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In the wake of an Obama administration decision to conduct a new review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, 103 American mayors sent a letter expressing concerns about the pipeline’s impacts on communities to President Barack Obama.
The mayors’ letter demonstrates the widespread support that exists in communities across the country for rejecting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It also underscores the importance of carrying out a new, in-depth review of the project that includes a careful look at the project’s impact on our nation’s climate change goals. The mayors thank the president for the new review, but remain convinced that a full, fair review can yield only one answer—this pipeline is not in the nation’s best interest.
The letter, signed by mayors from 28 states, 10 state capitals, and serving a combined population of more than 9 million Americans, states: “Expansion of high carbon fuels such as tar sands undermine hard work by local communities everywhere to fight climate change, reduce dependence on oil and create a clean energy future.”
“President Obama is listening to concerns from all across America about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and now mayors from coast to coast are weighing in,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the International Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Mayors are at the frontlines of reducing our dependence on oil and have been working to create a more efficient system because they take climate change seriously.”
The mayors’ concerns with carbon impacts from high carbon fuels like tar sands oil are well founded. Just one day before President Obama announced his decision to conduct a new review of the Keystone XL pipeline last week, the International Energy Association announced in its annual report that the planet is already on pace to produce enough CO2 to lock-in to catastrophic levels (2°C) of climate change in just five years. Carbon emissions from new tar sands oil production would exacerbate the situation.
- Underscores the president’s recognition of important gaps and problems with the environmental review of the Keystone XL project to date.
- Asks for a comprehensive review of the greenhouse gas impacts from this high carbon project, and a general evaluation of how the project will affect local community efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, ratchet down carbon emissions and fight climate change.
- Expresses deep concerns about pipeline leaks, recalling that the first Keystone pipeline experienced some 30 leaks in the U.S. and Canada in its first year.
- Declares that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and should therefore not be granted a Presidential permit.
- Invites the administration to work with local communities on creating a clean energy future that will provide solid and lasting energy and economic security by lessening our dependence on oil.
Mayors signing the letter include Frank Cownie (Des Moines IA), John Dickert (Racine WI), Jennifer Hosterman (Pleasanton CA), Kitty Piercy (Eugene OR), Marie Gilmore (Alameda, CA), Gerald D. Jennings (Albany, NY), William Euille (Alexandria, VA), Ed Pawlowski (Allentown, PA), Susan Ornelas (Arcata, CA), William R. Stokes (Augusta, ME), Denny Doyle (Beaverton, OR), Dan Pike (Bellingham, WA), Tom Bates (Berkeley, CA), Joanne Twomey (Biddeford, ME), Mark Kruzan (Bloomington, IN), Roger C. Claar (Bolingbrook, IL), Bob Kiss (Burlington, VT), Jim Pedelty (Carroll, IA), Don Gerard (Champaign, IL), Mark Kleinschmidt (Chapel Hill, NC), Ann Schwab (Chico, CA), Julie Manning (Corvallis, OR), Bill Gluba (Davenport, IA), Roy D. Buol (Dubuque, IA), William “Bill” Bell (Durham, NC), Antonia Ricigliano (Edison, NJ), Philip Miller (Essex, CT), Ed Malloy (Fairfield, IA), Lioneld Jordan (Fayetteville, AR), Bob Wasserman (Fremont, CA), Craig Lowe (Gainesville, FL), Chase Palmer (Gallatin, TX), Laura Friedman (Glendale, CA), Jacob Smith (Golden, CO), George Heartwell (Grand Rapids, MI), David Doonan (Greenwich, NY), Joy Cooper, (Hallandale Beach, FL), Michael Sweeney (Hayward, CA), William D. McLeod (Hoffman Estates, IL), Carolyn K. Peterson (Ithaca, NY), Eugene J. Rosin (Kaukauna, WI), P. Dale Pregent (Keene, NH), Art Madrid (La Mesa, CA), Virg Bernero (Lansing, MI), Aron Cromwell (Lawrence, KS), Laurent F. Gilbert (Lewiston, ME), Paul R. Soglin (Madison, WI), Bruce Delgado (Marina, CA), Robert Harbick (Marinette, WI), Matti Bower (Miami Beach, FL), Lori Moseley (Miramar, FL), R.T. Rybak (Minneapolis, MN), Mary C. Hooper (Montpelier, VT), George D. Scherck (Neenah, WI), Scott Lang (New Bedford, MA), Jack Chiovatero (New Berlin, WI), John DeStefano, Jr. (New Haven, CT), Jason West (New Paltz, NY), Paul Dyster (Niagara Falls, NY), Chris Koos (Normal, IL), Patrick Henry Hays (North Little Rock, AR), David Pope (Oak Park, IL), Dana Williams (Park City, UT), Bill Bogaard (Pasadena, CA), Frank C. Ortis (Pembroke Pines, FL), David Glass (Petaluma, CA), David Malone (Portsmouth, OH), Gayle McLaughlin (Richmond, CA), Don Richards (River Falls, WI), Ardell F. Brede (Rochester, MN), Roland L. Michaud (Saco, ME), Kevin Johnson (Sacramento, CA), Ralph Becker (Salt Lake City, UT), Jan Marx (San Louis Obispo, CA), Helene Schneider (Santa Barbara, CA), David Coss (Santa Fe, NM), Richard Bloom (Santa Monica, CA), Ernesto Olivares (Santa Rosa, CA), Chris Doherty (Scranton, PA), Mike McGinn (Seattle, WA), Earl M. Leiken (Shaker Heights, OH), Joseph A. Curtatone (Somerville, MA), Brenda Lawrence (Southfield, MI), Elizabeth A. Goreham (State College, PA), Ann Johnston (Stockton, CA), Stephanie Miner (Syracuse, NY), John Marks III (Tallahassee, FL), Darren Cordova (Taos, NM), Jeffrey Lamarand (Taylor, MI), Tony F. Mack (Trenton, NJ), Shelley Welsch (University City, MO), Laurel Prussing (Urbana, IL), Jim Sullivan (Victory, NY), Michael J. O’Brien (Warren, OH), Buck Clark, (Waterloo, IA), William F. Peard (Waukee, IA), Jeri Muoio (West Palm Beach, FL), William Wild (Westland, MI), Christopher Cabaldon (West Sacramento, CA), Jerry Sullivan (Windsor Heights, IA), Joseph C. O’Brien (Worcester, MA), Former Mayor Heidi Davison (Athens, GA), Former Mayor Genoveva Garcia Calloway (San Pablo, CA).
Quotes from some of the signers follow:
Mayor Frank Cownie – Des Moines, Iowa
“We are heartened by President Obama’s move to give the Keystone XL project a sober second thought. We encourage him to use this opportunity to take a closer, critical look at what is really driving this project—a business strategy to increase profits and expand access to export markets, as the proponents explained in hearings when they sought approval for the Canadian portion of the line. By diverting tar sands crude from Midwest refineries where it currently goes, to the Gulf, Keystone XL opens the door for it to be sold at higher prices to the Gulf and export markets. This will likely raise Midwest fuel prices. Keystone XL adds insult to injury by having Americans bear the brunt of environmental risks of transporting this crude across our heartlands and then having to likely pay higher prices for fuel, all while huge amounts of this oil leaves our ports for lucrative export markets.”
Mayor John Dickert – Racine, Wisconsin
“What this country needs to focus on is reducing our reliance on fossil fuels! Simply replacing foreign oil with a process like the tar sands brings unacceptable risks to important water resources everywhere. Fresh water is priceless and we need to start treating it as such.”
Mayor Jennifer Hosterman – Pleasanton, California
“When the President said recently that he thought “folks in Nebraska like all across the country” aren’t going to trade putting our kids’ health at risk from contaminated drinking water, or potentially harming agriculture in our heartlands all for “a few thousand jobs," he hit the nail on the head. In fact, we don’t need to make the trade at all—jobs that are actually good for the environment can employ people across the country, whereas the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs only for a small number of people in a few states, and not necessarily where jobs are needed most.”
Mayor Kitty Piercy – Eugene, Oregon
“Mayors work hard to reduce their carbon footprints and our dependence on oil at the local level, because their citizens are worried about climate change. People are seeing changes in the climate already, and frankly don’t much care what naysayers and skeptics say anymore. The people we serve expect us to take action now, help slow down climate change, and preserve the Earth for their children and grandchildren. Avoiding further tar sands pipelines, like the Keystone XL, is a critical step in making that happen.”
Mayor Bob Kiss – Burlington, Vermont
“Keystone XL is not a simple contest between the environment and the economy, as some have suggested. When we take local actions that help our climate, people see additional benefits to their wallets and health and say, “Wait—you mean we can help the climate, be healthier and save money in the process? What are we waiting for!” Use less oil, have more money in your pockets, breathe better air, preserve water quality—it has really evolved into a no brainer for many people everywhere.”
Mayor Dan Pike – Bellingham, Washington
“As the mayor of a community near several refineries, I know there are always risks with pipelines and refineries, even with conventional oil. Add to this the increased environmental downsides of tar sands crude, and the costs too clearly outweigh the benefits to make sense. It was this calculus that prompted our City Council to adopt a resolution that would help keep tar sands oil out of Bellingham.”
A copy of the letter and a backgrounder on mayoral concerns over the Keystone XL project can be found on Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s blog.
For more information, click here.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org
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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
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