Over a seven day period last week there was a flurry of step-it-up activity on the East Coast in opposition to the planned expansion of fracking and fracking infrastructure.
It began with a three-day walk over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in sub-freezing, wintry weather in rural western Massachusetts against Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. Upwards of 200 people took part in the walk, with an average of about 80 people walking 11-12 miles each day. The spirit and energy of the group was powerful.
It continued on Wednesday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with a successful disruption of the last meeting of Gov. Tom Wolf’s gas-industry-stacked pipeline infrastructure commission. The commission was set up to sell the plan to build even more gas pipelines and expand fracking in the state.
And it ended on Thursday in Washington, DC with the 15th consecutive Beyond Extreme Energy disruption of the monthly Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioners’ meeting. This action was followed by one right near the White House at a Bank of America branch. Bank of America is a major funder of the being-built Cove Point, Maryland Liquified Natural Gas export terminal.
Also this past week, on Monday, seven people were arrested at the latest blockade organized by We Are Seneca Lake in Ithaca, New York at the Crestwood gas storage facility; many hundreds have been arrested over the last year and a half in a campaign that shows no signs of letting up.
The movement against FERC and the expansion of fracked gas pipelines, compressor stations and storage and export terminals has made great strides over the past year and this past week’s actions are an indication of what will be happening this year.
FERC’s outrageous behavior—it has rejected only one proposed interstate gas pipeline in the last 10 years, according to former FERC employee and attorney Carolyn Elefant—and the broad and growing movement against it are prompting senators, congresspeople, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to speak out and take action:
• Bernie Sanders has come out against the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
• Hillary Clinton, at a town hall meeting in Keene, New Hampshire last October, said, “If we’re going to have a national commitment to do something about climate change, FERC needs to be part of that commitment. It’s not just the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that needs to be focused on combating climate change, every part of the federal government needs to be focused.”
• Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) wrote about FERC in September to the Department of Energy Inspector General, leading to an audit of the FERC permitting process, currently underway.
• In late November five Congresspeople from New England wrote to FERC calling upon them to review all proposed energy projects across the region in tandem to determine how New England’s energy markets will best be served and to prevent any potential overbuild.
• In late October four members of the Georgia Congressional delegation “sent a letter to FERC asking the commission to change the route of a 516-mile natural gas pipeline slated to run through impoverished communities in Georgia.” (Politico’s Morning Energy, Oct. 27, 2015)
• On Nov. 18, 2015 Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey published a study which concluded that there is no need for increased gas capacity to meet the state’s electric reliability needs for at least 15 years to come.
• Also in Massachusetts, State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg wrote to FERC Chairman Norman Bay, writing that federal regulators “should consider the interest of the Massachusetts citizens in establishing an energy sector based substantially on reduced emissions and clean and renewable energy as an initial test for determining whether any proposed project is in the public interest.”
• And then there is President Obama, a big booster of fracking throughout his Presidency, not mentioning fracking or natural gas or all-of-the-above during his final State of the Union speech. When added to other developments over the past year, it is clear that the White House is at least having doubts about its strong support for fracking all these past years, a process which needs to deepen and accelerate this year.
There is more:
• On Jan. 14 a letter signed by 165 organizations was sent to Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren asking them, in their role as members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to formally request a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of FERC. The groups said that “the request for an investigation notes that FERC is entirely funded by the industry it regulates, resulting in a demonstrable bias in favor of the energy industry’s agenda over community and environmental concerns.”
• At an early December Congressional hearing, “FERC Commissioner Tony Clark told members of Congress that ... a recent increase in opposition to infrastructure projects under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission threatens to further impede this development.
“FERC Chairman Norman Bay, fielding a question from an Energy and Power Subcommittee member, noted the increase in opposition to infrastructure projects, including protesters attempts to disrupt recent FERC meetings.
“‘I think at FERC we have clearly seen increased opposition to infrastructure. One of the things that has happened at FERC over the last, at this point it’s probably been 15 months or so, is that our open meetings have been interrupted by protesters who will suddenly stand up during our meeting and try to interfere with our meeting, so we are clearly seeing that," Bay said. "Even in the field when we’re holding scoping hearings, it is not uncommon for the staff who do those hearings to report back that there seems to be a great deal of opposition in many communities to the construction of more infrastructure."
• There are the beginnings of signs that all of this pressure may be causing small cracks in FERC’s rigid unwillingness to serve the public interest rather than the interests of the gas industry.
One example is something which happened in October. In an unprecedented move for FERC, they suggested that two proposed pipelines in a similar area in the northeast should combine together. As one long-time FERC observer wrote in an email, “Something seems to be happening behind the scenes because it was FERC which first raised the issue of combining them.”
• And just a few days ago as this is written, the EPA called upon FERC to “require applicants seeking approval under the Natural Gas Act to provide more information on a project’s indirect impacts, including potential increases in gas production and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA submitted comments on FERC’s Draft Guidance Manual for Environmental Report Preparation for Applications Filed Under the Natural Gas Act. FERC released a revised version of its guidance manual, which had not been updated since 2002, last month ... The recommendation echoes calls from environmentalists for FERC to review cumulative regional impacts of the multiple transmission projects that have been proposed in response to the rapid growth of production from unconventional shale development.”
There is a growing wing of the climate movement that has been working over the last several years to prevent a build-out of fracked gas infrastructure, allied with widespread community opposition in localities where this infrastructure is proposed. Fracked gas pipelines, like all fossil fuel pipelines, are not popular. They lead to landowners being forced to deal with certain negative impacts if a pipeline would end up going through their land. They bring the threat of leakage of poisonous chemicals or explosions, particularly where compressor stations are built. Construction brings community and environmental disruption. That is why elected officials are speaking out, because they are hearing from voters who don’t like what the gas industry wants to force upon them.
The fracked gas industry, just like the coal, tar sands and fracked oil industries, is in deep debt and serious trouble. Part of this is due to wind and solar growing quickly as a percentage of new installed energy sources. It is also due to a huge drop in oil and gas prices, something which shows no sign of a rebound anytime soon. This is huge; it makes a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency much more possible than it looked just a year ago. When all of the negatives about fracked gas lead to a realization on an even bigger scale that it is in no way a hopeful “bridge fuel” but a dangerous “bridge to climate catastrophe,” we can finally get very serious about that critically-needed shift right now.
With an infusion of energy, resources and people it is realistic, based upon all that exists at present and the way things are moving, to see some very real victories this year in the battle against FERC and new fracking infrastructure. It’s time for the climate movement to focus on FERC.
Ted Glick is a co-founder and one of the leaders of Beyond Extreme Energy. He has been a climate activist since 2003 and a progressive organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found here and he can be followed on Twitter.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Kirby
Paul Spong deftly threads the June Cove through the churning tidal waters of Broughton Strait, skirting granite outcrops topped with evergreens, until we enter the bottle-green expanse of Blackfish Sound. Rounding a rocky headland on Hanson Island, we pull into a sheltered cove surrounded by thick stands of cedar, fir and spruce. In the distance, snow-flecked peaks tower above nearby Vancouver Island. Screeching bald eagles circle overhead and behind us, black-and-white Dall's porpoises resembling miniature orcas dart around in the icy sound.
“Welcome to Double Bay," the marine mammal scientist, who has studied captive and wild killer whales for decades, said with a smile. “This, I think, would be a terrific home for Corky."
As I survey the serene swath of wilderness, I find it hard not to agree. Corky the killer whale is one of the star performers at faraway SeaWorld in San Diego. In 1969, at around age four, the orca was snatched from her family (which still patrols this area each summer) in a notorious roundup in Pender Harbor, on the British Columbian mainland. Six whales were removed from their pod and sold to theme parks and aquariums, hungry for more of the crowd-pleasing ticket sellers. Now, nearly 47 years later, Corky is the longest-held captive orca.
She is one of 56 killer whales confined to tanks in the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Japan, France, Spain and Argentina. Their lives are vastly different from those of orcas in the ocean, which typically stay with their families for life; captive orcas are often removed from their mothers, sometimes at very young ages. Orcas in the wild can swim up to 100 miles per day; orcas in tanks are lucky to swim 100 laps. Most studies show that death rates for captive orcas are higher than for wild ones. Unlike their captive relatives, orcas in the ocean don't need antibiotics, antifungals and even antidepressants to maintain their health and well-being.
Spong and his wife, Helena Symonds, who operate the nonprofit research center OrcaLab, have been hoping to return Corky to her native waters for decades. They even envision the whale rejoining her pod in the wild. But the obstacles have been daunting. SeaWorld vows it will never transfer any of its marine mammals to sanctuaries because, the company claims, it would endanger the animals.
But Spong and Symonds refuse to give up, bolstered by a burgeoning international movement that has risen up around them in recent years—one that seeks to deliver captive whales and dolphins into “retirement" from the noise-filled arenas and barren concrete tanks where they labor daily to entertain tourists. If Ringling Bros. can retire its elephants and research universities can send lab chimps to sanctuaries, many animal welfare advocates ask, why can't the same be done for whales and dolphins?
Not too long ago, that question would largely have been brushed off as naive, if not patently absurd. But times are changing. When I published my book, Death at SeaWorld, in 2012, the ethics of holding huge whales in small tanks were not on many people's radar. But the book and to a greater extent the documentary Blackfish, profoundly altered public opinion about captivity.
At first, SeaWorld tried to ignore the escalating clamor, betting that the outrage was just a fad. But ticket sales continued to flag, the company's stock plummeted and corporate partners fled to safer waters. Then in March 2016, SeaWorld issued a stunning announcement: It would stop breeding captive orcas immediately and phase out theatrical orca shows by 2019.
