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Produced water from gas drilling in the Marcellus shale. Tara Lohan

By Tara Lohan

We're living beyond our means when it comes to groundwater. That's probably not news to everyone, but new research suggests that, deep underground in a number of key aquifers in some parts of the U.S., we may have much less water than previously thought.

"We found that the average depth of water resources across the country was about half of what people had previously estimated," said Jennifer McIntosh, a distinguished scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.

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A man snowboards using a kite on the National Mall as storm hit the nation's capital Sunday. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

A massive winter storm dumped snow on the midwest Friday, killing at least nine, before moving east to bring snow and freezing rain to the Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas Saturday and Sunday, AccuWeather reported.

"We have a strong snowstorm that's stretching 1,400 miles from Kansas to the East Coast," CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said. "St. Louis is seeing its worst snowstorm in five years. We're going to see a significant snow event for the mid-Atlantic to start the year for 2019."

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Animal protection groups rescued piglets from a flood at the "Big Ditch" levee in Oakville, Iowa in 2008. Farm Sanctuary / Flickr

On Thursday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment. In 2017, a coalition of animal, environmental and community advocacy groups, including Center for Food Safety, challenged the law's constitutionality. Federal courts have similarly struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

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Wind farm with solar panels in southern California. 4kodiak / E+ / Getty Images

By Jeff Deyette

Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.

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Wind power in rural Iowa, one of four states that gets 30 to 37 percent of its electricity from wind power. Voice of America

Four U.S. states generated 30 to 37 percent of their energy from wind power in 2017. That's just one of the findings of the Department of Energy (DOE)'s annual Wind Technologies Market Report, released August 22.

Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota were the leaders in terms of how much wind contributed to their state's overall electricity generation, but 14 states got more than 10 percent of their in-state energy from wind power last year. Texas took the lead in added wind capacity, installing 2,305 megawatts worth.

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Pexels

The Kansas government allowed hundreds of residents in two Wichita-area neighborhoods to drink water contaminated by a cleaning chemical called perchloroethylene, also known as PCE or tetrachloroethylene, The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.

The state discovered the tainted groundwater at a Haysville dry cleaner in 2011 but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) did not act for more than six years. KDHE did not test nearby private wells or alert residents about the contamination.

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By Brett Walton

State of the State speeches are where governors sketch their legislative priorities and report on the overall health of their dominions. The state of the state is almost always "strong" and water issues are occasionally mentioned.

Below are summaries of the governors' references to water, climate and the environment.

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The Smoky Hills Wind Farm in Kansas. Photo credit: Drenaline

By Molly Taft

When President Trump signed his executive order targeting Obama-era climate policies in March, he made sure to get the optics right. "You're going back to work," he promised the coal miners surrounding him. "We will produce American coal to power American industry."

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Sunday's earthquake that damaged dozens of buildings near an oil and gas pipeline hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, is further proof that fracking and wastewater injection are too dangerous to people and property to be allowed to continue, the Center for Biological Diversity said Monday. In May, the organization called on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withdraw 11 proposed oil and gas leases in Oklahoma because of earthquake risks. The BLM has yet to respond to that request.

On Friday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a supplemental letter to its April protest highlighting the increase in human-induced earthquake activity in the region and the BLM's ongoing refusal to analyze those potential impacts in its oil and gas lease approvals.

The 5.0 magnitude quake was the third temblor this year in Oklahoma to register greater than 5.0, including a magnitude 5.8 quake on Sept. 3 in Pawnee. More than two dozen earthquakes have shaken Oklahoma in the past week, the Associated Press reported. The increase in quakes has been linked to human activity, such as hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study.

"We don't need a major earthquake that claims lives and costs millions in damage to tell us the rapid increase in fracking and wastewater injection in Oklahoma and neighboring states is the cause," said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The USGS has already linked seismic activity to wastewater disposal associated with fracking and has raised the risk for damaging quakes in Oklahoma and Kansas. We renew our call on Interior Secretary Jewell to cancel public leases recently auctioned in the region before more serious harm occurs."

Sunday's quake occurred in Cushing, the self-proclaimed "Pipeline Crossroads of the World," where a confluence of pipelines and storage facilities is located. No infrastructure damage was reported to the pipelines or a nearby storage facility that recently held more than 58 million barrels of crude. Downtown Cushing was evacuated Sunday and schools were closed on Monday, reports said.

"It's only a matter of time until these increasing quakes cause catastrophic damage," McKinnon said. "Alongside the worsening climate crisis, earthquakes are yet another reason that President Obama should end the federal fossil fuel leasing programs now."

