Remember the government's War On Drugs? Welcome now to the State of Colorado's War For Fracking.
Two wars are playing out across the Front Range of Colorado. One is about the location of medical marijuana dispensaries, the other is about the location of oil and gas drilling and fracking operations. One claims to help heal people suffering from cancer, the other raises claims of causing cancer.
A rational person would think that mainstream Coloradans—who make up the vast majority of our purple state—would prefer to keep cancer-healing activities nearby while keeping cancer-causing activities as far away as possible.
Not so much. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Case in point is the town I live in, Fort Collins, which passed a ballot initiative to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in last fall's election. Quixotically, just a few weeks ago, Republican anti-environmentalists on the City Council successfully killed a short-term moratorium on fracking, even when a driller told the Council and the local newspaper he was ready to increase the number of wells on his oil field smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the north end of town.
Let's look at the science.
One click on Google and you can find dozens of peer reviewed articles in medical and scientific journals about the use of marijuana in treating a variety of ills, including cancer. Those articles and ills are too numerous to list—many involving using marijuana to fight off cancer as a painkiller and appetite stimulant when combined with chemotherapy drugs. You can go directly to the American Cancer Society's website (cancer.org), which lists 32 peer-reviewed scientific articles about the use of marijuana in treating cancer.
And the same is true for fracking: One click on Google and you can find peer-reviewed articles in medical and scientific journals linking the chemicals used in fracking—Naphthalene, Formaldehyde, Thiourea, Benzyl chloride, Benzene, Acetaldehyde and the list goes on and on—to cancer. These chemicals are transported on fracking tanker trucks through residential neighborhoods, spilled near drill sites, injected into the ground and come back to the surface during and after the drilling and fracking process. Further, the drilling and fracking process releases those cancer-chemicals into the air—a now famous Colorado School of Public Health study indicated cancer causing chemicals can travel up to a ½ mile in the air to nearby homes and neighborhoods.
This war is being played out at the local government level across Colorado through zoning laws. The State of Colorado has given City Councils and County Commissioners the legal right to shut down every cancer-healing medical marijuana dispensary in their jurisdiction, while at the same time prohibiting local governments from shutting down (and shutting out) cancer-causing oil and gas drilling and fracking operations.
In fact, every time a local government tries to use its "home rule" authority to restrict fracking, the State of Colorado—under direct orders from Gov. Hickenlooper and his Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and attorney general officeholders—fires off a letter threatening to sue that local government. Stated differently, if your town or county tries to protect you from cancer-causing chemicals in drilling and fracking, Gov. Hickenlooper threatens to sue your town to make sure you are exposed to those cancer-causing chemicals.
The situation in Fort Collins was even crazier. The very same person who helped lead the prohibition against medical marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins—Tea Party Councilman Wade Troxell—also helped lead the vote against the moratorium on drilling and fracking.
In Fort Collins and across suburban Colorado, the oil and gas industry can drill and frack a new well just 350 feet from schools—that's roughly the length of a football field. If there's an existing or abandoned well that has had homes encroach around it, there are no setback requirements at all—that's right, zero feet. In fact, there could be an abandoned well on or near your property and you wouldn't even know it—the state does not even require that homebuyers get notified about the location of abandoned wells even though hundreds of abandoned wells are now being redrilled and fracked each year.
The prohibition against medical marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins was led by local Republican activists who argued that school children were more likely to buy pot and get stoned as medical marijuana proliferated in store-front establishments. The concern is that kids on drugs make bad decisions that impact their health and society's welfare.
But I'm also really worried about our elected leaders making incredibly bad decisions that impact all of the public's health and society's welfare. Gov. Hickenlooper, his state regulators and his friends who run the oil and gas industry (who are helping to pay for his re-election, $83,191, so far...) are forcing Colorado's Front Range families, schools, neighborhoods and kids to get fracked.
So, who's getting high and making bad decisions?
It's common knowledge that the War On Drugs didn't work. But, Colorado's War For Fracking is working, unless Coloradans stand up, speak out and do something about it.
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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.