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Resistance to Big Oil Heats Up in Florida

Energy
Resistance to Big Oil Heats Up in Florida

By Brian Foley

Florida Chapter's Panther Critical Habitat Campaign is partnering with Preserve our Paradise to stop Big Oil from leaving its dirty footprints all over Golden Gate Estates in Naples, where a Texas-based oil company wants to drill an area just one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and within 1,000 feet of residences.

Grassroots opposition is growing. Last month, more than 100 people protested at the Naples Pier, erecting a symbolic oil well in front of Gov. Scott's (R-FA) beachfront home. The controversy has prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to agree to hold a public hearing later this year.

The battle began when the Dan A. Hughes Company leased more than 100,000 acres at the Naples site and submitted a drilling proposal. To placate the public, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hosted a hearing last month, which ended up being "poorly executed," according to Alexis Meyer, a Sierra Club organizer.

"No one was able to hear questions or answers, people crowded around tables, officials were unable to answer, and citizens left feeling ignored and frustrated," she said.

Unsurprisingly, the DEP moved ahead and approved the permit request. Despite the proximity of the proposed oil wells to prime panther habitat, "no biological opinions or environmental assessments have been done for this project," said Meyer. "Since this project would affect a federally protected endangered species, there is a concern that these companies are not following proper regulations."

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the oil company's permit request met DEP's criteria even though "none of those requirements involves staying away from where people live." And a specific distance to homes is not mentioned in the rules. 

Locals hope federal protections for the panther will give them the leverage they need to fight back since the state agency has done little. The DEP has approved more than 40 oil drilling permits—while denying none—over the past five years. Activists think this will be a wake-up call to spark grassroots action and instill a sense of urgency among locals.

"The oil well is only the tip of the iceberg for southwest Florida," said Meyer. "Opening up this site to drilling endangers Florida panthers, the watershed, our aquifers and violates environmental justice for local residents. It sets a precedent to open more land for drilling at a time when we should be looking toward clean, sustainable energy alternatives such as wind and solar." 

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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