Conservation groups on Thursday sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management for approving new leases to allow fracking on more than 45,000 acres in western Colorado, including within communities and within a half-mile of a K-12 public school, without analyzing or disclosing environmental and public health threats as required by federal law.
"Fracking is a filthy, dangerous business, and dodging environmental analysis puts people and public lands at risk," said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Trump administration is trying to ignore science, public health and climate change threats to enrich corporate polluters, but it can't shrug off the law."
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, challenges leases in and around the towns of De Beque, Molina and Mesa on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Fracking would be allowed near three state parks—James M. Robb-Colorado River, Vega and Highline, a migratory bird hot spot and the site of the "18 Hours of Fruita" mountain bike race. Leases also have been offered within a half-mile of a K-12 public school in De Beque and beneath Vega Reservoir, important for wildlife, recreation, irrigation and hydroelectric power.
"Not only did the Bureau of Land Management move forward with these lease sales without looking at the climate effects of fracking, the agency also failed to examine its likely public health risks," said Kyle Tisdel with the Western Environmental Law Center. "In addition, the agency failed to analyze or acknowledge the enormous water depletion drilling will impose on the Colorado River, already in low-flow conditions. BLM is simply drilling in the dark on these lease sales."
These areas would face toxic air pollution, industrialization and potential spills and groundwater contamination from fracking operations. The BLM is using a shortcut called a "determination of NEPA adequacy" to bypass analysis of fracking harms required under the National Environmental Policy Act. This cursory review, used with increasing frequency under the Trump administration, presumes that leasing complies with broad resource-management plans and delays site-specific review until drilling permits are requested, thereby ignoring NEPA's requirement to disclose impacts at the earliest possible time. The BLM routinely bypasses that promised review at the drilling stage and says that it can't block drilling once land has been leased to industry.
"BLM has reverted to a lease before you look policy that marginalizes the public, ignores environmental impacts, and violates the law—all for the benefit of oil and gas companies," said Wilderness Workshop's Peter Hart. "We asked BLM to consider the impacts of these decisions and our requests were denied. Now we're asking a federal court to order the agency to comply with its legal obligations."
"Once again, Ryan Zinke's efforts to please corporate polluters are leaving American communities to suffer the consequences," said Sierra Club associate attorney Marta Darby. "Zinke wants to limit public input and hide the environmental and public health threats of this huge expansion of fracking in Colorado, but he is not above the law. We will continue to fight to ensure our communities are protected from the dangers of fracking."
The areas to be fracked include habitat for rare wildlife like peregrine falcon, spotted leopard lizard and burrowing owl. It also includes critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and two flowers, the Parachute beardtongue and DeBeque phacelia. Fracking, which can use more than 20 million gallons of water per well, would threaten the pikeminnow and the Colorado River with spills and water depletions at a time when climate-driven drought is already reducing river flows throughout the Colorado River Basin.
"The water of the Colorado River Basin is essential for the 40 million people relying it. The system is already strained from climate change and overuse," said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper. "The last thing we need right now is to add more water hungry, polluting industry without the proper regulatory framework or public process in place to protect this priceless resource."
The administration's oil and gas leasing shell game is consistent with Trump's new "energy dominance" edict and policies directing the BLM to avoid NEPA analysis by prioritizing the use of DNAs when issuing oil and gas leases. The policy also limits or removes public notice and gives the public only 10 days to raise concerns.
Dascalu-Joffe and Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center are representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Wilderness Workshop, Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper and Sierra Club in the lawsuit.
Conservation Groups: Fracking, Drilling Would Ruin Public Lands Near Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park… https://t.co/On2eNv8oCb— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523373742.0
Monday, the Washington Department of Ecology sided with Center for Food Safety and numerous other community and conservation groups, and denied shellfish growers a permit to spray imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, on shellfish beds on Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, in southwest Washington. The requested permit would have allowed shellfish growers from Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association to spray this neurotoxic insecticide into water for the first time, in order to kill native burrowing shrimp.
"Center for Food Safety applauds the Washington Department of Ecology for making the right decision this time around and saying 'no' to the use of neonicotinoids in Washington bay waters," said Amy van Saun, staff attorney in Center for Food Safety's Pacific Northwest office."The state followed the laws requiring protection of this crucial aquatic ecosystem, the wildlife that depend on it, and the public from a dangerous plan to continue the chemical legacy of the industrial shellfish industry."
"We are pleased to see that after taking a hard look at the science that Ecology reached the inescapable conclusion that there must be a better way to find a balance within Willapa Bay that will allow oyster growers thrive while protecting this unique and fragile place," said Andrew Hawley with the Western Environmental Law Center.