The about-face has reenergized the anti-captivity movement and given hope that SeaWorld and other marine parks will one day agree to transfer at least some of their animals to seaside sanctuaries. But where will they go? In the works are at least nine “retirement" plans, under which captive whales, dolphins and porpoises would be transferred to netted-off pens in the ocean off the coasts of the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Pacific islands. The movement might extend to China, where nine Russian-caught killer whales were recently exported to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom amid a marine park building boom, though they have yet to be put on display.
“People are now seeing that these sentient beings aren't corporate assets," said Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for the U.K.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation and a leading advocate of the sanctuary movement.
A More Natural Life
The marine park industry argues that transferring marine mammals to sea pens exchanges one form of captivity for another and would harm them by exposing the animals to pollution and other hazards. Sanctuary proponents counter that life in a netted-off area of the ocean is infinitely preferable to confinement in what amounts to a glorified swimming pool.
Video: See How SeaWorld's Killer Whales Can Go Home Again
“Any sanctuary is going to be better than captivity," said Lori Marino, a marine mammal neuroscientist, the founder of the Utah-based Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and the executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. Unveiled in May, the project has brought together marine scientists, conservationists, legal experts, veterinarians, former animal trainers and others to build the world's first permanent seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins held in captivity.
“We have to look at the kind of environment that their brain evolved in, what their brain evolved to do and how far or close their setting is to that natural environment," Marino told me. “They have a brain that obtains pleasure in figuring out how to go places, how to get prey with others, in swimming and deep diving, even in navigating their social lives and communicating over long distances."
Sanctuary advocates envision that sea pens could be established in a cove or a bay, with an anchored net closing off the mouth or perhaps among a group of small islands surrounded by barriers. In most cases, whales and dolphins would have access to acres of deep, natural seawater rather than barren concrete tanks. If possible, they would learn to catch fish rather than consuming only frozen-and-thawed food. They would receive round-the-clock monitoring and regular veterinary care but could spend their lives without having to perform tricks. Though most sites would provide public access to the animals, visitors most likely would be kept at a discreet distance. There would be no stadium-style seating filled with flashing cameras, roaring crowds and deafening music.
Sea pens, proponents say, could improve the overall health, well-being and longevity of the animals. How do they know this? Because pens exist, at least for certain species.
The U.S. Navy keeps 82 bottlenose dolphins—and a number of sea lions—in sea pens in San Diego Bay and at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, where they are trained to detect mines and “enemy swimmers" and retrieve objects from the deep. Some marine mammal facilities with swim-with-the-dolphin programs also maintain their animals in seawater, according to Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute.
Back to Nature?
Retiring captive animals to a seaside sanctuary for the rest of their lives—while complicated and expensive—is one thing. Rehabilitating them for return to the sea is quite another.
Although many people would like to see that happen, captive-born whales and dolphins are poor candidates for such release. Not only do they have no experience in the wild, but they have no families with which to reunite. They might learn to catch food, but without a social group to join they could become solitary social misfits. Though it's possible to release captive-bred animals, it would not necessarily be ethical or sound.
“I seriously doubt we could teach them how to be normal in a social setting," Rose said, even though solitary whales and dolphins have been documented in the wild. “The arrogance of thinking we can teach a captive-bred whale or dolphin how to be a wild, competent adult is pretty outrageous."
Animals obtained from the ocean are better candidates for release. Hundreds of dolphins and several pilot whales and false killer whales (members of the dolphin family) held in tanks around the world were taken from places such as Russia, Korea, the Solomon Islands, Cuba and Taiji, Japan. There are also scores of wild-caught beluga whales, mostly from Russian waters.
Of the 56 orcas in captivity, only a small number were taken from the ocean; the rest were bred in captivity. But knowing where the animals were captured is not the same as knowing where their families are.
Among all wild-caught killer whales, we know the definitive identities of the families of just two, both from the Pacific Northwest: Corky, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales and Lolita, a solitary orca who has been held for 46 years in a tiny pool at Miami Seaquarium, who belongs to the L pod of Southern Residents. So if the idea of repatriating animals to the ocean is to reunite them with their native pods, the notion of release for most of them is problematic.
Can Corky Swim Free?
As Paul Spong ferries me around Blackfish Sound, the 77-year-old scientist with longish, wispy hair and a playful smile concedes that his vision for the "Free Corky Campaign" has evolved over time. Spong and others have been trying to return the orca to her pod since 1990. For years, reunification seemed like an optimal and plausible option. After all, researchers are familiar with her relatives, who routinely swim by Hanson Island, home to the twin inlets of Double Bay.
No orcas are around on this sparkling spring day, but I have seen many wild killer whales. The encounters are exhilarating. They chase prey together, chattering wildly to coordinate the hunt. They “spy hop" above the surface to get a look around and leap from the sea in exuberant, thunderous breaches. I once watched an entire pod of orcas frolicking in a cove, only to disappear within seconds after one of them, presumably the oldest female, gave the signal that it was time to go. Their communication skills are that staggering.
Two members of Corky's immediate family are still alive—siblings that were born after her capture but share the same calls. Spong thinks other relatives would also recognize her as one of their own.
Video: Watch and listen to Corky's family, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales, seen on Aug. 13, 2015. (Video: Megan Hockin-Bennett for Orcalab)
“These are extremely intelligent animals with long memories," he told me, adding that each family group has a distinct set of vocalizations or dialects. “We can identify approaching orcas just by the sounds they make, even before we see them."
“When we began this decades ago, our idea was that she'd learn how to catch live fish again and we would see how she was interacting with her family group," Spong said, gazing at Corky's potential future home. “And then at a point where it was obvious she was interacting with them, we would let her go with a tracking device."
Sadness engulfs Spong's face as he continues. “The problem now is that so much time has passed—she's so much older—that we're hesitant to go there," he said. “Our thought at this point is to create a permanent retirement home for her and care for her."
When I ask SeaWorld about this, company officials email me a written statement. “Putting our killer whales in sea cages would expose them to disease, pollution and other man-made and natural disasters," the statement reads. “In addition, given the ages of our whales, the length of time they've spent in human care and the social relationships they've formed with other whales, it would do them more harm than good [and] could cause the whales immense stress and even death during transport and release."
Still, Spong clings to hope for a corporate change of heart. “We think it would be a great thing for SeaWorld," he said. “They're recognizing that when they do good things, the public responds." SeaWorld would need to be directly involved with Corky's retirement. “She would need trainers she was familiar with."
Spong steers past the outcrops along Double Bay's mouth, explaining how barriers could connect them to complete Corky's enclosure. We enter the tranquil inlet. Spong points to a compound of low-rise wooden buildings along the shore, originally built as a private fishing lodge. He said that he intends to look into buying the place. With its dock, restaurant and sleeping quarters, it's ready-made for housing workers and even visitors who would pay to see Corky, helping to offset some of the costs.
Those costs are considerable. While the lodge would negate the need for building infrastructure, buying the place and all the land around Double Bay would likely run into the millions. Even the nets could cost $100,000 or more.
Two Homes for Lolita
Of all the orcas in captivity, perhaps none engenders as much public sympathy as Lolita, who has spent the past 46 years at Miami Seaquarium, much of it alone, with the exception of a few dolphins. Her enclosure is small: 80 feet long and 35 feet wide, with a depth of just 20 feet, the same length as her body. She has limited protection from the blistering Florida sun.
Lolita was taken from her family at about age four in 1970 during the largest orca roundup in history, at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, about 40 miles northwest of Seattle. More than 90 whales, probably the entire Southern Resident population, were corralled into the narrow bay. Four of them died and seven of the youngest ones were sold to marine parks. Today Lolita is the only Southern Resident of the 45 captured who is still alive in captivity.
Lolita might also stand the best chance of any captive orca of being delivered from her confines. The Southern Resident orca population was listed as endangered in 2005 and in 2013 the federal government agreed to include Lolita in the listing in response to a lawsuit from animal welfare groups. Although a federal judge on June 2 rejected conservationists' claims that Lolita's cramped confines at Miami Seaquarium violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the animal rights activists are appealing the ruling and there is another pending action against the federal government that could conceivably result in Lolita's release.
There are two competing plans for retiring the whale to her native waters.
The older plan, dating to 1995, was conceived by Ken Balcomb, director of the Washington state–based Center for Whale Research, along with his half-brother Howard Garrett, an outspoken anti-captivity activist featured in Blackfish and his wife, Susan Berta. Together they run the Orca Network conservation organization on Whidbey Island, not far from Penn Cove.
On a sunny May morning, the snow-covered Olympic Mountains glistening across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Garrett and I make our way to horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to tour the site he has selected for Lolita—265 acres of wooded waterfront property owned by Jim Youngren, a real estate developer who would donate the land for the killer whale's resettlement.
We head down to the estate's waterfront, which includes a large cove that would be netted off for Lolita. Garrett and Youngren say the site is ideal: It is isolated, protected from the elements and there is little boat traffic on the sound. And, they say, it would be temporary. After her arrival, they would embark on a regime of training Lolita to reunite with her family by improving her stamina, teaching her to catch fish and taking her out on “walks," accompanied by a boat, into the sound.
The detailed proposal for Lolita's rehabilitation focuses on weaning her from dependence on humans for survival and includes plans for a project manager, a staff veterinarian, caregivers, divers, security personnel and a water quality manager. The total estimated budget, for transportation, infrastructure and feeding and caring for Lolita for three to six months ranges from $758,000 to about $1.56 million.
"We will raise the money through traditional fund-raising, including individual small donors, major foundation grants and appealing to benevolent benefactors, anybody willing to pitch in to help Lolita go home," Garret said. "Unfortunately, I don't have a Rolodex of billionaires that I play golf with."
Money isn't the only obstacle. Miami Seaquarium has consistently rejected the idea of retiring the whale.
“There is no scientific evidence that … Lolita could survive if she were to be moved from her home at Miami Seaquarium to a sea pen or to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest," Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium's general manager, informed me in an email. “It would be reckless and cruel to jeopardize Lolita's health and safety. Miami Seaquarium is not willing to experiment with her life in order to appease a fringe group."
