Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence
By Julia Conley
As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.
Only 400 right whales are left in existence, and fewer than 250 of them are mature, leading the IUCN to drop its "endangered" classification for the whale and add it to its "critically endangered" Red List.
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NOAA has access to extensive science showing the danger in which humans have placed the whales, but internal emails show the agency aimed to put a positive spin on the outlook for the creatures.
Emails from February 2020 show career scientific staff writing that political officials within the agency were "freaked out" at the notion of the press reporting on Dragon, a female right whale who has not been seen in months and is presumed dead.
"But they'd be all over another calf sighting," NOAA Fisheries biologist Tim Cole wrote.
"Ah, I see. They only want to share the good news, not the bad," replied Allison Henry, another scientist at the agency.
According to PEER, 100% of North Atlantic right whale fatalities are caused by boats striking them and by entanglements in fishing gear.
"The North Atlantic right whale is the world's first large whale species nearing extinction," said PEER science policy director Kyla Bennett. "Its extinction is entirely preventable. NOAA has powerful tools to protect the North Atlantic right whale, but it is choosing not to use them. In this case, NOAA is choosing extinction."
In addition to fishing boats and 900,000 vertical lines that right whales are forced to navigate during lobster season, the whales' wellbeing is threatened by seismic airgun blasts conducted by oil and gas companies for offshore drilling.
In March, Democracy Forward called on the inspector general of the U.S. Commerce Department to investigate whether political appointees at NOAA had altered career scientists' proposed conservation measures regarding the blasts.
Reports that appointees modified scientists' warnings "raise troubling questions about whether political appointees at NOAA violated federal law and NOAA's own Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity, which mandates that in 'no circumstance may any NOAA official ask or direct Federal scientists or other NOAA employees to suppress or alter scientific findings,'" Democracy Forward said.
Democracy Forward demanded an investigation by the U.S. Commerce Department's inspector general.
"In reportedly bowing to political pressure and altering required scientific analysis in the policymaking process, NOAA appointees may have violated federal law and NOAA's own regulations, and jeopardized the very survival of the North Atlantic right whale," said Democracy Forward senior counsel Michael Martinez at the time. "The Trump administration's practice of injecting politics into the scientific decision-making process risks NOAA's credibility as a fact and science-driven agency. An investigation is warranted."
PEER called for a similar probe in 2019 when the National Marine Fisheries Service reportedly omitted scientific research about endangerment in its reporting on the right whale, but neither investigation has been completed.
NOAA has also failed to aggressively restrict the activities of fishing boats even when the agency is aware of right whales in a particular offshore area, PEER said Thursday.
In June, one of just 10 calves born this season was struck by a boat and killed off the coast of New Jersey, where officials had not issued a speed warning to vessels. Warnings are only issued when at least three right whales are known to be in an area.
"At the very least, NOAA must alert vessels when any right whale is in the area of shipping lanes," Bennett said.
The effects of NOAA's negligence on right whales has been compounded by President Donald Trump's June executive order permitting commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, said the Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday.
"The United States and Canada must do more to protect whales from speeding ships and slow, painful deaths in fishing gear," said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's oceans program. "We should be closing more right whale habitat to fishing, speeding the transition to ropeless gear and requiring large ships to slow down. These are some common-sense measures both U.S. and Canadian officials should adopt to save these beautiful whales."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Now, some of them are suing to stop him and preserve the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which protects 5,000 square miles of unique ocean habitat off Cape Cod.
"Trump has once again eliminated critical natural resource protections on a whim, and with no legal authority," Brad Campbell, president of the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), said in a press release announcing his organization's decision to sue. "This lawless act upends over a century of practice by presidents of both parties, and puts all national monuments on the block for the highest political bidder."
President Trump illegally gutted protections for New England’s marine monument. We’ll see him in court.… https://t.co/UWgRF6P7q8— Conservation Law Foundation (@Conservation Law Foundation)1592511911.0
The monument was created by President Barack Obama in 2016 using the Antiquities Act, CLF said. It protects an estimated 54 species of deep sea coral and hundreds of other marine animals, including endangered species like North Atlantic right whales and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, The Boston Globe reported. It is also home to four underwater mountains and three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon.
The commercial fishing industry had argued that the creation of the monument was an overreach of federal authority that hurt livelihoods. Before its formation, fisherman said as many as 80 boats fished the area.
"President Obama swept aside our public, science-based fishery management process with the stroke of a pen," Bob Vanasse, executive director of fishermen lobby group Saving Seafood, told The Boston Globe. "That was a mistake, and whatever anyone thinks about President Trump is irrelevant."
But, in a lawsuit filed in Washington, DC Wednesday, CLF, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Natural Resources Defense Council argued that Trump's reversal was the overreach: A president may use the Antiquities Act to designate a monument, but only Congress can undo protections.
"Trump's order was illegal because he can't just declare commercial fishing is allowed in a protected marine monument," CBD attorney Kristen Monsell said in a press release. "The Seamounts monument was created to permanently safeguard this amazing ecosystem and vulnerable species like the endangered sperm whale. Presidents can't be allowed to gut protections by decree as a favor to commercial fishermen."
The Center and allies just filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump's executive order allowing commercial fishin… https://t.co/6vr6gIG7v4— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1592423586.0
CBD pointed out that, before Trump reversed the commercial fishing ban, courts had twice rejected the industry's attempt to challenge it.
