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Groups Sue Ohio Governor for Illegally Making State a Fracking Waste Dump
Two environmental watchdog groups have sued Ohio Governor John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), charging that they illegally approved 23 facilities to handle the handling, storage, processing and recycling of fracking waste, bypassing the official rulemaking process. The lawsuit was filed by the Fresh Water Accountability Project and Food & Water Water Watch in the Franklin County court.
The suit says that ODNR skirted the formal process, including a legally required public comment period. No regulations have been made available to the public to comment on. The Ohio-based Fresh Water Accountability Project has already asked the ODNR, Governor Kasich and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and stop the building and operation of frack waste facilities until the proper procedures are followed. But given Ohio's track record on friendliness toward fracking operators and the governor's own track record of anti-environmental policies, secrecy and failure to listen to opinions that diverge from his own, a lawsuit may have been the only way to go.
“It truly is unfortunate that the only remedy that can now be sought is through the courts once again,” said Lea Harper, managing director of the Fresh Water Accountability Project.
“I do not know what it takes to get our governing bodies to take action to protect Ohio’s environmental and economic future. These facilities are an imminent threat to public health. Once the fracking boom becomes a bust, it will be the Ohio taxpayer that pays the price for clean-up and health costs. We are doing everything we can to avoid that. We are also appealing to the state legislature to intervene without much luck. It is disheartening to see that in order to get our politicians and regulators to take us seriously in Ohio, it takes a lawsuit to stand out against the corporate monetary influence from the fracking industry.”
The legislature's own overwhelming Republican tilt, backing by big corporate money and penchant for haste and secrecy may make that appeal even less fruitful than an appeal to the governor.
With most of the eastern half of the state sitting on the gas-rich Utica and Marcellus shale formations, Ohio has plenty of fracking operators—and fracking waste—of its own. But it has also become a dumping ground for waste from nearby states such as the heavily fracked Pennsylvania, which has much stricter rules about how the chemical-laden water used in the process of extracting the natural gas from shale formations can be disposed of. As a result, Pennsylvania has fewer than a dozen injection wells to dispose of the waste underground while Ohio has hundreds.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a report released in September that Ohio had the weakest regulatory oversight of fracking waste disposal of eight states. It was the only one of the eight it looked at that did not require disclosure of the chemicals in the waste before getting a permit to dispose of it.
This year alone, more than 15 million barrels of liquid fracking waste have been dumped in the state, with plans to send more into the state by barge on the Ohio River. Fracking waste is classified as non-hazardous, but environmental and health organizations say that the undisclosed chemicals and sometimes even radioactivity in the waste is dangerous to human health and could potentially contaminate water supplies.
“The ODNR has unlawfully moved forward to approve these facilities without the input of the public, which these rules are intended to protect in the first place,” said Alison Auciello, Ohio-based organizer for Food & Water Watch. “For loosely regulated frack waste processing and dumping to be allowed on such a huge scale spells disaster for Ohio. If the state is requiring sampling to prove that the waste isn’t above established thresholds for radioactive waste dumping, then why can’t the public obtain those samples? It is a sad commentary on our legislature and regulatory bodies that it takes a lawsuit for the citizens of the state to protect themselves.”
The lawsuit asks that the court issue a Declaratory Action forcing the ODNR to implement necessary regulations before the facilities are allowed to operate.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?