But Garrett is confident that Lolita will recognize her family and yearn for reunification with them. (Lolita's mother is alive and well). He envisions the day that Lolita hears her family in the ocean.
“It would be the moment we're all waiting for," he said. “Her family might be 20 miles away, chattering as normal and she recognizes them and calls back in their calls that only that family uses. If they're curious, they'll probably make a beeline to her. I don't think it's going to be an immediate warm welcome. I think there will be a time of rebuilding relationships and trust levels. But that will be the most fascinating scientific experiment: How tight are those bonds and how clear is that memory after all those years?"
After visiting Orcas Island I take a ferry to Port Angeles and make the 90-minute drive along a narrow, winding highway that skirts the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the far northwestern corner of the continental U.S., home to the 47,000-square-mile Makah Indian Reservation. Just before Cape Flattery, I pull into Neah Bay, a large, curving expanse bisected by a mile-long rocky jetty connecting the mainland to Waadah Island.
It is here, alongside the jetty, that an informal coalition of conservationists and members of the Makah Tribe want to install a floating pen, with nets anchored to the seafloor, to house Lolita.
I meet with two key members of the project: Michael Harris, a Seattle-based network television journalist and former president of the Orca Conservancy and Micah McCarty, former chairman of the Makah Tribal Council and member of the federal government's National Ocean Council.
There is an orca on McCarty's family crest. Like most Native American tribes in the region, the Makah revere killer whales in their mythology, in which orcas are considered “Killer Whale People" who live in villages under the sea and put on orca costumes when they come to the surface.
In 2008, Harris was contacted by a number of Hollywood luminaries, including Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer, who had heard about Lolita's plight and wanted someone to devise a plan to return her to the Pacific Northwest.
Their plan recommends a project team of five people to direct day-to-day operations, a 10-member scientific advisory team, a chief veterinarian, a “boat follow" team, a bay pen team and a project security chief. Before leaving Florida, Lolita would be thoroughly examined for infectious diseases or any medical condition that would put her in danger during transport to the sea pen.
Once in her pen, Lolita would be taught to catch fish and be conditioned to go out for walks, initially led by the boat team and later with a “non-human device" such as an underwater drone so she no longer associated boats with human care.
“We need to get these animals away from imprinting on people in boats," Harris said. “You cannot ocean walk a human-imprinted whale into a congested recreational boating area. We're 70 miles from the nearest major population center."
McCarty says the location is ideal. There would be several levels of security, including Makah authorities and year-round access to wild salmon and other fish. Another advantage: Killer whales pass nearby 12 months of the year, he said. The proposal calls for installing underwater hydrophones on an island at the mouth of the strait, operated 24 hours a day, that could detect the approach of Lolita's family when it came time to reintroduce her to her pod. Before swimming free, Lolita would be outfitted with tracking devices, possibly attached with suction cups, to monitor her success and rescue her if she got into trouble.
If the successful release of Lolita cannot be achieved, the plan calls for her permanent residence in the bay. “I'm an optimist, but I think the options have to be that she'll be cared for well the rest of her life if she can't make it in the wild," McCarty said, noting that the pen, envisioned at 10,000 square feet, could be expanded or a new pen could be installed in a cove on Waadah Island.
Harris declined to offer a long-term budget, but looking at expenses from other orca relocation efforts, he estimated that the move from Miami and the first six months of operations would run about $1 million. The proposal calls for academic partnerships, in which universities and research centers would pay fees in exchange for access to Lolita for scientific studies.
There is a rich history of wild-caught cetaceans returning to nature, with varying degrees of success. One of the earliest involved a 20-year-old pilot whale named Bimbo, who was reintroduced into the ocean in 1967 by Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, after nearly eight years in captivity. Two years after his reintroduction, Bimbo was sighted near Santa Barbara and five years later, he was seen again near San Clemente.
Without question, the most famous, expensive and controversial orca release involved Keiko, star of the 1993 Warner Bros. movie Free Willy, who was yanked from his family near Iceland in 1979 when he was about two years old. Keiko had languished for years at a Mexico City amusement park in a small, shallow pool filled with tepid tap water spiked with chlorine and table salt. The subpar conditions caused Keiko to lose weight and contract a papilloma viral infection that left large patches of his skin with disfiguring warts.
Keiko's plight gained worldwide attention. In 1995, the California-based Earth Island Institute, with seed money from Warner Bros. and American telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, helped establish the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. A $7.3 million, high-tech rehab facility was built at the Oregon Coast Aquarium with the intention of returning Keiko to the ocean. In early 1996, Keiko was flown to his new tank, which was filled with cold, fresh seawater. He learned to catch fish to supplement his frozen diet.
In September 1998, Keiko was transferred to a floating sea pen in Iceland anchored in a spectacular inlet surrounded by volcanic cliffs. Over the next few years, Keiko's health and stamina continued to improve. In 2000 Keiko began taking walks in the open ocean, outfitted with a tracking device. He often stayed away for days. Then, in the summer of 2002, for unknown reasons, Keiko took off, embarking on a 50-day, 1,000-mile odyssey across the North Atlantic, under constant satellite tracking, to the coast of Norway. Data from his tag showed that Keiko made repeated deep dives on his journey, suggesting he was foraging for fish.
The killer whale's arrival in Norway sparked a public sensation, as hordes of boaters and swimmers flocked around the Hollywood star. It was a terrible situation, given that the idea was to wean him from humans. Critics declared the experiment a wretched failure. Keiko's caretakers relocated to Norway and walked him further up the coast to Taknes Bay, far from the raucous crowds. He spent the next 15 months coming and going as he pleased. Then, in December 2003, he began exhibiting signs of lethargy and lack of appetite. On Dec. 12, Keiko beached himself on the rocky shoreline and he died that evening. No necropsy was performed, but his vet suspected the cause was pneumonia.
Skeptics accused the project of murdering a hapless animal that never should have been released. The seven-year project, they noted, had come with a $20 million price tag, said David Phillips, executive director of the Earth Island Institute, which worked on the release project. “Keiko had five years with the sights and sounds of natural seawater," he said. “I think it was a great success in terms of Keiko, his well-being and the whole world that wanted to do the right thing."
Are seaside sanctuaries a pipe dream of well-meaning but misguided whale huggers? Critics say the money spent on sea-pen retirement could be better used on conservation of wild animals. “I find that the continued debate over SeaWorld's 27 well-cared-for killer whales seems to encapsulate how nonprofits in the U.S. are fighting for animals not in need of saving while ignoring species and animals that are in the wild and truly need help," said Eric Davis, editor of the pro-industry website Awesome Ocean, which has received funding from SeaWorld.
On Tuesday, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced that it would build the first North American seaside sanctuary by the end of 2020 for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins currently living in an amphitheater at the facility.
For the past five years, aquarium officials have been evaluating the feasibility of building a seaside sanctuary and searching for possible sites, which include locations in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.
The move will undoubtedly send tremors throughout the captive whale and dolphin industry and put pressure on companies like SeaWorld to soften their resistance to retiring some their animals to sea pens.
There are at least five other proposed whale and dolphin release projects that have a shot at coming to fruition.
Chief among them is the Whale Sanctuary Project. Leading the charge are board members Lori Marino, Naomi Rose, David Phillips and Charles Vinick, who directed the Keiko project from 1998 through 2002.
The new group's goal is to establish a “model" sanctuary somewhere in North America where whales, dolphins and porpoises can be rehabilitated for release into the ocean or, for the majority of animals, allowed to live out their lives in an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat, one that enhances well-being and autonomy.
“We're really focused on British Columbia right now," said Michael Parks, a licensed engineer and commercial freighter captain who worked on the Keiko project for five years. “There are so many good-looking sites there, especially the west side of Vancouver Island, with waterways that go quite a ways inland, provide good protection and have access to road systems." Parks is also looking at sites in southeast Alaska, Washington, Maine and Nova Scotia.
The ideal site must not only be protected and accessible year-round but has to have the right temperature, salinity and seafloor depths; tidal action to flush out animal waste; an area for veterinary care and animal husbandry; and room onshore to construct a command post and visitor center. The group plans to allow public access, which is legally required for U.S. sites, not only to educate people about marine mammals but also to accept donations. The site will likely have two sections: one for rescued cetaceans and wild-caught captives being rehabilitated for release and the other to permanently house those that cannot be freed. Federal, state and local authorities will have to sign off.
Project officials are expecting to spend upwards of $20 million raised from donors to acquire a site, install nets and build infrastructure. They're off to a decent start. Munchkin, a global baby-product company, has donated $200,000 for the site search and pledged at least another $1 million to the project. Munchkin CEO Steven Dunn tells me the idea came to him after a claustrophobic experience in an MRI machine.
“I thought, This is what captive orcas feel like," he said. “I had empathy for them that I couldn't get out of my head."
What if they built a sanctuary and nobody came? Marino says that rescued marine mammals might be among the first arrivals. She, like many others in the movement, believes that parks and aquariums might one day bend under public pressure and retire parts of their “collections."
Other sea-pen projects are on the drawing board. Merlin Entertainments Group and its aquarium division, Sea Life, which is opposed to keeping marine mammals in tanks, announced in 2009 that the company was working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to create a sanctuary plan for belugas and dolphins at properties it had acquired.
“We're working towards advancing two sanctuary projects right now," said Whale and Dolphin Conservation's Courtney Vail. "One involves relocating three female belugas caught in Russia that are now at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, a Merlin-acquired property. Merlin is working toward readying them for relocation to an arctic sanctuary that WDC [Whale and Dolphin Conservation] is helping to site and develop."
Vail's group is also working on a feasibility study to develop a bottlenose sanctuary in the Mediterranean within five years.