Conservation groups also argue that the monument ultimately protects commercial fisheries by preserving the species that support them, according to The Boston Globe.
Further, not all business interests oppose the monument. Zack Klyver, a Maine marine scientist who has led more than 600,000 people on whale watching tours with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, has also joined the suit.
"I spend lots of time on the water so I know how important it is to protect this marine monument. My business depends on a healthy ocean," Klyver, who has also co-founded ocean conservation company Blue Planet Strategies, said in the CBD release. "Trump's attack on New England's prized marine monument is one I take personally. We need to protect our oceans and their abundance of marine life for future generations to experience."
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
"We're opening it today," Trump said during a roundtable talk in Maine with commercial fishermen and the state's former governor Paul LePage. "What reason did he have for closing 5,000 miles? That's a lot of miles. Five thousand square miles is a lot. He didn't have a reason, in my opinion."
The reason behind the establishment of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016, conservation groups hastened to point out, was to shield endangered species and their ecosystem from harmful intrusion and permanent damage by commercial interests.
Fishing industry interests challenged former President Barack Obama's designation of the marine monument but were rebuffed in federal court last year.
"Opening up the nation's only marine national monument in the Atlantic will help no one but a handful of fishers while risking irreparable damage to the marine wildlife that have no other fully protected areas off our eastern seaboard," said Bob Dreher, senior vice president of Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife. "Ancient and slow-growing deep sea corals, endangered large whales and sea turtles, and an incredible array of fish, seabirds, sharks, dolphins, and other wildlife—these are the species and habitats that will pay the price."
During the roundtable discussion Friday, Trump said "I love that" when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt—a former oil and mining lobbyist—informed the president that his proclamation is effectively "taking down a 'no fishing' sign" in the Atlantic Ocean.
"The minute you sign it, we will begin planning," Bernhardt said.
Trump's order Friday is just the latest move the president has taken to gut environmental protections under the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic and a nationwide uprising over police brutality. On Thursday, as Common Dreams reported, Trump signed an executive order allowing federal agencies to waive environmental rules to speed approval of energy projects like oil pipelines.
Trump just opened up a marine sanctuary to commercial fishing, undermining protections for endangered whales, sea t… https://t.co/H3gTJU3oEQ— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1591407001.0
Brad Sewell, senior director of oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement that commercial fishing "poses a range of threats, such as harm to deep-sea corals from heavy fishing gear, and entanglement of bycatch and marine mammals."
Sewell said NRDC is prepared to take legal action against the Trump administration to "protect these marine treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries."
"These fragile, extraordinary ocean areas are full of thousand-year-old corals, endangered whales, and other precious marine life," said Sewell. "They belong to all Americans, and they are held in trust for future generations."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Larry Brand
Millions of gallons of water laced with fertilizer ingredients are being pumped into Florida's Tampa Bay from a leaking reservoir at an abandoned phosphate plant at Piney Point. As the water spreads into the bay, it carries phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that under the right conditions can fuel dangerous algae blooms that can suffocate sea grass beds and kill fish, dolphins and manatees.
It's the kind of risk no one wants to see, but officials believed the other options were worse.
About 300 homes sit downstream from the 480-million-gallon reservoir, which began leaking in late March 2021. State officials determined that pumping out the water was the only way to prevent the reservoir's walls from collapsing. They decided the safest location for all that water would be out through Port Manatee and into the bay.
Florida's coast is dotted with fragile marine sanctuaries and sea grass beds that help nurture the state's thriving marine and tourism economy. Those near Port Manatee now face a risk of algal blooms over the next few weeks. Once algae blooms get started, little can be done to clean them up.
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is just one source of nutrients that can fuel dangerous algae blooms, which I study as a marine biologist. The sugarcane industry, cattle ranches, dairy farms and citrus groves all release nutrients that often flow into rivers and eventually into bays and the ocean. Sewage is another problem – Miami and Fort Lauderdale, for example, have old sewage treatment systems with frequent pipe breaks that leak sewage into canals and coastal waters.
Red tide in recent years has killed large numbers of Florida's manatees, a threatened species. David Hinkel/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Problem With Algae Blooms
Just down the coast from Port Manatee, the next three counties to the south have had algae blooms in recent weeks, including red tide, which produces a neurotoxin that feels like pepper spray if you breathe it in. Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate, is the organism in red tide and produces the toxin.
This part of Florida's Gulf Coast is a hot spot for red tide, often fueled by agricultural runoff. A persistent red tide in 2017 and 2018 killed at least 177 manatees and left a trail of dead fish along the coast and into Tampa Bay. If the coastal currents carry today's red tide father north and into Tampa Bay, the toxic algae could thrive on the nutrients from Piney Point.
A map shows red tide reports just south of Tampa Bay. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Even blooms that are not toxic are still dangerous to ecosystems. They cloud the water, cutting off light and killing the plants below. A large enough bloom can also reduce oxygen in the water. A lack of oxygen can kill off everything in the water, including the fish.
This part of Florida has extensive sea grass meadows, about 2.2 million acres (8.9 billion square meters) in all, which are important habitat for lots of species and serve as nurseries for shrimp, crabs and fish. Scientists have argued that sea grass is also a major carbon sink – the grass sucks up carbon and pumps it down into the sediments.
Once the nutrients are in a large body of water, there isn't much that can be done to stop algae growth. Killing the algae would only release the nutrients again, putting the bay back where it started. Algae blooms can remain a problem for years, finally declining when a predator population develops to eats them, a viral disease spreads through the bloom or strong currents and mixing disperse the bloom.