After initially granting a request to spray imidacloprid, one of the oldest and most toxic neonicotinoids (the pesticides that are extremely harmful to pollinators, aquatic invertebrates and birds), the Washington Department of Ecology withdrew the permit in 2015 due to public outcry, especially from Seattle chefs. But the Growers Association again applied to spray imidacloprid, never before approved for aquatic use, onto shellfish beds to kill burrowing or ghost shrimp, a native species the growers say loosens the substrate and causes oysters and clams to sink. The Washington Department of Ecology completed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the new science on imidacloprid and neonicotinoids' impact on the aquatic environment, concluding that the use of imidacloprid in Willapa Bay/Grays Harbor would have various harmful impacts, including:
- Significant, unavoidable impacts to sediment quality and benthic invertebrates.
- Negative impacts to juvenile worms and crustaceans in areas treated with imidacloprid and nearby areas covered by incoming tides.
- Negative impacts to fish and birds caused by killing sources of food and disrupting the food web.
- Concern about non-lethal impacts to invertebrates in the water column and sediment.
- A risk of impacts from imidacloprid even at low concentrations.
- Increased uncertainty about long-term, non-lethal and cumulative impacts.
Center for Food Safety, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Environmental Law Center, commented on the SEIS, urging the Washington Department of Ecology to consider all the latest science pointing to the extreme danger posed by water contamination with neonicotinoids and not to grant the permit based on both data gaps and the disturbing evidence of harm from neonicotinoids, including to aquatic species like Dungeness crabs, a commercially-valuable species.
"Dumping imidacloprid, or any other pesticide, into state waters depended on by so many plants and animals, including people, was never a good, long-term solution," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program. "It's important that we find sound, sustainable answers to the challenges Washington oyster farmers are facing that help balance, rather than poison, the environment we all share."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By WildEarth Guardian
Wednesday, WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's flawed rule stripping grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Endangered Species Act protections. The service's premature removal of crucial federal safeguards undermines the recovery of the species as a whole, while subjecting grizzlies stepping outside the safety of our national parks to state-sanctioned trophy hunting.
"The Service failed to carry out its paramount—and mandatory—duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary," said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "The Service's decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again."
The lawsuit faults the service for illegally designating grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone as a "distinct population segment" and simultaneously removing protections from the population without first considering the impact such removal will have on imperiled grizzly populations located elsewhere in the lower 48 states. The suit also highlights the service's failure to use the best available science when it determined that grizzlies in the Yellowstone region are recovered.
Yellowstone Grizzly Bears to Lose Endangered Species Protection https://t.co/XjADo2xnmi @environmentca @ConservationOrg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498252211.0
"Biologists agree that grizzly recovery hinges on connecting isolated populations and distributing the genes they carry," said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing WildEarth Guardians. "Under this illegal and ill-advised plan, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would be the first to die."
Grizzlies in the Yellowstone region remain threatened by dwindling food sources, habitat loss and fragmentation, and illegal killing. The Yellowstone population is isolated and has yet to connect to bears elsewhere in the U.S., including to bears in and around Glacier National Park. Grizzlies also have yet to reclaim key historic habitats, including the Bitterroot Range along the Montana-Idaho border.
Hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction, grizzly bear populations in the contiguous U.S. declined drastically from nearly 50,000 bears to only a few hundred by the 1930s. In response to the decline, the service designated the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, a move that likely saved them from extinction. The species has since struggled to hang on, with only roughly 1,800 currently surviving in the lower 48 states. Grizzlies remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range.
At last count, approximately 690 grizzly bears resided in the Greater Yellowstone region in 2016, down from 2015's count of 717 bears. The last two years had near record-breaking grizzly mortality, with at least 139 bears killed since 2015 (including 20 documented deaths thus far in 2017, 58 dead bears in 2016 and 61 dead grizzlies in 2015). Of those, at least 98 bears died due to human-causes and 30 deaths remain undetermined or are still under investigation.
Wednesday's lawsuit challenges the service's final rule removing Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. WildEarth Guardians is represented by Matthew Bishop and John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center and Kelly Nokes of WildEarth Guardians.
In its announcement of the stay, the EPA acknowledged that the move may have a "disproportionate impact" on children's health, but reasoned that the temporary nature of the stay would ensure "limited" harm to children.
The Bureau of Land Management also announced in a separate notice published Thursday that oil and gas companies would not have to comply with its own rule restricting venting and flaring gas on public land while the rule is under judicial review. The BLM rule survived a Congressional Review Act attack in the Senate last month, as bipartisan backers pointed out that methane regulations save millions of taxpayer dollars and protect public health.