One of the most well-known sanctuary efforts involves Morgan, a female orca who was found, alone, emaciated and sick, off the Netherlands in 2010. The three-year-old killer whale was captured and taken to a local theme park, which was given a permit to rehabilitate her and return her to the sea. That never happened. Despite months of legal wrangling by animal welfare advocates, in 2011 Morgan was sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. She was put in a tank with five other killer whales living there on a “breeding loan" from SeaWorld, which today claims ownership of Morgan.
Almost from the beginning, Ingrid Visser, a renowned killer whale scientist and founder of New Zealand's Orca Research Trust, has fought for Morgan's liberation. Visser is also a leading sea-pen proponent whose recent renderings of a conceptual high-tech sanctuary—with an expansive modern pier and attached husbandry pen and glassed-in observation centers for paying visitors—were derided by industry defenders as being little different from SeaWorld.
Visser and some colleagues were able to obtain a few recordings of Morgan's vocalizations while the whale was in Holland and they matched them with a group of Norwegian whales known as P pod, though the identity of Morgan's immediate family remains unclear.
Visser cofounded the Free Morgan Foundation and helped devise a plan to send the killer whale to a sea pen in Norway, with the intention of reuniting the orca with her family.
“We have at least five different sites in mind and we've looked at three of those in detail," she told me. “One is a [fjord] where the entrance is protected from large swells and it's within a half-mile of known feeding grounds of Norwegian orca, but it has limited road access. Another one is within a group of islands, though it's near a fishing harbor."
But, Visser said, “there's no point in building a sea pen if the authorities won't release her. It's putting the cart before the horse."
If Morgan's reunification with her family fails, the Free Morgan Foundation is prepared to look after her for life.
“Let's at least improve her life with a fjord to swim in," Visser said. “Or even train her to swim beside a boat and go out with whale-watching tours and use that for education and science. It's far better than where she is now, doing the tango and moonwalk for tourists."
The Whale Sanctuary Project's Marino firmly believes that day is coming for Morgan and many other captive killer whales.
“The SeaWorld announcement about breeding is a good one, but they need to take the next step and transfer the animals that are going to be there for the next 30 years to a sanctuary," she said. “They can't be released, but their quality of life can be improved by orders of magnitude. Still, this is not just as easy as saying, 'There's a good inlet—let's throw a net across and put some animals in it.' It's a solemn responsibility and it's the best we can do for animals that are in captivity."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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Despite ongoing opposition from area residents, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) has approved the conversion of the Dominion Cove Point liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in southern Maryland from an import to an export facility. The decision also authorizes the installation of additional compression at Dominion’s Pleasant Valley Compressor Station and related facilities in Northern Virginia.
This decision allows the facility to pipe fracked gas from across the region to the area, liquify it and to ship the LNG overseas to China and India. Opponents say this will increase fracking and fuel climate change.
Response from a bevy of environmental and grassroots groups that are fighting the project was negative and outraged.
“FERC’s decision to allow LNG exports from Cove Point is fundamentally flawed because the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, and that means more climate pollution, more risk of contaminated groundwater, and more threats to the health of people who live near gas wells,” said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign. “FERC should be standing up for the public good, not the interests of dirty polluters.”
“In the rush to export our natural gas, public officials and agencies are failing to protect the health and safety of the residents of Calvert County and people throughout the Chesapeake region," said Waterkeepers Chesapeake executive director Betsy Nicholas. “Upstream impacts of fracking, and new and expanded pipelines and compressor stations are being ignored. Economic impacts to local and regional economies are being ignored. Pollution impacts to the Bay, the Patuxent River and upstream rivers, streams and drinking water sources are being ignored. It’s difficult not to conclude that our public officials just don’t care.”
Local opponents are also concerned about the facility's proximity to homes, schools and businesses in Calvert County, saying it threatens the health and safety of thousands of people with the potential for fires and explosions such as the one that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last year. It would be the first such facility built so close to so many homes.
"The Federal Energy Regulation Commission chose to sacrifice the well-being of Maryland communities and endanger public health in favor of hefty profits for Dominion Resources," said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch. "At a time when citizens should be looking to their political leaders to help lead them away from destructive fossil fuels toward a more sustainable energy future, they are working hand-in-glove with the oil and gas lobby, enabling a process that continues to sacrifice communities and the potential for a healthier environment."
Opponents said that FERC's Environmental Assessment was inadequate and that it failed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, brushing aside the wider impacts on the community of the project and community opposition to it. Two weeks ago, a group of citizens, including members of Calvert County for a Healthy Community, went to the monthly FERC meeting in D.C. to make their voices heard after 250,000 comments in opposition were filed, 1,000 people marched to FERC headquarters in D.C. in July for a sit-in that resulted in 25 arrests, and the commissioners failed to show up at a hearing in their area.
“You are in danger of turning my neighborhood into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry—if you approve the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility without fully studying the hazards of the project,” said group leader Tracey Eno at that meeting. “For more than a year, we have been pleading with you to provide the information on the full effects from this proposal in the form of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement. Yet, at every turn you have lowered the bar of scrutiny for Dominion, even as the evidence of threats to our communities has continued to rise.”
“Even the EPA said that FERC should weigh gas production stimulus effect of the Cove Point export facility,” said Robin Broder of Waterkeepeers Chesapeake. “But somehow FERC concluded it was ‘not feasible to more specifically evaluate localized environmental impacts’ even though Dominion knows where it will source the fracked gas and knows that new compressor and pipeline capacity will be built. Our public agencies and elected officials are not serving the public’s interest and are sacrificing our waterways."
Waterkeepers Chesapeake, one of the groups that has been leading the opposition to the Cove Point project, is now exploring legal options for blocking the project. It plans to join with those groups in increasing pressure on elected officials, both state and federal, to listen to the voices of citizens, including Governor Martin O'Malley, who has been widely mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful, Congressman Steny Hoyer, and U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, all Democrats.
“We are carefully reviewing FERC’s decision to approve the Cove Point export facility with our clients and planning our next steps,” said Earthjustice associate attorney Jocelyn D'Ambrosio. “If FERC has refused to revisit its inadequate environmental review, we will have no choice but to petition FERC to reconsider its decision, and ultimately we may have to take the case to court.”
“FERC’s decision to approve Cove Point is the result of a biased review process rigged in favor of approving gas industry projects no matter how great the environmental and safety concerns,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “FERC refused to even require an environmental impact statement for this $3.8 billion facility right on the Bay. We intend to challenge this ruling all the way to court if necessary. For the safety of Marylanders and for people across our region facing new fracking wells and pipelines, we will continue to fight this project until it is stopped.”
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In the 1950s, the world was crisscrossed by some 25 million annual tourists (i.e., overnight visitors). In 2014, according to the Center for Responsible Travel, that number ballooned to nearly 1.2 billion—about a 4,000 percent increase—contributing $7.6 trillion (almost 10 percent) to the world's GDP.
But the sad and inescapable fact is that all our flying, driving and trampling about has also contributed to the destruction of the environment, harming wildlife, historical sites and the livelihoods of indigenous societies around the globe.
As the largest global service industry, tourism can—and should—play a significant role in conservation and environmental sustainability. That was the message that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon delivered on World Tourism Day in 2012. “One of the world’s largest economic sectors, tourism is especially well‐placed to promote environmental sustainability, 'green' growth and our struggle against climate change through its relationship with energy," he said.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, was an early proponent of not only treading lightly when you travel, but also doing some good while you're there. In his last message before his death in 1941, Baden-Powell neatly summed up his philosophy: “Leave this world a little better than you found it.” It's a sentiment that anchored the "Leave No Trace" outdoor/camping ethos that took root in the 1960s and it can easily serve as a motto for ecotourists and ethical travelers alike.
Thinking about a travel destination in North America that shares your green philosophy? Here are 10 of the best to consider.
1. Earthship Rentals (Taos, New Mexico)
Taos, a desert town in the New Mexico high desert situated at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and known for its historic Native American adobe buildings and its artist colony, has long been a destination for eco-minded free spirits. It's also the location of a small collection of unique eco-friendly buildings called Earthships.
Constructed from natural and recycled materials, including tires packed with dirt, Earthships are passive solar houses, meaning their entire structures—including windows, walls and floors—are designed to collect solar energy. The first Earthship was designed in the 1970s by the architect and environmental activist Michael Reynolds, who calls his unique practice Earthship Biotecture.
Ecotourists can enjoy the sites of Taos while staying at Earthship Rentals, which offer a unique taste of sustainable, off-grid living, including growing your own food and using water provided by cisterns that collect rain and snow. Plus, they are dog-friendly, so bring Fido along. You can also enjoy the amenities of modern life, such as Wifi and TV. But why boob-tube it when you're surrounded by a gorgeous landscape that has attracted and inspired artists for over a century? Earthships can transport you while not moving at all—the perfect opportunity to unplug and recharge.
2. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (British Columbia)
Winston Churchill once said, "There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada." Unfortunately, the world's second largest nation hasn't been protecting that mighty expanse all that well. According to its 2015 annual report, the nonprofit Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) found that the nation is lagging on its commitment to protect at least 17 percent of its land and fresh water by 2020—and is behind the global average.
“Based on our assessment of progress since Canada endorsed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 10-year plan in 2010, it would take us 50 years from today, not five, to meet our commitment to protect at least 17 percent of our land and fresh water,” said Alison Woodley, nation director of CPAWS’ parks program.
One of the places that has been protected is an eco-resort tucked away in the remote wilderness of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, Canada. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort offers the best of both worlds, from river kayaking, horseback riding, hiking through old-growth forest and surfing on a secluded beach, to five-star dining, spa treatments and as its website notes, "great white tents with their fluffy duvets and antiques."