Agriculture Runoff Poses Risks to Marine Life
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is a large source of nutrient-rich waste. On average, more than 5 tons of phosphogypsum waste are produced for every ton of phosphoric acid created for fertilizer. In Florida, that adds up to over 1 billion tons of radioactive waste material that can't be used, so it's stacked up and turned into reservoirs like the one now leaking at Piney Point.
The reservoirs are obvious in satellite photos of the region, and they can be highly acidic. To get the phosphate out of the minerals, the industry uses sulfuric acid, and it leaves behind a highly acid wastewater. There have been at least two cases where it ate through the limestone below a reservoir, creating huge sinkholes hundreds of feet deep and draining wastewater into the aquifer.
Since saltwater had previously been pumped into the Piney Point reservoir, acidity is less of an issue. That's because the seawater would buffer the pH. There is some radioactivity, but only slightly above regulatory standards, according to state Department of Environmental Protection, and probably not much of a health hazard.
But the nutrients are a risk. In 2004, water releases from the Piney Point reservoir contributed to an algae bloom in Bishop Harbor, just south of the current release site. In 2011, it released over 170 million gallons into Bishop Harbor again after a liner broke.
Piney Point: Florida's Leaking Reservoir
Map: The Conversation/CC-BY-ND
Another significant source of algae-feeding nutrients is agriculture, particularly cattle ranching and the sugarcane industry. Nutrient runoff from cattle ranches and dairy farms north of Lake Okeechobee end up in the lake. South of the lake, much of the northern third of the Everglades was converted to sugarcane farms, and those fields back-pumped runoff into the lake for decades until the state started cracking down in the 1980s. Their legacy nutrients are still in the lake.
The nutrient-rich water in the lake then pours down the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers, south of Tampa. That's likely feeding the current red tide off the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.
When water from the Everglades region's agriculture is pumped south instead, huge blooms tend to appear in Florida Bay at the southern tip of the state. Some scientists believe it may be damaging coral reefs there, though there's debate about it. During times that flow of water from the farms increased, reefs throughout the Florida Keys have been harmed. Those reefs have become overgrown with algae.
With the current red tide, the coastal currents have carried it north as far as Sarasota already. If they carry it farther north, it will run into the Piney Point area.
Larry Brand is a Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology, University of Miami.
Disclosure statement: Larry Brand has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, National Park Service, Department of Energy, Office of Naval Research, Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Health, Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management, Cove Point Foundation, and Hoover Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Jake Johnson
President Donald Trump issued an executive order late Thursday that environmentalists warned will accelerate the corporate exploitation of oceans by relaxing regulations on and streamlining the construction of industrial offshore aquaculture facilities, which critics deride as "floating factory farms" that pump pollution and diseases into public waters.
The Don't Cage Our Ocean Coalition, which was formed to oppose ocean industrial fish farming, said in a statement that Trump's Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth "mandates federal agencies to craft a program for rapid authorization of industrial offshore aquaculture facilities, which use giant floating cages to cultivate finfish, allowing toxic pollution to flow into open waters."
Rosanna Marie Neil, policy counsel for Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a member of the coalition, said the Trump White House is "supporting the corporate takeover of our oceans while they hope we aren't paying attention."
Environmental attorney Marianne Cufone similarly accused Trump of exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to "push through dangerous short-cuts to regulatory processes, while communities struggle to stay healthy, pay rent, and put food on the table."
"The federal government should strengthen local food security during this health crisis by supporting sustainable seafood," said Cufone, "rather than allowing corporations to pollute the ecosystems we depend on."
BREAKING: In the middle of a public health pandemic, Trump just issued an executive order to bolster aquaculture --… https://t.co/u18OynL4wg— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1588887527.0
Trump is exploiting a public health crisis to help an industry known for pumping diseases & antibiotics into oceans… https://t.co/itIuFwjMtw— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1588887713.0
Trump's executive order Thursday was just the latest step the president has taken amid the coronavirus pandemic to loosen regulations on polluting industries. In late March, as Common Dreams reported, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping suspension of pollution regulations and empowered the fossil fuel industry to police itself indefinitely.
Environmental groups sued the EPA over the move, which they condemned as a "free pass for polluters."
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Thursday, White House advisers Joe Grogan and Peter Navarro touted Trump's aquaculture executive order as a step toward making the U.S. "the world's seafood superpower."
"President Trump's executive order creates a task force to enact policies that encourage fair and reciprocal trade for America's seafood industry, and strengthens enforcement of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing," Grogan and Navarro wrote.
But environmentalists cautioned that the order simply hands U.S. mega-corporations more power to plunder oceans without oversight, imperiling local fishing communities and the health of public waters.
"It is outrageous and unethical for the federal government to use the current public health crisis to bolster this polluting industry," Hallie Templeton, senior oceans campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "Now is the time to prioritize our health, security, sustainable food systems, and American farmers and fishermen, not corporations."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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In 2017 the Trump administration altered the interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) arguing that it only prohibited the direct hunting or killing of birds, not unintended deaths from wind turbines or oil spills, for example, EcoWatch reported at the time.
The change "overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity," Interior Spokesperson Tyler Cherry told The Associated Press.
Obama U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe warned that the change could lead to billions of bird deaths in subsequent decades, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Before Monday's reversal of this interpretation by Biden's Department of the Interior, the Trump ruling had already encountered legal challenges. In August, a New York federal judge deemed the new interpretation to be invalid.
