Judge: Wildlife Must Be Considered Before Permitting Fracking Off SoCal Coast
In what environmentalists are calling a major victory, a California judge ruled Friday that the Trump administration cannot approve any new fracking off the state's southern coast until a full review is done assessing the controversial technique's impact on endangered species and coastal resources, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"Endangered sea otters and other critters just won a reprieve from the Trump administration's assault on our oceans for dirty oil," Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) Oceans Program Legal Director Kristen Monsell said in a press release. "We plan to celebrate this great victory in the fight against climate change and dirty fossil fuels."
BREAKING: We just won a crucial victory in our lawsuit to stop offshore fracking! A federal judge ordered the Trump… https://t.co/OLWw4LZ5u7— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1541798045.0
The ruling is especially urgent given the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found we must lower greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Any oil or gas extraction prevented moves us closer towards that goal.
However, that wasn't the reasoning used by U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez of Los Angeles. Gutierrez found no fault with fracking in and of itself, but instead said that the federal agencies issuing permits had failed to consult both with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about potential impacts on endangered species and with the California Coastal Commission, which is supposed to sign off on all offshore projects, The San Francisco Chronicle explained.
The ruling was the result of three separate lawsuits brought by the state of California, CBD, the Environmental Defense Center and the Wishtoyo Foundation, according to the CBD release. They were actually filed during the Obama administration, when plaintiffs learned via Freedom of Information Act requests that the federal government had been quietly issuing fracking permits to oil and gas companies. Both the Obama and Trump administrations concluded that fracking offshore would have "no significant impact" on the environment, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
Our attorneys went to District Court over our lawsuit challenging the federal gov’s failure to properly study impac… https://t.co/db9RfUMcsu— Environ Defense Cntr (@Environ Defense Cntr)1541463470.0
However, CBD disagreed with that assessment, as it explained in its press release.
At least 10 fracking chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including marine mammals and fish, Center scientists have found. The California Council on Science and Technology has identified some common fracking chemicals to be among the most toxic in the world to marine animals.
Fracking off the coast of Los Angeles, Ventura or Santa Barbara counties will now have to pass through a study and public hearing by the California Coastal Commission on its potential impact on marine life, coastal environments and water quality. If the Coastal Commission decides that fracking poses a threat, the government could still permit it, but the commission could then sue, Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Council explained in the San Francisco Chronicle. This offers the hope that offshore fracking could be scrapped for good.
"If the Coastal Commission objects, in my experience the federal government has backed down," Krop said.
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.