The all-inclusive, summer-only luxury resort isn’t just about pampering guests and offering great adventures in a pristine landscape—it's also playing an important role in the region’s sustainability and environmental stewardship. The resort has invested in the protection of the area's wild salmon, working with the nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy, based in neighboring Washington state, to protect the fish stocks against the threats of overfishing and climate change.
Clayoquot has also partnered with the Ahousaht First Nation to restore indigenous land, share the Ahousaht’s cultural legacy with visitors and build relationships that foster economic development within the local community.
The late Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr, who found creative inspiration in the indigenous people who lived along the Pacific Northwest coast, said, "It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw." Clayoquot offers that raw grandeur—just with fluffy duvets.
3. Sian Ka'an (Tulum, Mexico)
Located on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Sian Ka’an is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. The reserve is so pristine and biodiverse that, in 1986, it was designated Biosphere Reserve. And the following year, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which works with nations to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage. Sian Ka'an is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
There’s no shortage of eco-friendly activities here, from exploring Mayan ruins to diving in the deep cenotes (crystalline pools of freshwater connected by an intricate network of underground rivers) or simply enjoying the gorgeous white sand beaches and swimming in the Caribbean. You’d never guess that just two and half hours north is Cancun, a hyper-touristic spot that has been overrun by college students on spring break.
Sian Ka'an is committed to protecting its fragile ecosystem—and its esteemed World Heritage Site status. As it says on its website, "Sian Ka'an is one of the most spectacular and ecologically diverse places on Earth—and we want to keep it that way."
4. Nurture Through Nature (Denmark, Maine)
Located deep in the rugged heart of western Maine’s Lakes and Mountains region, Nurture Through Nature is the state's first green-certified, Earth-friendly retreat center and has been providing individuals, couples and groups an environmentally conscious getaway since 1999.
Visitors can explore the retreat's 33 forested acres nestled along the lower slopes of Pleasant Mountain along a maze of private hiking trails that lead to a spring-fed mountain brook and sweeping views of Mount Washington and the White Mountains. This is an ideal place to reconnect with nature.
Nurture Through Nature’s stated mission is to "offer a healing, Earth-friendly retreat space for reflection, contemplation and connection with your true self and the living Earth.” That connection is encouraged by yoga classes, guided meditation, a private sauna, massage therapy, healing arts classes and holistic life coaching—all within a green-certified off-the-grid getaway that uses solar power, compost, renewable heat sources and non-toxic cleaning products.
With 1.3 million residents, Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. And as far as states go, it's not that popular of a tourist destination, ranking 44th in a 2014 survey conducted by HotelsCombined, a hotel booking site. Still, for a state with a GDP at around $54 billion, tourism fuels a tenth of the economy, providing more than 94,000 jobs—about 14 percent of the state’s total employment. "Given that Maine’s economy pivots on 22 million tourists who spend as much as $6 billion a year, the state’s challenge is to balance one of its main sources of income with the preservation of its ecosystem," writes Kay Tang in USA Today. "Ecotourism could be Maine’s win-win solution to this dilemma."
5. The Stanford Inn by the Sea (Mendocino, California)
For many years, Mendocino County, located on California's north coast, has lured visitors to its lush redwood forests, breathtaking coastline and vineyards famous for producing some of the nation's best wine. That it has also become a top destination for travelers interested in environmentalism and sustainability is no surprise: In the 1970s, the county was a hippie magnet, attracting free spirits seeking independence, experimentation, communal living and a direct connection with nature.
Today, in the face of industrial logging, large-scale agriculture and urbanization—and a surging population that is expected to double by 2050—it's a challenge for the county to maintain its sustainable roots. One oasis from the area’s rapid growth is the Stanford Inn by the Sea, a pet-friendly eco-resort situated on Mendocino's coast that opened its doors to eco-conscious travelers more than three decades ago.
Guests can take advantage of a wide range of therapeutic, eco-friendly activities, from canoeing and biking to enjoying the cuisine of The Ravens, the inn’s vegan restaurant featuring local and organic food, including produce from the Stanford Inn’s own California-certified organic farm and wine from certified organic vineyards.
The inn also hosts wellness retreats, bringing in nutritionists, vegan chefs and health coaches to teach guests about healthy living. “Moving here in 1980, we were changed by the creative and healing energies of the land,” say founders Joan and Jeff Stanford, on their website. "The inn manifests our commitment to live mindfully so that all might live well."
6. Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, New York)
Since 1977, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies has been on a mission to "provide hope and healing for individuals and society through innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human spirit."
Famous for its yoga and meditation retreats—as well as workshops covering everything from creativity and mindfulness to sexuality and life coach certification—Omega Institute is dedicated to healthy, green living and sustainable lifestyles.
Spread across nearly 200 acres in the quiet town of Rhinebeck in upstate New York, Omega has a dining hall, café, bookstore, meditation hall and the Ram Dass Library, named after the famed spiritual teacher and author of the seminal 1971 book Be Here Now, who Omega notes has served as one of their “trusted guides.” The campus also includes the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, a solar-powered education center and water reclamation facility.
On its website, Omega calls itself “the nation's foremost educational retreat center.” Considering its history, as well as its growing list of of A-list speakers—which includes Al Gore, Maya Angelou, Jane Goodall and Thich Nhat Hanh, among many others—it’s a claim they have little problem backing up.
7. Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (Teton Village, Wyoming)
Nestled between the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Range in Wyoming, Jackson Hole is a low-lying valley that was settled in the late 1800s by Native Americans, fur trappers and homesteaders. Later, dude ranches sparked tourism to the region. Today, ecotourism is taking hold. Eco-Tour Adventures offers wildlife tours in Grand Teton committed to the Leave No Trace ethic. The Grand Teton Lodge Company, an authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service, buys wind credits to offset its energy use and diverts half of its waste—including food waste, aluminum cans and even horse manure—into reuse and recycling.
One hotel that gets high marks on its eco-scorecard is Hotel Terra Jackson Hole in Teton Village, located at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
And while the first LEED-certified hotel in Wyoming gets the big things right—like offsetting energy use by purchasing solar, hydro and wind power and using native landscaping that needs no irrigation—Terra also considers the small things: its hot tubs use a natural substitute for chlorine, while every bathroom features countertops and soap dishes made of reclaimed glass and 100 percent organic linens.
Plus, what could feel better after a day hitting slopes and elk-watching than a detox organic blueberry body wrap in the hotel’s Chill Spa? It’s no wonder that last year, Gayot named Terra one of America's Top 10 Green Hotels.
8. Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge (Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska)
Located on a remote beach in Alaska's Kachemak Bay State Park, about 10 miles by boat from Homer (the "Bear Viewing Capital of the World"), Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge gives visitors a unique way to experience the wilderness lifestyle that only the Last Frontier state can offer.
Open year-round, Sadie Cove was transformed from a private home hand-built from driftwood into an eco-lodge in 1981, completely powered by hydro and wind power. With only five private guest cabins and accessible only by boat, helicopter or float plane, Sadie Cove gives new meaning to "getaway." As the owners Keith and Randi Iverson note on their website, “At Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge you can surround yourself in wilderness, not tourists.”
Hiking trails of Kachemak Bay State Park, kayaking, beach combing, clam-digging and fishing for salmon are some of the year-round activities for lodge guests. Bring your binoculars, because wildlife viewing here is a special treat, with whales, orcas, seals, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, moose and bears all making their home in the park's lush environs.
A National Historical Landmark known as much for its stunning granite facade as its beautiful interiors, Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee Hotel) is considered one of North America’s most distinctive luxury lodges. The site of the 123-room hotel was chosen for its stunning views of Glacier Point, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Completed in 1927 and designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Ahwanee is considered a masterpiece of "National Park Service rustic" (a.k.a "parkitecture"), a style of architecture developed in the first half of the 20th century through the National Park Service's efforts to create buildings that would exist in harmony with the natural environment.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel definitely takes advantage of its natural environment: One of the reasons the site was picked was to maximize sun exposure, which provides natural, fossil-free heating.
A member of the Green Hotels Association, Majestic Yosemite also participates in the GreenPath program, an environmental stewardship program ensuring that business decisions incorporate environmental considerations.
10. Jumbo Rocks Campground (Joshua Tree National Park, California)
This list has some pretty pricey eco-lodges that wouldn't look out of place on your bucket list. But it wouldn't be complete without a recommendation for roughing it in the great outdoors. And since we've covered Alaska—and you've either been to the Grand Canyon or it's already on your bucket list—Jumbo Rocks Campground in Southern California's mind-blowingly gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert gets the nod (not least because this pristine and primal landscape is less than a three-hour drive from Los Angeles).
Located near the aptly named Skull Rock by the park's western border, Jumbo Rocks features 124 campsites that include picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. Biking, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding are just some of the eco-friendly activities that will wear you out and get you ready for cowboy songs by the campfire, under the stars. Plus, there's a remarkable abundance of wildlife to watch (and avoid) in this dry place: bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes and black-tailed jackrabbits come out at night, while daytime widlife watchers can enjoy spotting birds, lizards and squirrels.
Reservations are not accepted, meaning it's first come, first served. And since it's pretty close to LA, you'll want to come early and preferably on a weekday to put up sticks before the weekenders arrive. Make a note that there's no potable water, so bring more than you think you'll need, especially if you're bringing your pet. And if you need camping essentials like a tent, sleeping bags, backpacks and hiking shoes, check out Inhabit's "Top Eco-Friendly Camping Gear for Conscientious Outdoor Enthusiasts."
No matter what your next travel destination is, getting there can be a big burden on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Consider more local and regional destinations that are accessible by bus or train. If you have to drive, use a fuel-efficient car, like a hybrid or an EV or find a carpool. And if you simply must fly, choose coach (yes, it's smaller, but less carbon-intensive than first or business class), select an efficient airline (check Atmosfair’s airline ranking) and consider reducing your air travel carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets, which are offered by most domestic airlines and many international carriers.
