As New York considers new hydrofracking regulations that would allow companies to drill an estimated 48,000 gas wells across the rural countryside, many see the pitched battle over the state's fracking plan as a tug-of-war between the environment and the economy. In reality, both will suffer if the frackers get their way.
Riverkeeper, the organization I lead, is devoted to protecting the Hudson River and the drinking water supply for nine million New Yorkers. We originally engaged with this issue to protect New York City's drinking water, but the risks go far beyond one watershed, even one so important it serves the nation's largest city.
The risks posed by hydrofracking are dead serious. Those YouTube clips that show people lighting their drinking water on fire? They're not isolated cases: Duke University recently proved that drinking water wells near hydrofracking sites have 17 times more methane than wells not located near fracking. Fracking operations have generated billions of gallons of radiation-laced toxic wastewater that we can't manage properly and forced families to abandon their homes because of dangerous levels of arsenic, benzene and toluene in their blood. Fracking's caused earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma, ozone in Wyoming that out-smogs L.A. and a 200 percent increase in childhood asthma in parts of Texas. A top federal scientist admits we just don't know enough about all the different ways fracking can make us sick.
Given this parade of horribles, it's no surprise that environmentalists aren't alone in warning against New York's rush to frack—dozens of counties and towns in the Empire State have imposed moratoriums or bans on fracking. It's also no surprise that only 13 percent of New Yorkers polled by Quinnipiac College believe that fracking is safe for the environment. Yet, the frackers are still icing champagne, in anticipation of a thumbs-up later this year. They know that a whopping 30 percent of all New Yorkers are so worried about the economy they want fracking to happen whether or not it's safe for the environment.
You've got to wonder what those folks would say if they knew that fracking has so many drawbacks it would leave New York in worse economic shape, not better.
Road maintenance alone will cost communities up to $375 million, according to a draft report by the state Department of Transportation, since each well generates about 4,000 extra heavy truck trips. Many local officials and businesspeople warn that fracking will erode New York's all-important tourism sector, by "creating an industrial landscape that far outlives the profitability of gas extraction." Studies show that drill-friendly communities do worse than others in personal income, employment growth, economic diversity, educational attainment and ability to attract investment. Then there are the risks to private property and real estate. Several major national lenders refuse to grant mortgages to homeowners with gas leases; fracking puts as much as $670 billion in secondary mortgage debt at risk.
What's truly scary is that state officials have ignored all this evidence about hydrofracking's potential to ruin our economy. The state did prepare an Economic Assessment Report on fracking, with the help of a consultant. But, it appears that the consultant was asked to study only the economic benefits of fracking, as the report spends a scant seven pages dismissing concerns about fracking's negative economic impact, in terms so superficial they'd make a booster blush, while devoting 250 pages to fracking's supposed benefits.
New York is one of the few states yet to give in to the frackers. That could change within months—unless Gov. Andrew Cuomo pays heed to the tens of thousands of his constituents who have already spoken out against fracking, and the tens of thousands more who are expected to do so before the public comment period closes Jan. 11.
If Gov. Cuomo does give fracking the green light, watch out. The drillers are going to have one hell of a party, and we New Yorkers will end up with the hangover. However, if our famously rational governor thinks this one through, he can avoid disaster. The facts show that hydrofracking doesn't just destroy air and water quality, undermine community character and make people sick. Fracking would also do serious harm to New York's economy. Net-net, fracking is simply a bad bet.
No question that America needs a sustainable energy plan, but fracking is neither safe nor sustainable nor good for the economy. Those who say it is are selling snake oil, not natural gas.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.