By Kelly Martin
In the past few weeks, the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign and our partners have helped secure game-changing victories in our work to stop fracked gas pipelines. There are more than 10,000 miles and nearly 100 large, multi-state fracked gas pipelines proposed in the U.S. right now. If these pipelines are constructed, fracking will increase, and our communities and waterways will be irreparably harmed, and climate-disrupting methane pollution will increase at a time when we urgently need to act to stop the worst impacts of climate change. And if the utilities and pipeline companies have their way, consumers will end up footing the bill despite more fracked gas pipelines being unnecessary and unjustified. The good news is that these pipelines are being fought by communities, lawyers, climate activists and many others—and we're winning. State agencies are responding to overwhelming public pressure and starting to get involved to protect waterways from the impacts of pipelines. The attempt to lock us into another generation of relying on fossil fuels is being met with resistance at every turn.
In the past few weeks, we've had great news on multiple fights against fracked gas pipelines, including:
Sabal Trail Pipeline
On Aug. 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) attempts to downplay the massive climate impacts of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, including the 515-mile Sabal Trail pipeline that runs through Alabama and Georgia to feed gas plants in Florida. FERC is charged with evaluating whether or not a gas pipeline is needed and is required to ensure a thorough environmental review is done before they decide whether the pipeline should be built at all. In this case, argued by Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson, the court ruled that FERC could not ignore "downstream impacts" of the fracked gas pipeline, meaning greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fracked gas in plants at the end of the pipeline must be accounted for in FERC's environmental review. Because FERC's environmental review ignored these climate impacts, the court struck down FERC's approval of the pipeline. We are already seeing the ripple effects of this victory and expect this decision to have long-ranging impacts as other proposed pipelines must be reviewed for their climate impacts.
You can read more about the Sabal Trail court decision in this blog.
Even though FERC is the lead federal regulator of pipelines, states also have robust regulatory powers. For example, they can protect their waterways during the construction of a pipeline. Under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, pipeline companies need each state to certify that state water quality standards will not be violated before construction can start. In the case of the Constitution pipeline in New York, the company failed to provide the information requested by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) as it evaluated the water impacts. Consequently, NY DEC denied the certification—which effectively stopped the pipeline from being constructed. Constitution then took New York to court.
In mid-August, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Constitution Pipeline Company's case against NY DEC, upholding the state's authority to exercise oversight over water quality permits for major projects. The decision describes in detail DEC's repeated requests for site-specific information about stream crossings, and the pipeline company's failure to provide it.
The ruling on Constitution reinforced that regardless of how much money corporate polluters may spend on influence and attorneys, they can never speak louder than the people who want to protect their homes, their communities, and their clean water from dirty and dangerous projects. Affirming the State's right to reject pipeline projects will have long-lasting impacts and could bolster efforts by other states to defend their water quality standards against pipeline companies.
In another big decision out of New York, NY DEC recently denied a necessary permit to the Valley Lateral project, a fracked gas pipeline slated to go to a new power plant owned by Competitive Power Ventures in Orange County, NY. DEC cited our recent win in the Sabal Trail case, where the court decided thatFERC did not sufficiently consider the climate impacts of these pipelines before approving them. DEC concluded FERC's environmental review of the Valley Lateral project had similar flaws and was therefore incomplete, prohibiting construction of the project. It's exciting to see our victory on Sabal Trail already being used to block another fracked gas pipeline!
This denial is particularly important because the Lateral would feed into the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) power plant that would be fueled by fracked gas from Pennsylvania and emit 7 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent pollution annually. The utility was banking on the approval of the Lateral, and started to construct the plant at its own risk before securing the necessary permits. New York's denial of one of those permits signals to utilities and pipeline companies the problems and risks with following CPV's rushed approach.
Late last week, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP) announced its intention to reconsider its previously issued water quality certificate for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. DEP's decision was the result of a legal challenge by the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, representing the Sierra Club and our partners in asserting that WV DEP did not adequately review the potential for the pipeline to harm streams, and came before the state had to defend its issuance of the 401 water quality certification in federal court. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run about 300 miles from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia and has faced legal battles that include a coalition of landowners challenging the use of eminent domain. This could mean a significant delay for the MVP while the state goes back to the drawing board to evaluate the water quality impacts, and is another exciting development for advocates defending our water and climate from the impacts of fracked gas pipelines.