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that these dangerous wastewater-injection practices cause destructive quakes, the BLM, which reviews and auctions public lands for fracking, failed to consider these effects in its evaluation of its latest lease auction in April 2016. A new environmental review released last month for the agency's next lease auction in April 2017 also fails to consider these effects.

A little more than nine years ago, an EF-5 tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas. The massive, May 4, 2007 twister leveled the small town, and half of the town's population of 1,500 residents escaped and never came back.

Greensburg, Kansas is the second city in the U.S. to convert to 100 percent renewable energy after it was devastated by a powerful tornado in 2007.Wikimedia Commons

But from the rubble, opportunity emerged. Greensburg is now one of the greenest towns in the U.S. and serves as an actual role model for renewable energy and sustainable development. Greensburg could also teach its frack-happy, earthquake-riddled home state a lesson or two about better energy choices.

Greensburg—the second U.S. city to go 100 percent renewable after Burlington, Vermont—has an impressive list of green bonafides thanks to its master sustainability plan. After the tornado struck, the city picked itself up and rebuilt every building to LEED-platinum standards and converted every streetlight to LEDs, the first in the nation to do both.

The city has curbside recycling and conserves water with low flow fixtures and collects rainwater for irrigation and grey water in toilets. This town, located right in America's heartland, is even home to the world's largest hand-dug well.

A hospital turbine in Greensburg, Kansas.The City of Greensburg

Notably, the wind that destroyed the city is also what's powering it today. The 12.5-megawatt community Greensburg Wind Farm produces enough electricity to power every home business, and municipal building in the town and surrounding area, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In fact, the city's wind turbines, located just south of town, produces more energy than the city consumes, according to Newsy.

"The upflow on the elevation from Oklahoma into south-central Kansas is some of the best consistent, year-round wind in the United States," Mayor Bob Dixson told the publication.

As it happens, Kansas offers the third highest potential for wind energy in the U.S. and is a clean energy alternative definitely worth exploring.

EcoWatch reported last week that the largest earthquake ever recorded in Kansas—a 4.9 magnitude temblor that struck northeast of Milan on Nov. 12, 2014—has been officially linked to wastewater injection into deep underground wells, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The epicenter of that extremely rare earthquake struck near a known fracking operation.

Kansas has had a long history with fracking. In fact, the first well ever fracked in the United States happened in 1947 in the Sunflower state. The process is now used for nearly all of the 5,000 conventional wells drilled in Kansas every year.

Just like Oklahoma, Kansas is seeing an alarming uptick of "induced" earthquakes connected to the underground disposal of wastewater from the fracking process. Kansas is a region previously devoid of significant seismic activity, however, the number of earthquakes in the state jumped from only four in 2013 to 817 in 2014, The Washington Post reported.

Mayor Dixson told Go 100% that the town also uses solar and geothermal energy sources to compliment the wind power.

While Greensburg's population is still roughly half of what it was before the tornado hit nine years ago, Dixson explained to USA TODAY that Greensburg is doing its best to rise from the destruction.

"You have to do the best you can with the resources you have," he said. "We learned that the only true green and sustainable things in life are how we treat each other."

The town's resurrection as a green utopia has been the subject of books and TV shows, including a Planet Green reality series called Greensburg narrated by actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Even President Obama praised the city in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

"Greensburg … is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community—how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. 'The tragedy was terrible,' said one of the men who helped them rebuild. 'But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity,'" Obama said.

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The largest earthquake ever recorded in Kansas—a 4.9 magnitude temblor that struck northeast of Milan on Nov. 12, 2014—has been officially linked to wastewater injection into deep underground wells, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The epicenter of that extremely rare earthquake struck near a known fracking operation.

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Greenpeace

By Cassady Sharp

The same law that contributed to George Zimmerman walking free out of a Florida courtroom last weekend after taking the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was primarily written by the same super lobbying group behind legislation protecting natural gas companies from disclosing chemicals used in fracking.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a unique kind of lobbying front group responsible for pushing legislation designed to enhance the bottom line of their corporate funders. Corporations like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Duke Energy, along with industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide more than 98 percent of ALEC’s funding, whose members, which includes elected officials and corporations, write and pass laws that will benefit those corporations.

Via the laws ALEC pushes through state legislatures, the lobbying group impacts Americans nationwide from voting right laws to environmental regulations (or lack thereof) to guns like Stand Your Ground. We’ve collected the most significant ALEC laws that could be coming to a state legislature near you, if they aren’t there already.