"It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime," U.S. District Judge Valorie Caproni wrote in her decision. "That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence."
The Trump administration moved forward despite the decision, and finalized the rollback during its last weeks in power.
However, Biden's administration delayed the new rule from taking effect and reopened it for public comments, HuffPost reported. Now that it has been jettisoned, Cherry said a replacement rule would be forthcoming.
"The department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common-sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry," Cherry told Courthouse News Service.
The 1918 MBTA resulted from overhunting and poaching of migratory birds, The Associated Press reported. The policy makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, kill, capture or possess migratory birds or their parts without a permit, HuffPost explained. Since the 1970s, the act has also been used to penalize companies when their actions accidentally harm birds.
For example, the act helped win a $100 million settlement from BP after the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed about 100,000 birds, The Associated Press reported.
It's estimated that around 460 million to 1.4 billion birds die every year from human-made causes, including oil pits and glass buildings. Between 2010 and 2018, civil and criminal enforcement cases against companies led to $5.8 million in fines, excluding the BP settlement. However, most of those cases did not lead to criminal prosecutions since many companies were willing to implement bird protections.
While industry groups backed the Trump rollback, they also did not oppose the Biden reversal.
"We are committed to working with the Biden administration throughout their rulemaking process in support of policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty," Amy Emmert, American Petroleum Institute senior policy advisor, told Courthouse News Service.
Conservation groups said this general atmosphere of cooperation made the Trump rollback unwarranted.
"There really had been a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of consensus about what best management practices looked like for most major industries," Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president with the Audubon Society, told The Associated Press. "There was a lot of common ground, which is why the moves from the last administration were so unnecessary."
By Jon Queally
Defenders of ocean habitats celebrated Friday after a federal court upheld a lower court ruling defending the right of the U.S. executive branch to set aside marine areas as national monuments.
Citing the authority found under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish marine national monuments, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia sided against a lawsuit brought by large fishing industry interests that challenged President Barack Obama's designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which encompasses 4,913 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean off the nation's northeast coast, as a protected area.
Conservation groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF)—which had intervened in the case—applauded the court's ruling.
"Today's decision is a clear victory for our oceans and for the Atlantic's only marine national monument," said Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel at CLF. "This decision upholds protections for one of the most fragile and scientifically important areas in the North Atlantic from destructive activities like oil drilling and industrial fishing. Safeguarding the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts ensures that we are leaving a proud legacy for the people of New England."
Victory for the ocean: Today's US Appeals Court decision upheld protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, keeping endangered species and rare corals safe from oil drilling, industrial fishing, and other harms. https://t.co/Af8lQ4Ehma— Conservation Law Foundation (@CLF) December 27, 2019
Kate Desormeau, senior attorney for the NRDC, also celebrated the ruling as a victory.
"Like one of America's very first national monuments, the Grand Canyon, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is a natural treasure," Desormaeu said in a statement. "It provides habitat for a wide range of species, from endangered whales to Atlantic puffins to centuries-old deep-sea corals."
The court's decision, she added, "affirms that presidents have the authority to protect marine areas like this for the benefit of current and future generations. Preserving ocean areas like this one will be absolutely key to ensuring the resilience of our oceans in a changing climate."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Ajit Niranjan
It makes up the concrete of our houses, the tarmac of our roads, the glass in our windows and the silicon chips in our phones.
But sand, a building block of modern life that sits at the heart of a destructive and sometimes illegal industry, is in increasingly short supply — and nobody knows how soon it will run out.
Sand is the most used material on the planet but also one of the least well monitored. Unlike most other commodities, policymakers only have rough estimates of how much of it is used each year. A landmark report from the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in 2019 had to rely on data for cement — which sand and gravel are mixed with to make concrete — to land on a ballpark figure of 50 billion tons.
Researchers say that's more sand than can be responsibly used each year, even though more sand can be made by crushing rocks. In some regions, the shortages have already fueled targeted killings and the destruction of habitats.
"The nature of the crisis is we don't understand this material well enough," said Louise Gallagher from the Global Sand Observatory in Geneva, who co-authored the report. "We don't understand the impacts enough of where we're taking it from. Sometimes we don't even know where it's coming from, how much is coming out of rivers. We don't know. We just don't know."
What experts do know, though, is that extracting sand in unparalleled quantities comes at a growing cost to people and the planet.
Sand mining destroys habitats, dirties rivers and erodes beaches, many of which are already losing ground to rising sea levels. When miners dig out layers of sand, riverbanks become less stable. The pollution and acidity can kill fish and leave less water for people and crops. The problem is made worse when dams upstream prevent sediments from replenishing the river.
"It has so many other impacts that are not taken into consideration," said Kiran Pereira, an independent researcher who has written a book on solutions to the sand crisis. "It's definitely not reflected in the cost of sand."
Worse, much of the impact may not be immediately visible, which makes it hard to know exactly how bad it is, said Stephen Edwards, who leads research on extractive industries at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). "It certainly is something that is rising to a level that we really need to be paying closer attention to."
According to an article published in the journal Nature in 2019, sand mining has helped push fish-eating gharial crocodiles in the Ganges river to the brink of extinction — fewer than 250 adults remain in the wild — and destabilized riverbanks in the Mekong whose collapse could force half a million people from their homes.
