Department of the Interior, or Ministry of Doublespeak?
Defenders of Wildlife recently obtained a copy of Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's "Top 10 Priorities" for his department (text version). These priorities are reflected in the department's recently leaked draft 2018–2022 Strategic Plan, but the priorities themselves are noteworthy for their strikingly euphemistic tone.
They are written to evoke a responsive, progressive Interior Department serving the country by protecting our natural heritage and ensuring sensible use of our natural resources. And there's the problem. All ten priorities are entirely disconnected from Interior's actions to date. Following is our take on the doublespeak nature of the secretary's Top 10 Priorities.
1. Create a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt.
To date, Zinke is doing the exact opposite of Teddy Roosevelt's legacy. Roosevelt, the father of federal land conservation, established 150 national forests, 51 wildlife refuges, five national parks and 18 national monuments. Under Zinke, the Interior Department could strip protections from as much as 11.3 million acres of public lands and 218 million acres of marine environment designated as national monuments by presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Interior is also dismantling wildlife refuges and undermining laws that protect imperiled species on public lands.
If the secretary really wants to rival Teddy Roosevelt, he could start by abandoning the attack on our national monuments. Then he could follow up by protecting more land, air, water and wildlife under Interior's trust, as supported by huge majorities of Americans. Otherwise, history may judge him not as Roosevelt's peer, but his antithesis.
2. Sustainably develop our energy and natural resources.
"Sustainability" is a word that Zinke uses repeatedly, but doesn't appear to understand. Zinke recently joked to the National Petroleum Council that "[f]racking is proof that God's got a good sense of humor and he loves us." In March, Zinke cancelled a 2016 moratorium on new coal leases, and in July the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a new round of leasing in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Zinke has also announced offshore oil and gas leases in a 77 million-acre region of the Gulf of Mexico, in an area still recovering from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Pretending that finite sources of dirty energy will secure a sustainable future for the American people, the joke is on him, but the harm posed to wildlife and wild places is no laughing matter.
#Zinke Recommends Opening Up Pacific National Monuments to Commercial Fishing https://t.co/n7VesfHnVE @billmckibben @Oceana @WWF @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1510071650.0
3. Restore trust and be a good neighbor.
Zinke has proven himself anything but trustworthy with his closed-door dealings and speeches, refusal to publicly release his national monuments report, ethically questionable business travel, suspicious relationships with Political Action Committees and the distinct appearance of giving special attention to special interests.
Trust is a two-way street. Zinke has demonstrated mistrust of—and has outright ignored—state and local stakeholders on the years-long public process for balancing greater-sage grouse conservation with other public lands uses across 10 western states. His decision to revise the plans is a triple-whammy: wasting four years and $45 million invested in developing the existing plans, throwing the region into years of uncertainty while new plans are created, and increasing the likelihood that sage-grouse populations will continue their long-term decline and require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Zinke is even considering drilling adjacent to and even inside 30 national parks, which would not be neighborly to the wildlife and habitat the Interior Department is responsible to protect.
4. Ensure tribal sovereignty means something.
Tribal sovereignty doesn't mean "something," it means that tribes have an inherent right "to make their own laws and be governed by them." Unfortunately, Zinke failed to learn the lesson from Standing Rock with his recommendation to downsize Bears Ears National Monument, which could lift protections from thousands of Native American cultural artifacts and sacred sites. Member tribes in the Bears Ears Commission, established by President Obama to guide management of the monument, support Bears Ears remaining intact with its current level of protection.
5. Increase revenues to support the department and national interests.
The most important way the secretary can support his department is to request a budget increase … but he appears to have other intentions. According to Zinke's June 2017 Senate testimony, he is seeking to cut budgets across most of Interior: 11 percent from the National Park Service, 13 percent from BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey, and nearly half from the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation. Rather than requesting the funding, Zinke is pushing for drilling in one of America's last great wild places, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though his interest in Arctic drilling may be ideological rather than fiscal. Zinke recently rescinded a rule that would have helped ensure that companies pay fair market value for oil, gas and coal they extract on federal lands, depriving taxpayers of $75 million in revenues from energy extraction nationwide. So far, the secretary's most concrete proposal for raising revenue has been to nearly triple the entrance fees American families pay at popular national parks.
6. Protect our people and the border.
Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, administers our international borders, not the Interior Department. That aside, Zinke should be paying attention to the devastating effects the administration's proposed border wall would have on wildlife and habitat, including endangered species and several national wildlife refuges.
7. Strike a regulatory balance.
Just last week, as directed by President Trump's Executive Order 13783, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth," the Interior Department issued a report identifying conservation, safety and public health policies as potentially "burdensome" on domestic energy production—particularly oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy sources. The report targeted a broad array of foundational protections for wildlife and habitat, including scientific consultation to protect imperiled species; protective designations for public lands and waters; public planning and appeals processes; and legislative and administrative requirements for permitting, exploring, siting, developing and transporting fossil fuels. Unfortunately, what Zinke's Interior Department considers burdensome is our country's attempt to balance energy development and natural resource conservation nationwide.
8. Modernize our infrastructure.
Zinke is asking for $1.6 billion in Interior budget cuts (see priority #5), while the National Park System has a $12 billion maintenance backlog, and the National Wildlife Refuge System is suffering a $2.7 billion backlog. The extreme budget cuts that the secretary has requested for managing agencies is not going to help alleviate these costly deficits. On a related note, the president's cancellation of his predecessor's requirement that federal projects like roads and bridges be built to withstand the impacts of climate change *might* result in a few projects being built faster, but only until the next big storm. That's not the same as "modernizing."
9. Reorganize the department for the next 100 years.
Zinke's notion of reorganization could have lasting, negative effects on both the department and constituencies it serves. Within just a few short months of his taking office, more than 50 senior Interior staff have been "involuntarily reassigned," often to positions for which they have no expertise or experience. One scientist who was moved into an accounting position told the Washington Post that he was "clearly retaliated against" for "speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities." Zinke himself has testified that he supports "an estimated reduction of roughly 4,000 full time equivalent staff from 2017," and is reportedly planning to upend hundreds more employees' lives by moving the headquarters of three agencies from Washington, DC to Denver.
10. Achieve our goals and lead our team forward.
We are not clear what Zinke's goals for the department are moving forward, especially after he compared his staff to pirates and said he's "got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag."
Zinke needs to refocus the Department of the Interior to carry out its duty to the American people to manage and protect our county's natural resources, historical sites and cultural heritage. Faithfully implemented, some of his ten priorities could be useful for guiding the department's work.
Teddy Roosevelt said, "[o]f all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us." Defenders of Wildlife is determined to hold Zinke and the Interior Department to the high standards of the conservation image in which it was created.
Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
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By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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