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Thousands of red crabs are covering parts of California's coastline. But this isn't the first time.
Masses of pelagic red crab, also known as tuna crab, have been washing up on California's beaches for the last 15 years, reported NBC News. However, every year, the event draws major attention from tourists and residents alike. This year, the crabs are washing up on beaches in Orange County and San Diego.
Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Despite the name, red crabs are a species of lobster that normally resides off Mexico's western shore, typically moving no farther north than San Diego. But for the past several years, the 1- to 3-inch red crabs have populated waters farther up the coast in California, Reuters reported, and they won't be leaving anytime soon.
This is largely due to El Niño. As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) predicted back in December, the U.S. is feeling the effects of El Niño. And it could still get worse, according to NASA: "The current strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific Ocean shows no signs of waning."
El Niño brings warmer water north and expands the crabs' habitat. The California waters that were once inhospitable are now a perfect environment for the crustaceans. Scientists believe the crabs have established a long-term population in this new-found home, Reuters reported.
The crabs spend most of their time swimming freely in the open ocean, and are therefore more susceptible to tides, currents and winds than other crab and lobster species, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Most of the crabs are dead when they wash up on shore. Those that aren't, will perish soon after.
As red crabs are carried to shore by changing currents, beachgoers flock to see the phenomenon.
Thousands of dead crabs in Laguna Beach today @GigiGraciette @ABC7 let's blame #ElNino #weather #crabs #lagunabeach https://t.co/RUyKVFUswn— tippol photography (@tippol photography)1463176905.0
They have taken to social media to document their experiences. Last year, Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Dana Point, California, told the Orange County Register, "Everyone is taking selfies with the red crab."
So many crabs are washing up on the California coast it's turning beaches red #ThanksElNiño https://t.co/tAHAe99cKQ https://t.co/yk2VON4JKN— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo)1463497612.0
"I think it's kind of cool," Kalez said. "It's a phenomenon you won't see for a long time. It's sad they're going to die, but there's nothing you can do."
Scientists are warning residents to not eat the crabs as they may contain unknown toxins.
Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Municipal workers and volunteers are working on clearing some portions of the beaches by scraping the dead crabs into piles with hand rakes, according to NBC News. Last year, workers and volunteers raked away 8 tons of crabs on Balboa Island and at China Cove, California.
The crabs that aren't cleaned up will be left to decompose on the beach and re-enter the ocean via waves or be eaten by seabirds who are enjoying the phenomenon as well.
Watch this Scripps video from last year as thousands of tuna crabs wash ashore:
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Today, citizens from Calvert County, Maryland, angry that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioners sent stand-ins to a meeting in their area on the controversial proposal to allow the Dominion Cove Point facility to convert from an import to an export terminal for liquified natural gas (LNG), took their case to FERC's monthly meeting in Washington D.C.
A group of 20 people, including members and allies of the Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, delivered what they described as “an unannounced intervention" in response to their feeling that the commission intends to rubber stamp the proposal without adequate assessment of the dangers to the surrounding community.
Group leader Tracey Eno delivered a short address and gave FERC a check from the group for $79 to cover the cost of the most up-to-date version of federal fire protection standards. The group says that FERC failed to apply the standards to its Environmental Assessment for Cove Point, showing the extent to which explosion, flammable vapor cloud and other potential disasters at the facility would endanger nearby homes and families.
"Lusby residents were horrified to learn in the draft environmental assessment that FERC applied the 2001 federal fire protection standards," said Eno. "2001 does not adequately address the dangers of LNG export equipment and processes. The 2013 edition is the first to wisely require a quantitative risk assessment to assess the risks to residents offsite."
If approved, Cove Point would be only the second LNG export facility built in the lower 48 states and the only facility ever to have what Eno called "the unique and terrifying distinction" of being built in such a densely populated area so close to so many people's homes. It would ship fracked gas from the Marcellus shale region to other countries.
"Right now, you are in danger of turning my neighborhood into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry—if you approve the Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility without fully studying the hazards of the project," said Eno. "For more than a year, we have been pleading with you to provide the information on the full effects from this proposal in the form of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement. Yet, at every turn you have lowered the bar of scrutiny for Dominion, even as the evidence of threats to our communities has continued to rise."
Watch the video of Eno's speech:
The remote beach was empty except for me and my companions. The broad expanse of sea was empty, too and I squinted at the horizon, looking for a human shape. This was two years ago, deep in southern Chile and five of us had just descended the bottom section of the Pascua—a burly, glacier-fed river—by kayak. We were at the Pascua's mouth, where it empties into a fjord and we were planning to head through the fjord to the small town of Caleta Tortel. Two of the kayakers from our party, Lisa and Roberto, had paddled ahead until they disappeared amid the chop. Now, I was trying to find them in this gray-green world.
Seeing no sign of them, I walked back to the riverbank and kneeled for a drink of agua dulce—freshwater. Cold slid down my throat. The air smelled sweet, of mist and storms and clouds were slung low above the water. Waves jostled and splashed and I breathed deeply, readying myself for what I knew I had to do next: paddle through the tumult that Lisa and Roberto had just vanished into.
There was nothing for the three of us left on the gravel bar to do but load into our boats and point them toward the inlet. The other lives we all lived—an existence with things like showers and email and beds—had become laughably unimportant. Our needs were immediate and self-evident. Stay alive, stay dry, stay together and keep going. Or turn back. But we had no intention of turning back. We gripped our paddles and pushed off the bank.
Where the river hits the sea, we hit the waves—heaving pyramids of whitecapped water that splashed over our spray skirts. My boat partner and I counted aloud to pace our strokes—one, two, three, four—as we dug our paddles into the dark water, hoping that if we paddled hard enough for long enough, we'd stay upright and make it to the nearest shore. Our kayak, about 17 feet long, rose onto the swells, hung in midair, then slammed back down. I clenched my paddle tighter. My forearms stiffened and ached. The land, the water, the weather—all of it became real and close. Although nerve-racking, this was the kind of intensity I lived for. It pulled me into the present and put all of me to work.
We aimed our boat for a beach that we could see between the waves. As we got closer, I spotted two life-jacketed figures pulling brightly colored plastic boats ashore. Lisa and Roberto had made landfall.
Why was I there, paddling as hard as I could on those stormy seas? There's more than one way to answer that question. The Pascua is in a region of Chile called Aysén. I'd spent the past couple of years there doing research on a proposal to build five large dams, two of which would be on the Pascua. During the course of that project, I had learned a lot about river flows, hydropower and electricity transmission lines. But I wanted to know the river that I had thought about so much in a more intimate way. Before the Pascua's power turned to megawatts, I wanted to feel its current against my skin.
I was also in Aysén for less practical reasons. Like many others before me, I'd been drawn by the idea of Patagonia: a place where wind and weather ruled, granite spires rose from the Earth and teal rivers curled through a trackless steppe. Parts of Aysén are practically uninhabited, with less than three people per square mile—a lower population density than that of the Sahara Desert or Mongolia. I'd hitchhiked through the region, kayaked its rivers and explored its valleys, trying to get closer to the place I'd been so fixated on. The ecological philosopher Arne Naess wrote that mountaineering is a way to participate in a mountain's greatness. In the same vein, everything I did in the far south was part of my attempt to participate in the greatness of that landscape.
The Pascua encapsulates all that is wondrous about Patagonia. Other rivers in the area, like the Baker, are strewn with ranches, but very few gauchos—South America's version of cowboys—live along the Pascua. Those who do first arrived in handmade wooden rowboats. To get up the river before motorboats, the gauchos had to stand on the thickly forested banks of the Pascua and pull their boats (which were sometimes full of lambs) upstream with ropes. A spur road from the dirt highway did not arrive until 2006. The Pascua was remote, powerful, isolated—a force to be reckoned with. As a few friends and I talked about a potential trip on the river, we began referring to it as "the wild and unknown Pascua."
So, we decided that in February 2014 we would kayak the lower Pascua from near Lago Quetru to the shores of Tortel. Our crew would be Weston Boyles, a then-27-year-old Colorado native; Tyler Williams and Lisa Gelczis, husband-and-wife guides from Flagstaff, Arizona; and Roberto Haro, a middle-aged gym teacher from the town of Cochrane who taught local kids how to whitewater kayak. The four of them had met through an organization Weston started, Rios to Rivers, which had facilitated an exchange between some of Roberto's teenage kayakers and some American kayakers to paddle the Baker and Colorado Rivers while learning about the effects of dams.
Simply getting ready for the trip was challenging. There were no reports from other paddlers or even any detailed maps. So we huddled around a laptop in Roberto's kitchen, scrolling through satellite images to sketch a route.
Maps of the area show a shredded coastline where the continent encounters the sea. Islands are splattered across bays and fjords slice into the mainland, carvings left over from the last ice age. Patagonia's topography is similar to that of Southeast Alaska and Norway, except with more places where glaciers meet the sea.
The journey promised heavy rain, cold temperatures and high winds. Friends of ours could not understand why we would suffer through it. When we told people in Cochrane that we would kayak from Lago Quetru to the mouth of the Pascua, then up the coast to Tortel, one person asked, "Do you want to die?"
I struggled to explain why we wanted to go there. I often felt like using the clichéd response: "If you have to ask, you'll never understand." What drives anyone on this kind of quest? For me, it came from a desire to be part of something giant and wild, a yearning to participate in something beautiful. To do that fully, I needed to give up control.
At the beginning of our journey, on the banks of the Pascua, we had packed our boats and loaded them into the water. The river was so wide, it often looked like a moving lake. Boils wrinkled the surface. The water split into braids around sandy shoals and bent sharply around unnamed mountains. We paddled up creeks and made sandwiches with manjar (Chile's version of dulce de leche) on our spray skirts. On our second day, we reached the Pascua's mouth, where the river emptied into the fjord and where our group dispersed and came together again on that wind-whipped beach to wait out the bad weather.
