of the most important impacts of the pipeline is the potential for oil spills into Lake Oahe and the Missouri River. However, spills are certain to be studied in the EIS and there will be ample opportunity to comment extensively on those impacts during the second comment period, once the draft EIS is published. That doesn't mean that the public shouldn't include spills in their scoping comments and the Standing Rock Sioux and their lawyers will certainly need to provide information on their water intakes, fishing rights, etc., but there are other important issues to tackle in this comment period as well.

It is virtually certain that without an overwhelming public push during the scoping notice, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts will not be studied in the EIS.

In order to have the strongest argument possible when it comes to deciding if this project is "injurious to the public interest," activists should, at this point, focus on expanding the scope of the EIS to cover the effect of the global greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the oil that will run through the pipeline.

If completed, up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil would flow through the DAPL every day. According to one estimate, utilizing data specific to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, the transportation, processing and burning of that oil would result in 101.4 million metric tons of CO2 every year. To put this in perspective, that's the same amount of annual emissions that would result from operating 21.4 million passenger vehicles or 29.5 coal plants.

The original Environmental Assessment (think: preliminary, mini-EIS) for the DAPL did not address climate issues at all, with merely a one sentence mention ("The contribution of the Proposed Action to greenhouse gas emissions during construction would be considered a minor indirect impact to climate change"). This ignoring of the project's larger impact is inconsistent the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality's guidance for evaluating climate change under NEPA. This guidance, released in 2016, states that agencies should evaluate "direct and indirect," "long- and short-term" and "broad-scale" effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Though the Army Corps has not yet updated their standards to match these, overwhelming public pressure might convince them to provide a full analysis of climate impacts from the pipeline.

Suggest the True "No-Action" Alternative

While inclusion of climate impacts in the EIS would set major precedent for pipeline projects going forward, in order for them to help the argument that the project is "injurious to the public interest," an additional change to the EIS' scope must be made.

Every EIS includes evaluation of alternatives to the proposed project. In addition to alternate routes for the pipeline, the project is also required to evaluate a "no-action" alternative, in which the pipeline is not built. Exactly how this no-action alternative is structured will play a critical role in how the proposed route under Lake Oahe is viewed, both in terms of local water quality impacts and global greenhouse gas impacts.

In the initial Environmental Assessment for the DAPL, the no-action alternative assumed that, if the pipeline was not built, the oil would be carried by rail and truck instead. As these methods of transportation are more dangerous and energy-intensive than pipeline transportation, the no-action alternative was written off as being worse than building the pipeline. The only problem with this is that earlier in that same report, it was noted that truck transportation of the oil was "not ... a realistic alternative" and that transportation by rail would first require construction of a facility more than 150 percent of the size of the largest existing oil-by-rail facility in the U.S.

Creating a no-action alternative in which the oil is still transported by truck and rail, therefore, is unrealistic. The proposed project should be evaluated against a scenario where the oil is left in the ground due to the multiple financial, technological and logistical constraints that exist. This would mean that the proposed project's local and global impacts would be evaluated against a true no-action alternative, rather than one that looks worse than the proposal but is unrealistic in practice.

Won't Trump Just approve the Pipeline?

I won't lie to you. Even if the full environmental review of the pipeline takes place, by the time the review is complete, the secretary of the Army and assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, who oversee the Corps, will be Trump appointees. It's hard to imagine that anyone he appoints would be willing to rule on the side of the environment, regardless of the impacts. His Jan. 24 decree that future pipelines and other infrastructure projects should receive "expedited" environmental review doesn't bode well either.

So it's true. Denial of the pipeline is a long-shot. But if the water protectors at Standing Rock have taught us anything, it's that with enough public pressure, even a long-shot is possible. So if you're against the pipeline, this is the time to step up, not back down. As long as the public process is still in play, we should do everything we can to push back. We owe it to those who worked so hard to get us to where we are today.

Send your public comments by Feb. 20 to:

Mr. Gib Owen
gib.a.owen.civ@mail.mil

Subject Line: "NOI Comments, Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing"

Sample Comment:

Mr. Owen,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Dakota Access pipeline crossing. I have grave concerns that the scope ignores key impacts that the Army Corps' approval would cause, and that the "no-action" alternative, as proposed in the environmental assessment, does not constitute a realistic alternative.

The EA's no-action alternative assumes that, if the pipeline is not built, the oil will be transported by truck or rail instead. This argument is flawed, however. The EA itself points out on page 5 that truck transportation is not realistic, and goes on to state that rail transportation would require massive infrastructure investments, far larger than any currently existing in the United States. For these reasons, the no-action alternative should assume that the oil is not extracted, as there will be no realistic way to transport it to the intended markets.

Additionally, the Council on Environmental Quality has directed federal agencies to evaluate projects' direct and indirect, long- and short-term, and broad-scale greenhouse gas and climate change impacts through the EIS process. Approving this crossing would complete the project, allowing a flow of oil that, when all is accounted for, would have the same annual CO2 emissions as 29 coal-fired power plants. These emissions would have a significant impact on air quality, water quality, human health, and wildlife, and would not occur if this pipeline crossing was denied. Please evaluate these impacts as part of your review, in accordance with the guidance provided by CEQ.

Finally, I support your decision to include a thorough analysis of the effects of an oil spill on Lake Oahe and the people of Standing Rock. Even the strictest precautions today will wear with age, as we have seen with other projects where poor maintenance led to disastrous results. The impacts of a spill on the local population and environment cannot be discounteda spill 30 years from now would be just as impactful as a spill on day one, and should be treated as a near-certainty in the requestor's preferred alternative.

Thank you again, and I look forward to your inclusion of the project's full impacts, as well as a no-action alternative that takes into account the infeasibility of other forms of oil transportation.

Jake Tracy is an urban planner and environmentalist from Seattle. Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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