"The plans to delay these much-needed methane pollution standards demonstrates that the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer working for the people, it's working for polluters," said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks policy director. "Families living near oil and gas operations need EPA safeguards because they're breathing the industry's toxic air pollution right now.
"A two year delay would allow more air pollution that will lead to higher levels of cancer, asthma attacks from ozone smog and worsen the climate crisis."
The methane waste rule calls for leak detection and repair with affordable, off-the-shelf technologies, and restricts venting and flaring of methane by oil and gas companies on public lands. The original compliance date is January 18, 2018.
"Methane waste seriously and urgently threatens our climate, our pocketbook and public health," said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. "If there was any doubt who Sec. Zinke serves in his position, it's now abundantly clear it's not the American public."
For a deeper dive:
Judge Hollis Hill ruled Monday that the youths who sued the Department of Ecology for failing to take action on climate change can again move forward, now with a constitutional climate rights claim that adds the state of Washington and Gov. Jay Inslee as defendants. The court granted the youth's request "due to the emergent need for coordinated science based action by the state of Washington to address climate change before efforts to do so are too costly and too late."
"It is time for these youth to have the opportunity to address their concerns in a court of law, concerns raised under statute and under the state and federal constitution," reads Judge Hill's order.
The ruling follows a November hearing at which eight petitioners between the ages of 12 and 16 asked the court to find the Department of Ecology in contempt for failing to fulfill orders from April 2016 and November 2015, to protect the constitutional rights of young people and future generations to a stable climate.
Judge Hill denied the contempt motion because the Department of Ecology met the court's procedural deadline to issue the Clean Air Rule, but granted the youths request to add claims that the state of Washington and Gov. Inslee violated the Washington state constitution and the public trust doctrine so the youths will "have their day in court." The ruling now paves the way for the youth to prove "their government has failed and continues to fail to protect them from global warming" and get the full remedy they seek against the state and Gov. Inslee.
8 Kids Submit Blueprint on How to Put Washington on a Path Toward #Climate Stability https://t.co/tQR5Q1Ef0w @billmckibben @350 @sierraclub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1469540604.0
Judge Hill's decision comes on the heels of the Department of Ecology making recommendations for new legislative greenhouse gas emissions limits for Washington state that top U.S. climate scientists say would lead to catastrophic levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The limits endorsed by the Department of Ecology, carbon dioxide levels of 450 parts per million (ppm) and warming of 2 C, are not based on science and will not protect the youths' fundamental rights.
Today's best available science concludes 350 ppm and long-term heating of no more than 1 C with a maximum peak of 1.5 C are the best standards. The 2 C number many governments rely upon in setting emissions targets was arbitrarily selected over a decade ago as a political compromise, and was never intended to be a science-based target.
"All these kids want is the opportunity to present the science to the court because the government leaders of today have failed to implement climate policies that scientists and experts say are needed to protect the rights of young people and future generations," said Andrea Rodgers, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney who represents the youths.
"The climate crisis is not easy to solve, but Washington cannot continue to take actions and pursue policies that lock in dangerous levels of carbon dioxide emissions."
Judge Hill's order cited U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken's Nov. 10 decision in Juliana v. U.S., that rejected all arguments to dismiss the federal climate lawsuit brought by 21 youths against the U.S. and the fossil fuel industry:
"[T]hat where a complaint alleges government action is affirmative and substantially damaging the climate system in a way that will cause human deaths, shorten human lifespans, result in widespread damage to property, threaten human food sources, and dramatically alter the planet's ecosystem, it states a claim for due process violation."
Victory for America's Youth: Federal Judge Rules Climate Lawsuit Can Proceed https://t.co/iXxiZvf5Nf @climatecouncil @energyaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478913606.0
Juliana v. U.S. is on track for trial in 2017, with defendants including President-elect Donald Trump's administration and the fossil fuel industry. Now, the administrations of President-elect Trump and Gov. Inslee face trials in separate courtrooms resulting from youth-based lawsuits simply seeking to stop government from exacerbating climate change and instead develop and implement plans for climate recovery based on science.
In addition to the Washington state and federal cases, Our Children's Trust supports legal actions in several other states as well as internationally, all seeking to secure the legal rights of future generations to a safe climate.
"Courts are increasingly recognizing the urgent need for science-based climate action by governments and putting on trial the lack of political will to address the crisis that most threatens our children," said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children's Trust.
"Significantly, our co-equal third branch of government is stepping in to protect the constitutional rights of young people before it is too late to act."