All of these significant, precedent-setting steps toward victory in the past few weeks spell trouble for the pipelines. No longer will these projects be seen as foregone conclusions as soon as they're proposed. Now, the people are being given back the platform they deserve to stand on as we work to protect our communities from the pipeline companies rush to make profits at the expense of our air, water, health and climate.
FERC will have its first meeting in months on Sept. 20. Thus far, the agency has served as nothing more than a rubber stamp for gas projects, and we expect that it will try to rush forward approvals for fracked gas pipelines. But we aren't going away. Burning more fracked gas spells game over for our planet, which is why the Sierra Club and communities across the country continue to band together to push back and build a powerful movement to challenge dirty fuel infrastructure. Will you join us?
Kelly Martin is the deputy director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.
Biden Refuses to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline, Despite Campaign Pledges on Tribal Relations and Climate
By Jessica Corbett
Indigenous leaders and climate campaigners on Friday blasted President Joe Biden's refusal to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline during a court-ordered environmental review, which critics framed as a betrayal of his campaign promises to improve tribal relations and transition the country to clean energy.
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By David Shiffman
As we enter what's hopefully the home stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's time to take stock of how it affected every aspect of our world, to consider what happened, what could be done different to avoid those problems in the future, and what's next.
NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
A young monk seal underwater in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. NOAA/PIFSC/HMSRP
A recently emerged sea turtle hatchling. Becky Skiba/USFWS<p>So what does the pandemic mean for ocean conservation? Experts caution that it's probably too early to tell. However, it's not all stories of dolphins frolicking in suddenly quiet rivers. Environmental planning meetings, funding schemes for protected areas, and monitoring of fisheries and endangered species populations were all disrupted, giving us good reasons to fear that the story is far more complicated, and far less happy, than many of us have been led to believe.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.
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By Sharon Buccino
This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.
By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNjAzODUwNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NzE1OTU4N30.qQL3P1IvA7Cwj_UbsrAL6MVZvafXGZc7hlAFieLPvso/img.png?width=980" id="9bbfd" width="1580" height="872" data-rm-shortcode-id="16ca57badee20ad55037706875f813f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided<p>This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.</p>
This Has Happened Before<p>We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.</p><p><strong>252 million years ago…</strong></p><p>At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.</p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 study</a> of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.</p><p><strong>125,000 years ago…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/109/52/21378" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2012 study showed</a> that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.</p><p>Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.</p><p><strong>Today…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/23/12891" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">During the last ice age</a>, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.</p><p>Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.</p>
The Profound Implications<p>Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.</p><p>In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-13/sydney-growing-own-coral-reef-with-help-from-tropical-fish/11466192" target="_blank">tropical fish</a> moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.</p><p>This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.</p><p>The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.</p><p><span></span>Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.</p><p>The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the <a href="https://sdgs.un.org/goals" target="_blank">Sustainable Development Goals</a> concerning zero hunger and marine life.</p>
Is There Anything We Can Do?<p>One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.</p><p>Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in <a href="https://mpatlas.org/" target="_blank">fully or highly protected reserves</a>. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/global-ocean-alliance-30by30-initiative/about#global-ocean-alliance-members" target="_blank">a group of 41 nations</a> is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.</p><p>This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03371-z" target="_blank">global aviation</a>. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.</p><p>Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.</p><p>We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anthony-richardson-100303" target="_blank">Anthony Richardson</a>: Professor, The University of Queensland. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/chhaya-chaudhary-1223419" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chhaya Chaudhary</a>: University of Auckland, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-schoeman-111544" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">David Schoeman</a>: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-john-costello-1223418" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mark John Costello</a>: Professor, University of Auckland</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.</em></p><p><em>David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-life-is-fleeing-the-equator-to-cooler-waters-history-tells-us-this-could-trigger-a-mass-extinction-event-158424" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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