One reason the damage from mining has been ignored is that although sand is in objects all around us, it's "hidden in plain sight," said Chris Hackney, a geographer at the University of Newcastle in the UK, who studies the issue and co-authored the Nature article. "Ask people to name the most important commodity on the planet and sand is probably not the one that gets mentioned."
Sand shortages even sound counterintuitive. Although one-third of the Earth's land surface is classified as desert, much of it sandy, Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia import sand from as far away as Canada and Australia. The 830m-tall Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, was built using imports from the other side of the world.
This is because desert sand holds little value for the construction industry.
When winds blow over dunes, they shape sand particles into spheres. These round balls have less grip than the jagged grains found on riverbeds, beaches and sea floors, which have the friction needed to make concrete strong.
"As I grew up in Bangalore, I constantly read reports about the rivers being decimated due to sand mining," said Pereira, the researcher, adding that some of her earliest memories involve waking up at 2:00 a.m. to fetch water from a crowded public tap. "At the same time, I remember seeing hundreds and hundreds of trucks filled with sand flying up and down the roads, supplying all the construction sites."
Most of the demand comes from China, which made more cement in the three years from 2011 to 2014 than the U.S. did in the entire last century. India, the next-biggest cement producer, is projected to overtake China as the world's most populous country by 2027.
As people across Asia and Africa move to cities and the world population swells to 10 billion people by the middle of the century, demand for sand is projected to keep rising.
And it's not just for making concrete. In 2011, 20 million cubic meters of sand was dredged from the sea floor on the coasts of the Netherlands to form a natural barrier protecting against erosion and climate change. Over the last half century Singapore has built artificial islands that have increased its land mass by a quarter using sand imported from Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Dubai's artificial Palm Islands, visible from space, were made with sand dredged from the bottom of the Persian Gulf.
And then there's the human cost.
As sand prices have risen, police officers in countries from South Africa to Mexico have kept reporting dead bodies at the hands of miners.
Nowhere is the violence worse than in India, home to the world's deadliest "sand mafias." Criminal gangs there have burned journalists alive, hacked activists to death and run over police officers with trucks. A report last year from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, an environmental group based in Delhi, counted 193 people who died through illegal sand mining in India over the last two years. The main causes of death were poor working conditions, violence and accidents.
While some miners dive to the bottom of rivers hundreds of times a day without protective clothing, and there are reports of child labor from India to Uganda, their employers are rarely held accountable.
That partly changed in late February, when a special court in Delhi jailed the boss of India's largest sand mining company, V.V. Minerals, and a former director of the environment ministry for bribery. The mining baron, who has denied allegations of illegal sand mining that stretch back decades, had been caught paying the university tuition fees of an official's son in exchange for an environmental clearance, in a case that one local news outlet compared to notorious American mobster Al Capone being jailed for tax violations.
To solve the sand crisis, experts say world leaders need to better regulate the industry and enforce laws against corruption, as well as monitoring global sand production. They would need to cut demand for sand by finding alternatives to concrete and building more efficiently with materials like timber. The waste from demolished buildings could be reused as aggregate for roads, for instance.
Some researchers are exploring ways to make the world's abundant desert sand suitable for building, by heating and crushing the grains, and are now looking to make the processes cheap enough to be practical.
"Our ability to construct does not depend on our need for sand," said Pereira. "We can decouple these two and still build and allow for human prosperity without destroying our ecosystem."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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In a possible victory for UK oceans, four key areas of the seabed off England may soon be off-limits to bottom-trawlers.
Using post-Brexit powers to protect marine life, the Marine Management Organization will consult on proposed bylaws to prohibit vessels from engaging in bottom trawling in four of England's Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), The Guardian reported. The consultation runs through March 28, 2021, BBC reported.
This highly destructive form of fishing involves dragging weighted nets along the seabed in search of scallops, sand eels, sole, cod, crab and other bottom-dwelling animals, reported BBC. Trawling is particularly damaging to bottom ecosystems because it bulldozes sensitive corals, invertebrates and animals, catching them or running them over in search of target fish species.
According to NOAA, bottom trawling accounts for roughly one-quarter of global marine fisheries landings. The fishing method has the potential to temporarily or permanently alter seafloor habitats, and these consequences can cascade through the entire ecosystem, the report found. NOAA noted that the disturbances can be physical and chemical and reduce the abundance, diversity and productivity of life on the ocean bottom.
"These changes in turn can affect the commercially important fish, and fishing communities, that are supported by the ecosystem," NOAA found.
The four areas under consultation include Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation, Canyons Marine Conservation Zone, South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone and Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation. The protected areas will cover 14,000 sq km, reported Dive Magazine. While currently protected as MPAs, a lack of enforcement and policing has led to overfishing in all four, reported Oceanographic.
Under the proposed bylaws, the UK government will completely ban trawling at two sites and partially stop it at the other two, reported BBC. Dredging, another destructive fishing technique, will also be prohibited at the first two sites.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, a specialist in MPAs at the Marine Conservation Society, said, "It is a really big day for Britain's seas, where bottom trawling has degraded the environment for 100 years. It's the start of us having a pride in our seas again and it makes my job worthwhile," The Guardian reported.
The move is the latest UK effort to establish a "blue belt" of MPAs around its seas. So far, the UK's policies protect 38 percent of its waters, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Dive Magazine.
"Now that we have left the [EU's] common fisheries policy, we are able to deliver on our commitment to achieve a healthy, thriving and sustainable marine environment," Eustice added.