7. Electricity Freedom Act 

This act prevents states from requiring their energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources, killing a key government incentives for clean energy projects. ALEC falsely claims that any renewable energy mandate sacrifices economic growth and American competitiveness, a dead horse they have continued to beat for decades.

Because of the economic benefits of renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina and Kansas and in spite of support from ALEC’s other Koch-funded friends in the State Policy Network, ALEC’s most heated attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) were shot down by Democrats and Republicans alike. Quieter ALEC-supported attempts to repeal or weaken RPS laws also failed in Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine and Oregon—not a good start for ALEC’s top energy-related priority this year.

Greenpeace has initiated an action to demand that the nation’s largest utility company, Duke Energy, cut ties between ALEC, a relationship that is polluting Americans and democracy.

6. Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline

ALEC is trying to use state resolutions to add pressure to the federal government to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In fact, ALEC took its member legislators on a Big Oil-funded trip to Alberta, Canada, to promote tar sands, courtesy of lobbyists from TransCanada, Shell, Devon Energy and other oil and gas interests. ALEC’s conferences have featured seminars on the controversial pipeline, featuring speakers from oil companies and the Canadian government alike. The Center for Media and Democracy, which runs ALECexposed.org, has filed an ethics complaint in Nebraska for a legislator’s failure to disclose the trip and its sponsors. Keep in mind that ALEC is a tax-exempt organization, and their lobbying doesn’t count as lobbying to the IRS.

While ALEC has its own model resolution, its state legislator members introduced resolutions straight out of a TransCanada press release, coordinating across state borders to get an apparent jump in support for Keystone XL in Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi all at once.

5. Voter ID Act

These laws prohibit about 11 percent of citizens from voting by requiring a government-issued ID to vote at the polls.

This 11 percent overwhelmingly consists of elderly people, low-income and minority voters and students. Thirty-three states now have voter id laws and four states now have strict photo id requirements in effect. With the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, we can expect this number to increase with ALEC's full support.

4. Arizona’s SB 1070 Immigration Law: “No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act” 

In short, this bill was ALEC’s way of making private prison companies rich by rounding up brown people without documentation and tossing them in jail. Although most of this law was struck down in Arizona, the “papers please” provision survives requiring law enforcement to check a person’s status if they are stopped, detained or arrested. State legislators and prison and bail industry lobbyists met at an ALEC meeting to write the law which originally stated that law enforcement had to check a person’s status only after “contact.” The Arizona legislature changed narrowed the law to the current language.

3. Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act

The title of this bill is a lie–ALEC’s flagship fracking bill prevents oil and gas companies from having to disclose the chemicals in frack fluids that qualify as “trade secrets.” Who took the idea to ALEC? ExxonMobil. Bloomberg reports that the ALEC bill has been introduced in at least eight states, although there appear to be more. Exxon’s bill became Ohio law with ALEC’s help, and a particularly controversial fracking law sponsorship by ALEC legislators passed in North Carolina last year without anyone reporting ALEC’s fingerprints. DeSmogBlog has documented attempts in Florida, Illinois and several other states.

ALEC previously drafted a state resolution that puts the regulating authority into the hands of state agencies, which are woefully understaffed, underfunded and ineffective at regulating the powerful gas and oil industry, creating a one-two punch that leaves fracked communities in the dark on chemical disclosure and at the mercy of insufficient and often captured regulatory agencies for protection from fracking pollution.

2. Intrastate Coal and Use Act

This act serves to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating the coal industry. Specifically, the act prevents the EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state. This act relies on the “Commerce Clause” claiming that the federal government can only regulate commerce that goes beyond state lines, flying in the face of settled Supreme Court interpretation of the “dormant” Commerce Clause. The first version of this bill was passed in West Virginia in 2011, a state with 273 operating coal mines as of 2011.

1. Stand Your Ground

Considering the recent national tragedy of the Trayvon Martin ruling and the violence “Stand Your Ground” releases, this law should be repealed immediately in the states it’s active. In strong conjunction with the National Rifle Association (NRA), ALEC has managed to push versions of this law in over two dozen states. It allows any killer to claim immunity if they felt a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The Florida version of this law passed in 2005 and was written by a NRA lobbyist.

ALEC is behind loads of more dangerous laws or proposed resolutions that must be exposed, blocked or repealed if active. Please let us know other significant ones we missed in the comments below. 

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

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