We took naps and ate snacks and read books, then eventually set out again. Frothing water exploded against cliffs to our left. To our right, the sea spread outward until it welded itself to a skyscape of gray clouds. No more beaches appeared on the coast. The headwind blew so hard that if we paused our paddle strokes, the Klepper went backward. I couldn't stop to scratch my nose. Weston and I synchronized our strokes. Much of the time, we couldn't see our friends.
After four hours of struggling against the wind, we ducked into a protected cove where iridescent clumps of ice emerged from the dark water—sedan-size pieces of glacier that had calved off from a tongue of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Most of the mountains had darkened by that time, except for one ridge behind us that was gilded by the only shaft of sun we had seen all day.
We paddled toward the coast, to where a few of these icebergs were beached on the front lawn of an abandoned ranch. Aysén is a ranching region, settled by homesteaders in the early 20th century, when border tensions with Argentina led the Chilean government to give away free land. Though more and more Ayséninos are moving to towns and making a living from tourism, the region remains a gaucho stronghold. These hardy souls live the life that many people hope will continue but few people want to live themselves.
We poked around the ranch—walking around the sagging fence that surrounded the cabin, pushing through the overgrown bushes, peeking into the shed where the family once hung their meat. Richard White, a Stanford environmental historian, has written that outdoor recreation like kayaking and mountaineering represents a type of "rugged play" that mimics the hard life of the pioneer. We gringos were trying to re-create the experience of those early gaucho pioneers—only we were doing it for entertainment rather than survival.
This rugged play demands that we use our bodies to move through the land until our thighs quiver and burn, our calves tighten and tire. It also demands that we look closely at whatever is around us: rapids and waves, discoloration and indentations in snow-covered ice, the outcroppings and contours of rock. We often feel closest to the land when it requires attention and labor from us and so such play is a way of reconnecting to the Earth. Among those of us who work with papers and pens, screens and keyboards, rugged play represents a kind of nostalgia. It's a yearning for the days when we knew the land the way the family at this ranch would have—when we knew it because we had to know it, when we knew it with our bodies.
My musings were swept away by the immediate demands of hunger, cold and fatigue. We set up our nylon tents near the old wooden buildings, made fire and food on the beach and slept.
We woke the next morning to wind hurtling over the water. The waves were even larger than they had been the day before. We set out, making spurts of progress up the coastline. I had a plane to catch in four days, but it was foolish to believe that we could control our rate of progress.
The next several days blurred together: a montage of driving wind and rain, Weston yelling at me whenever my hood wasn't up and paddling furiously whenever the wind abated. We hung around on beaches when the weather was especially bad, then got back in our boats during the small openings when the wind died down.
One morning, we reached a beach at the tip of the string of islands we had been following since leaving the icebergs. The beach faced a seven-mile open crossing. The weather remained windy and wavy, with whitecapped water and biting gusts. There was no way we could head into open water in such conditions, so we waited again.
We knew exactly how much food we had left: two rolls of coconut cookies, two packets of saltine crackers, a bag of oatmeal, a bag of pasta, a few pieces of stale bread and three bags of dried milk. The five of us shared half a bag of pasta for dinner.
The next day, the rains fell so heavily and continuously that Lisa and Tyler never took off their dry suits. The rest of us shivered in soaked-through rain gear, holding our pruney hands over a fire, taking turns gathering wood. At one point, Lisa and I walked to a nearby beach and heaved large rocks onto pieces of driftwood, trying to split them, joking that we'd become cavewomen.
None of us mentioned our hunger. We had chosen to give up control and there was nothing we could do now but wait out the wind. We were all elated that night when Roberto caught a small fish. I ate the head—including the eyes. Tyler, who doesn't smoke, asked for one of the cigarettes we had brought as gifts for gauchos. He thought it would lighten the mood.
In the beginning of the trip, when optimism and awe had reigned, we'd fondly nicknamed each snacking and sleeping spot. Tranquilo Bay. Love Beach. We dubbed this waiting spot Desolation Cove.
The next morning, hope displaced our desolation. Smaller waves passed by, free of whitecaps. We packed up our gear and readied our boats in silence, pointing our bows toward the lanky waterfalls and forested mountains that we could see across the open water. New snow dusted the peaks.
We crossed the previously treacherous passage with ridiculous ease, aiming toward a gap between the continent and an island. The seven miles passed quickly. We soon entered a protected channel, drifting by misty cascades and a curving coastline, enjoying Roberto's secret stash of lollipops and opening up the two emergency rolls of coconut cookies. We were giddy with proximity. There were no more open crossings between us and Tortel. We guessed that we would make it to town that evening.
Midmorning, we spotted a gray wooden boat in a cove. Since reaching the mouth of the Pascua, we'd seen some detritus left from human activity on a few beaches—two deserted and collapsing cabins, empty gas canisters in the sand, rusty nails in pieces of beached wood—but this boat seemed to signal that someone was close by. A tin roof caught light between the trees. We could see chickens and dogs moving about, laundry swinging from a line and smoke puffing from a chimney.
A couple stood outside the house, both wearing black rubber boots and baggy pants. We landed and walked up to their cabin. The man had a mustache, a hat and a tentative posture. The woman had a wide smile and thick hair that fell around her ears. She exuded enthusiasm as soon as we introduced ourselves, ushering us into her house for mate, the ubiquitous South American tea sipped through a metal straw and apologizing for the mess. They didn't get many visitors, she said.
It was a simple one-room cabin with a wood-burning cookstove in the corner. In another corner, clothes were piled on top of a mattress. Newspaper, pieces of cardboard and a poster of the Virgin Mary covered the walls. A flattened cat food box was pressed against the door and often flapped, letting the wind enter. We sat shivering around the stove, swallowing mate, then bread, then rice, then fish. I was awed by the intense abundance; even the plate was warm. I went back for more.
We described our trip to the couple. The woman nodded. She told us that she'd grown up on the unoccupied ranch near the Jorge Montt Glacier—the ranch where we'd camped next to icebergs. She'd had to cross from there to Tortel many times as a child. It was the route her family had taken to get to town.
When we described Desolation Cove, she nodded again, adding that the wind always blew hard there. Once, she said, she had waited at that spot for seven days before she could cross the channel. Often, gauchos would wait together on that beach, all on their way to Tortel and all stopped by the wild winds of the open channel. Many would bring lambs in their boats for beachside asados. They would make tortas in the sand.
What many in Cochrane had warned us would be a lethal journey was, for the gauchos, just part of their routine. Our rugged play had once been someone's commute.
In the following days, after we reached Caleta Tortel, forces other than wind, weather and water would take control. I'd hitchhike hundreds of miles to the nearest airport, try to weasel my way onto an interhemispheric flight and apologize to my professors for being late to a new semester. I'd be quickly jolted back into a life of papers and pens, screens and keyboards, showers and email and a bed.
But those gauchos, of course, would stay and often I would think of them: still there, watching the water, waiting out the weather, intertwining their lives with the land and paying close attention to its details. I was only a visitor to that place the gauchos call home, but paddling was my way of weaving the land and sea into my life. Beyond the picture of a place, the postcard version of it, was the possibility of participation.
Salvation for the Pascua
When my friends and I kayaked the lower reaches of the Pascua River in early 2014, we thought we were undertaking a kind of farewell adventure. For eight years, Chilean environmentalists and their international allies had been fighting to prevent the construction of five dams on the Pascua and Baker Rivers. Many people feared that the dams were a done deal and that these wild rivers—gems of rugged Patagonia—would become reservoirs.
Then a massive citizens' movement overturned the political conventional wisdom. Anti-dam protests in Chile's south and marches in the capital, Santiago, made the dams a major issue in the 2014 presidential campaign. Not long after President Michelle Bachelet came into office, her cabinet voted to cancel the dams.
The decision was a landmark victory for Chile's environmental movement. Today, the Pascua and Baker Rivers continue to flow freely.
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“Stop the #FERCus” was the theme of the 10 days of action in Washington, DC and Calvert County, Maryland, which ended yesterday, and that was the main focus, no doubt about it, but it was about so much more. These 10 days of action and organizing were all about building community—a community taking action and interacting with one another and with others in a way which builds people power.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) May 28, 2015
45 years ago when I was young and new to progressive activism, “building power” wasn’t a phrase I remember hearing. “Taking power” was, however. For many of us, the realities of systemic oppressive power we experienced through our involvement in the civil rights, black liberation, anti-war, women’s, gay/lesbian rights or other movements of that time led us to see the need to take power away from the rich white men who were pulling the strings behind the scenes if we were to have any chance of building a truly democratic and just society.
I continue to believe that. The power and wealth of those rich white men has only gotten worse over all those years, as have obscene inequality and the climate and broader environmental crises. But the experiences of May 21-30 have made me see more clearly why “building power through building community for power” is a much sounder way to frame a key aspect of the historic task before us.
— DC Divest (@DCDivest) May 28, 2015
What took place over these 10 days to prompt these reflections? From May 21-29 Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) took action in Washington, DC focused on FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the most powerful federal agency most people have never heard of. And on May 30th Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, We Are Cove Point and other groups organized a spirited and strong six-mile march of close to 200 people through Calvert County in opposition to the building of a massive and dangerous gas export terminal at Cove Point.