The fishing lobby has been critical of the move, calling the proposals a sledgehammer to an industry already suffering from post-Brexit export delays of fish and shellfish, The Guardian reported.
Supporters say the action is long overdue and hope it will help these once-vibrant areas recover. Still, they emphasize that more action is needed, and soon.
A 2021 report by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) called Marine unProtected Areas found that bottom trawling takes place in 98 percent of the UK's offshore MPAs. MCS likened trawling in a protected area to "bulldozing a national park." As a result, the organization has called for a ban on bottom trawling in all protected areas.
"Action in these four sites is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale needed to solve the crisis facing our oceans," Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, told The Guardian. "This process shows that the government is prepared to use its new Brexit powers to properly protect our seas."
However, "If the government chooses to follow this consultation approach for a handful of marine protected areas at a time, it will be many years before the entire network is properly protected. Our oceans can't wait that long," Thorne cautioned.
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By Douglas McCauley
This article is part of The Davos Agenda.
The year 2050 has been predicted by some to be a bleak year for the ocean. Experts say that by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the sea, or perhaps only plastic left. Others say 90% of our coral reefs may be dead, waves of mass marine extinction may be unleashed, and our seas may be left overheated, acidified and lacking oxygen.
It is easy to forget that 2050 is not that far off. Kids we see building sandcastles on the beach today might be gaining traction in their jobs and perhaps starting their own families. The possibility that our children may inherit from us such a broken and diminished ocean is hard to accept.
Such a future, however, is not yet written in stone. A healthier, more whole, and maybe even more profitable future ocean may still be within reach – at least for a little while.
Here are 10 steps that could take us towards a more desirable ocean future:
1. Freeze the warming. Stopping climate change is the hardest but most important step we can take for ocean health. It is good news to have the US back in the Paris Agreement. However, we now need ambitious national commitments to achieve carbon neutrality from all signatories of the Agreement. Recent actions by China, the EU, Japan and the UK are also positive.
2. Walk the talk. We need to make these carbon neutrality commitments real. This will require massive new investment in renewable energy sources, including some more experimental solutions (such as fusion), plus potentially looking with open minds into making older low-carbon energy solutions safer and more viable (such as traditional nuclear). We need to fast-track the development of sustainable next-generation batteries to store this energy intelligently across our grids. This includes major needs for marine energy infrastructure. A future, for example, with electrified ports and low-emission ships would help eliminate the epidemic of deafening ocean noise, address environmental injustices associated with pollution in ports, make oil spills a thing of the past, and significantly reduce global emissions.
A NASA model showing CO2 (the yellow/red swirls) moving across the globe.
3. Blue revolution. The "green revolution" – a massive ramping up of food production on land in the 1950s – has belatedly reached the sea. Ocean farming, or aquaculture, has increased by more than 1,000% in the ocean recently. The green revolution was sloppily executed, and the first baby steps of the blue revolution have included similar stumbles: chemical pollution, genetic pollution and habitat destruction. But the blue revolution can still clean up its act. Farming in the right places, with the right species, and the right practices could make aquaculture a win for human and environmental health. Ocean food research (into plant-based and cell-based seafood, for example) could also help us meet growing demand for seafood sustainably.
4. 30 x 30. Parks protect some of our most important chunks of nature on land – our Yellowstones and Serengetis. We are vastly behind setting up parks in the sea. We need to follow through on calls to protect 30% of our ocean by 2030. This must be as much about quality as quantity. We need to use intelligent planning algorithms and the intelligence of local and indigenous people to select the very best 30% of the sea to protect. Then the hard work begins. We must develop and deploy new technology to monitor and protect the living assets we put in these ocean savings accounts.
5. The other 70%. An ocean industrial revolution is beginning. Human industry is growing at exponential rates in the sea. Even if we succeed in protecting 30% of the ocean, we must still intelligently zone and manage this accelerated anthropogenic growth in the majority of our unprotected ocean. We largely missed that boat on land. Proactive steps to sustainably onboard an ocean industrial revolution include responsibly managing wild capture fisheries (and making more money in the process), carefully zoning what marine industries go where, eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies, and coming to grips with the fact that some new marine industries, like ocean mining, are simply too dangerous to be allowed into the ocean.
6. Big cracks in the sea. Most of the ocean belongs to us all. This includes the two-thirds of the ocean in the high seas that lies beyond all nations' ocean borders and the marine regions surrounding Antarctica. Protection of biodiversity and equitable sharing of resources has slipped through antiquated governance gaps in these international ocean spaces. But a proposed new UN Treaty for high seas biodiversity – and negotiations to sustainably manage and protect Antarctic waters could help.
7. End plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is the ocean's new cancer. We need to ban unnecessary plastics and tax other single use plastics, finally making them valuable materials we want to recover and helping to pay for the full cost of their environmental impacts. We need research and tech to prevent plastics from leaking into the sea, to overhaul our recycling systems, and to design economically viable alternatives to plastics. This progress may be accelerated by a proposed international 'Paris Agreement' for plastic pollution.
8. Land. We can help the ocean by first setting a few things right on land. We must massively increase our ambition to save our forests, thus locking up a huge chunk of carbon dioxide. We need to stop wastefully spilling megatons of costly fertilizers into rivers that are creating hundreds of marine dead zones. Precision agriculture that optimizes fertilizer use, coupled with other farming reform practices can help.
An algal bloom seen in Lake St. Clair, between Michigan and Ontario, in 2015. NASA
9. Wired ocean. We need more ocean data. This includes new tech to detect illegal fishing and connect sustainable fishers to consumers. We need tech to help endangered marine wildlife co-exist with ocean industry and fleets of environmental sensors above and below the water to better study our rapidly changing ocean.
10. Ocean equity. To build a healthy ocean, we must ensure all people have a fair stake in its success and that they are no longer unevenly harmed by ocean health risks. The fate of the ocean will affect people in all communities. Thus, we need people from all communities in ocean science, management, and policy.
Fulfilling the apocalyptic predictions for a 2050 ocean will be all too easy. Altering that ocean future may be one of the hardest things we've ever collectively achieved. But the consequences of inaction will be even harder to shoulder – for us and our ocean.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Deborah Moore, Michael Simon and Darryl Knudsen
There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.
The landmark agreement, which was finalized in November 2020 between farmers, tribes and dam owners, will finally bring down four aging, inefficient dams along the Klamath River in the Pacific Northwest. This is an important step in restoring historic salmon runs, which have drastically declined in recent years since the dams were constructed. It's also an incredible win for the Karuk and Yurok tribes, who for untold generations have relied on the salmon runs for both sustenance and spiritual well-being.
The tribes, supported by environmental activists, led a decades-long effort to broker an agreement. They faced vehement opposition from some farmers and owners of lakeside properties, but in 2010, they managed what had seemed impossible: PacifiCorp, the operator of the dams, signed a dam removal agreement, along with 40 other signatories that included the tribes and the state governments of Oregon and California. Unfortunately, progress stalled for years when questions arose around who would pay for the dam removals.
A young activist for a free-flowing Salween River. A team of campaigners and lawyers from EarthRights International joined Indigenous Karen communities on the Salween in 2018 to celebrate the International Day of Actions for Rivers on March 14. This year, EarthRights joined communities living in the Eu-Wae-Tta internally displaced persons camp for a celebration in solidarity with those impacted by dam projects on the Salween River. EarthRights International
The dam removal project is a sign of the decline of the hydropower industry, whose fortunes have fallen as the troubling cost-benefit ratio of dams has become clear over the years. The rise of more cost-effective and sustainable energy sources (including wind and solar) has hastened this shift. This is exactly the type of progress envisioned by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), a global multi-stakeholder body that was established by the World Bank and International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998 to investigate the effectiveness and performance of large dams around the world. The WCD released a damning landmark report in November 2000 on the enormous financial, environmental and human costs and the dismal performance of large dams. The commission spent two years analyzing the outcome of the trillions of dollars invested in dams, reviewing dozens of case studies and testimonies from over a thousand communities and individuals, before producing the report.
But despite this progress, we cannot take hydropower's decline as inevitable. As governments around the world plan for a post-pandemic recovery, hydropower companies sense an opportunity. The industry is eager to recast itself as climate-friendly (it's not) and secure precious stimulus funds to revive its dying industry — at the expense of people, the environment and a truly just, green recovery.
Hydropower’s Troubling Record
The world's largest hydropower dam removal project on the Klamath River is a significant win for tribal communities. But while the Yurok and Karuk tribes suffered terribly from the decline of the Klamath's fisheries, they were by no means alone in that experience. The environmental catastrophe that occurred along the Klamath River has been replicated all over the world since the global boom in hydropower construction began early in the 20th century.
The rush to dam rivers has had huge consequences. After decades of rampant construction, only 37 percent of the world's rivers remain free-flowing, according to one study. River fragmentation has decimated freshwater habitats and fish stocks, threatening food security for millions of the world's most vulnerable people, and hastening the decline of other myriad freshwater species, including mammals, birds and reptiles.
The communities that experienced the most harm from dams — whether in Asia, Latin America or Africa — often lacked political power and access. But that didn't stop grassroots movements from organizing and growing to fight for their rights and livelihoods. The people affected by dams began raising their voices, sharing their experiences and forging alliances across borders. By the 1990s, the public outcry against large dams had grown so loud that it finally led to the establishment of the WCD.
What the WCD found was stunning. While large dam projects had brought some economic benefits, they had also forcibly displaced an estimated 40 to 80 million people in the 20th century alone. To put that number into perspective, it is more than the current population of present-day France or the United Kingdom. These people lost their lands and homes to dams, and often with no compensation.
Subsequent research has compounded that finding. A paper published in Water Alternatives revealed that globally, more than 470 million people living downstream from large dams have faced significant impacts to their lives and livelihoods — much of it due to disruptions in water supply, which in turn harm the complex web of life that depends on healthy, free-flowing rivers. The WCD's findings, released in 2000, identified the importance of restoring rivers, compensating communities for their losses, and finding better energy alternatives to save rivers and ecosystems.
Facing a New Crisis
Twenty years after the WCD uncovered a crisis along the world's rivers and recommended a new development path — one that advances community-driven development and protects freshwater resources — we find ourselves in the midst of another crisis. The global pandemic has hit us hard, with surging loss of life, unemployment and instability.
But as governments work to rebuild economies and create job opportunities in the coming years, we have a choice: Double down on the failed, outdated technologies that have harmed so many, or change course and use this transformative moment to rebuild our natural systems and uplift communities.
There are many reasons to fight for a green recovery. The climate is changing even faster than expected, and some dams — especially those with reservoirs in hot climates — have been found to emit more greenhouse gases than a fossil fuel power plant. Other estimates have put global reservoirs' human-made greenhouse gas emissions each year on par with Canada's total emissions.