Calvert County March to #SaveCovePoint #nolngexports #fracking @nolngexports @wercovepoint @ccan @jlstewct pic.twitter.com/1pLE0HUrYI — BeyondExtremeEnergy (@BXEAction) May 30, 2015
BXE is a new, growing national network of 70 organizations focused on fighting extreme energy extraction in general and, right now, the “gas rush” expansion of fracking infrastructure which FERC is actively enabling. FERC is a rubber stamp for the gas industry as it moves to expand fracking and to build export terminals to ship that fracked gas around the world. Here are some of the highlights of our 10 days (for more info go here):
- Demonstrating in the rain on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Energy against proposed Fast Track trade legislation
- Loudly sitting in inside the lobby of the Department of the Interior to protest its decision allowing Shell to start drilling in the Arctic
- Creating “The United States of Fracking," a 50-foot long, colorful, emotionally moving banner with 16 panels depicting what the fracking gas rush is doing to us, illustrated by Seth Tobocman
- Participating in a well-received anti-oppression training led by long-time progressive leader George Friday
- Blocking heavily traveled North Capitol Street right behind the FERC building and just a handful of blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building. This was done via the raising up of a 20-foot high tripod for over an hour on the first workday after the Memorial Day weekend
- Occupying (FERCupying) the sidewalk in front of FERC for almost 72 straight hours, leading to many positive and supportive discussions with people passing by
- Witness Wednesday: a two-hour silent vigil of 75 people in the hot sun on the FERC sidewalk led by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, followed by an inspiring interfaith program of speakers with lots of wonderful music led by Unitarian minister and singer Fred Small
- Deploying to great effect the FERC-GAS-GO-ROUND, a carousel creation of movement artist extraordinaire Kim Fraczak depicting the revolving door between FERC leaders and employees and the oil and gas industry they are supposed to be regulating
- Impacting, or inspiring, a huge percentage of FERC employees, perhaps as many as 90 percent on at least one day, to not report for work on the days we took action, or at least until we left
- Briefly flooding the lobby of the building where Spectra Energy has its DC office, the building lobby and the office of the American Natural Gas Alliance, and the lobby of fracking-ad-carrying National Public Radio
- Hearing supportive horn-honking and words of support from dozens and dozens of cars passing us during our Calvert County walk while experiencing just a very few hostile comments or gestures
These were the main actions which took place over these 10 days. It was possible to do them all because of the kind of personally supportive and participatory and love-filled culture which undergirded decision-making. This culture affected how we dealt with differences or conflicts and how we interacted with others on the street, including the Federal Protective Services police.
How did this gas get passed? Good question. Stop the #FERCus #SaveCovePoint pic.twitter.com/HkkMGDapFU — Chesapeake Climate (@CCAN) May 30, 2015
One of the concepts George Friday spoke about in her anti-oppression training was the concept of “the strategic use of privilege.” As far as our interactions with the police, this concept is relevant. The vast majority of participants in Stop the #FERCus were of European descent. This influenced how the police reacted to us, although it wasn’t just the white skin of most of us. It was also our level of organization, our nonviolent discipline (which, from all I saw and heard, was 100 percent effective) and our willingness to talk in a respectful if upfront way with the police when we needed to. It is no small thing that we were able to manifest this positive culture throughout 10 very intense and often stressful days of pretty kick-ass actions. They’re connected; without that culture of support and love, we would not have maintained the unity and organic discipline which we did.
And so we built community to build people’s power, and we showed that power. FERC employees who couldn’t get in the building or who stayed away felt it. So did the Federal Protective Services police who couldn’t help but smile when they saw the FERC-GAS-GO-ROUND and heard the new verses to “pop goes the weasel” with the final line being, “FERC is the weasel.” So did NPR management whose response to our loud flooding of their lobby was to send police to threaten us with immediate arrest if we didn’t immediately leave. So did the employees at the American Natural Gas Alliance who moved away from their desks and left a lone guy to keep saying, “you have to leave,” in response to our statements and our chants. Then there is the unknown person who was supportive of what we were doing who ended up by accident in the elevator with our ANGA “delegation” who used his electronic key to allow our delegation to get into ANGA’s 8th floor office.
Beyond Extreme Energy is feeling its power right now, and as we said loudly to anybody inside the FERC building who was there on our last day, “we’ll be back.” In our final debrief Friday on the sidewalk across from FERC, a number of ideas about what we should be doing going forward were put forward. We will be reaching out to frontline groups, BXE endorsers and other allies as we figure out next steps. We will be considering how we might relate to several initiatives that have been undertaken for actions in late summer and fall in the lead-up to the UN Climate Conference in Paris in December. We welcome input and look forward to figuring out together our next steps to Stop the #FERCus and build a strong climate justice movement. Si, se puede!
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Last week at the monthly meeting of the five Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, DC, a group of 20 Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) activists took action. Two people, myself and Ellen Taylor, attempted to read the statement below just before the meeting began, but as Ellen began to speak FERC security moved on the two of us and moved us out of the room and out the front door of the building.
But BXE wasn’t done.
Protesters removed, one carried out, after disrupting @FERC commissioners meeting over #CovePoint #LNG exports in DC. pic.twitter.com/NqKfDovLae
— M. Scott Mahaskey (@smahaskey) March 19, 2015
Several minutes later, right after the pledge of allegiance, a dozen other red-shirted BXE’ers scrambled from their seats up to the front of the room, right next to the table where the commissioners sit. They sat down, locked arms and began chanting, “Stop construction at Cove Point.” As the FERC Commissioners hastily got up and left the room, the people chanting were also moved by security.
When we were all back together outside the front of the building, we walked down to the part of the building closest to where the meeting was being held and chanted once more for several minutes as loudly as we could.
The statement below explains why we took this action.
As has been true for every one since their November, 2014 meeting, we will be at their April meeting and then, in very large numbers, at the one on May 21, the first day of our nine days of action and getting organized in DC.
Beyond Extreme Energy statement at March 19, 2015 FERC Commissioners Meeting
Here we are again—Beyond Extreme Energy at your monthly meeting. We are here about the permit you granted on Sept. 29 last year to Dominion to build facilities for the liquefaction and export of natural gas at Cove Point in Lusby, Maryland.
On Oct. 15 FERC’s granting of this permit was appealed administratively, as it was necessary to do. By then Dominion had begun construction of their planned LNG export terminal, with FERC’s approval and blessing, and they have been doing so ever since.
By law, you were required to answer the administrative appeal within a month. You did so by giving yourself an extension of time to give an answer to this appeal, as you have done many, many times with other gas infrastructure expansion projects. And as has been true for those projects, it is now going on half a year of your coming to a decision on this appeal, and Dominion just keeps building and building.
As you know, the Cove Point residents cannot go to court to challenge the granting of this permit until you rule on the appeal. You also know that, to the best of our knowledge, you have rarely, if ever, in recent years certainly, decided to overturn your initial granting of a FERC gas infrastructure expansion permit.
And by the way, this issue was raised almost two years ago in a meeting Ted Glick took part in with then-Chair Jon Wellinghoff, and it was raised in meetings with Chair LaFleur last June and just two weeks ago, and nothing has changed.
Efforts have been made by the use of peaceful, nonviolent direct action at the construction sites to address this situation; 27 people who took action in this way last November and December were convicted and sentenced last month, and just last week they received a nasty letter from Dominion telling them that if they step onto Dominion property anywhere in the USA, they could face criminal prosecution.
You are continuing to allow Dominion to proceed with construction while simultaneously asking for a lot of new information from them—why didn’t you ask for this before you granted the permit in the first place? You are taking months to rule on local residents’ request for a rehearing. You are refusing to rule on a request from their legal team to stay all construction while FERC considers their request for a rehearing. The combined result of this is that Dominion gets to construct for many months before the case gets heard before the Court of Appeals. As has been true with other projects, that could make for a prejudicial situation when it finally gets into court.
We are here to demand that you do what is right by the people of Lusby, Md. and order Dominion to stop construction. We demand that you amend your agenda for this meeting to include that item. FERC, stop construction at Cove Point!
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Every year around Earth Day, a new crop of corporate greenwashing tends to spring up with the flowers. In the Mid-Atlantic region, and Virginia in particular, one of the biggest culprits is Richmond-based Dominion Power.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network has launched a new website to expose the truth behind Dominion Power's greenwashing campaign. Photo credit: Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Every year around Earth Day, Dominion funds slick ads, community projects like tree-plantings, outdoor festivals and more to paint itself as a “green” and “sustainable” company.
You might know of Dominion Resources as the company pushing the massive liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point in southern Maryland, or the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline to carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina.
But did you know that Dominion is also the largest electric utility in Virginia, the state’s number one emitter of the heat-trapping pollution wrecking our climate and the number one corporate donor to state politicians?
For far too long, Dominion has used its power to rig the system against local, clean energy solutions and for costly fossil fuel projects, and Virginians are paying a high price as a result. Instead of embracing the future of an electric grid powered by rooftop solar panels on customers’ homes and wind turbines spinning off Virginia’s coast, Dominion is currently investing in a massive build-out of pipelines and power plants to carry and burn fracked natural gas.
We call Dominion’s deliberate misleading of the public “greenwashing.” This year in particular, we expect Dominion to churn out more greenwashing than ever before—because the company is also facing more public scrutiny and protests over its dirty energy projects than we’ve seen before. That's the good news.
You know there’s a serious image problem when sixth graders and senior citizens alike are standing up at county meetings to decry Dominion’s 550-mile pipeline for fracked gas; when riverkeepers are joining with history buffs to challenge Dominion’s massive proposed transmission lines over Jamestown; and when editorial writers across the state are hammering the company’s anti-consumer “power politics.”
With so much opposition brewing, particularly in response to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, we’re seeing cracks open up in Dominion’s tightly controlled corporate image. We’re also seeing Dominion’s tight grasp over our democracy get renewed exposure and criticism in the media.
When Dominion put forward legislation in the 2015 General Assembly to partially halt state oversight of its electric rates, news stories zeroed in on Dominion’s “unrivaled political power” over the General Assembly. Following fierce public backlash, legislators ended up amending the bill to lay the groundwork for 400 megawatts of new utility-scale solar in Virginia and to create new energy efficiency pilot programs.
We know by exposing the truth, we begin to take the power back from Dominion. And nothing worries Dominion more than losing its power—over our energy system and over our democracy.
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