Meanwhile, we now understand that healthy rivers and freshwater ecosystems play a critical role in regulating and storing carbon. And at a time when biodiversity loss is soaring, anything we can do to restore habitat is key. But with more than 3,700 major dams proposed or under construction in the world (primarily in the Global South, with over 500 of these in protected areas), according to a 2014 report — and the hydropower industry jockeying for scarce stimulus dollars — we must act urgently.
Signs of Hope
Fish catch at the Siphandone on the Mekong River, prior to the completion of the Don Sahong Dam. Pai Deetes / International Rivers
So what would a strong, resilient and equitable recovery look like in the 21st century? Let's consider one example in Southeast Asia.
Running through six countries, the Mekong River is the world's 12th-longest river, which is home to one of the world's most biodiverse regions, and includes the world's largest inland fishery. Around 80 percent of the nearly 65 million people who live in the Lower Mekong River Basin depend on the river for their livelihoods, according to the Mekong River Commission. In 1994, Thailand built the Pak Mun Dam on a Mekong tributary. Six years later, the WCD studied the dam's performance and submitted its conclusions and recommendations as part of its final report in 2000. According to the WCD report, the Pak Mun Dam did not deliver the peaking energy service it was designed for, and it physically blocked a critical migration route for a range of fish species that migrated annually to breeding grounds upstream in the Mun River Basin. Cut off from their customary habitat, fish stocks plummeted, and so did the livelihoods of the local people.
Neighboring Laos, instead of learning from this debacle, followed in Thailand's footsteps, constructing two dams on the river's mainstem, Xayaburi Dam, commissioned in 2019, and Don Sahong Dam, commissioned in 2020. But then a sign of hope appeared. In early 2020, just as the pandemic began to spread across the world, the Cambodian government reconsidered its plans to build more dams on the Mekong. The science was indisputable: A government-commissioned report showed that further dams would reduce the river's wild fisheries, threaten critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and block nutrient-rich sediment from the delta's fertile agricultural lands.
Studies show that Cambodia didn't need to seek billions of dollars in loans to build more hydropower; instead, it could pursue more cost-effective solar and wind projects that would deliver needed electricity at a fraction of the cost — and without the ecological disasters to fisheries and the verdant Mekong delta. And, in a stunning reversal, Cambodia listened to the science — and to the people — and announced a 10-year moratorium on mainstream dams. Cambodia is now reconsidering its energy mix, recognizing that mainstream hydropower dams are too costly and undermine the economic and cultural values of its flagship river.
Toward a Green Recovery
Klamath River Rapids. Tupper Ansel Blake / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Increasingly, governments, civil servants and the public at large are rethinking how we produce energy and are seeking to preserve and restore precious freshwater resources. Dam removals are increasing exponentially across North America and Europe, and movements advancing permanent river protection are growing across Latin America, Asia and Africa.
We must use the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate the trend. Rather than relying on old destructive technologies and industry claims of newfound "sustainable hydropower," the world requires a new paradigm for an economic recovery that is rooted both in climate and economic justice as well as river stewardship. Since December 2020, hundreds of groups and individuals from more than 80 countries have joined the Rivers4Recovery call for a better way forward for rivers and natural places. This paradigm will protect our rivers as critical lifelines — supporting fisheries, biodiversity, water supply, food production, Indigenous peoples and diverse populations around the world — rather than damming and polluting them.
The promise of the Klamath dam removals is one of restoration — a move that finally recognizes the immense value of free-flowing rivers and the key role they play in nourishing both the world's biodiversity and hundreds of millions of people. Healthy rivers — connected to watershed forests, floodplains, wetlands and deltas — are key partners in building resilience in the face of an accelerating climate crisis. But if we allow the hydropower industry to succeed in its cynical grab for stimulus funds, we'll only perpetuate the 20th century's legacy of suffering and environmental degradation.
We must put our money where our values are. Twenty years ago, the WCD pointed the way forward to a model of development that takes humans, wildlife and the environment into account, and in 2020, we saw that vision flower along the Klamath River. It's time to bring that promise of healing and restoration to more of the world's rivers.
Deborah Moore is a former commissioner of the World Commission on Dams. Michael Simon was a member of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum. Darryl Knudsen is the executive director of International Rivers.
Climate change, activities that contribute to it, and dams pose grave threats to America's rivers, according to American Rivers.
The annual report ranks the county's 10 rivers most endangered by human activity that also have a critical decision point coming in the next year that could change the river's fate.
Four dams are choking the Snake River — earning it the top spot in the report — obstructing salmon and posing an existential threat to Native American tribes in the region who depend on the fish for food, culture and their identities.
Advocates are calling on President Biden to remove the federal dams and revitalize the river and its ecosystem.
Toxic coal ash pollutes the Lower Missouri, which also is experiencing an increase in climate-driven flooding, putting it second on the list, while Iowa's Raccoon River, at number nine, faces threats from industrial agriculture.
Between them are rivers befouled by sewage, polluted or threatened by mining, and otherwise dammed or mismanaged.
"Rivers are among the most degraded ecosystems on the planet, and threats to rivers are threats to human health, safety and survival," American Rivers head Tom Kiernan said.
"If we want a future of clean water and healthy rivers everywhere, for everyone, we must prioritize environmental justice."
For a deeper dive: