The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Trump’s Anti-Environment Agenda for 2020: When Opportunism Knocks
By Jeff Turrentine
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined our priorities. Everyone right now is — or should be — concerned first and foremost with keeping themselves, their loved ones, and their communities safe. And when nearly the entire world shifts into triage mode, as it has over the past several weeks, it's hard for many of us to focus on anything else beyond making it through the day and preparing for the next one.
But there are some people who look out at a nation of frightened, grief-stricken, or otherwise preoccupied souls and see an opportunity to get away with something they otherwise wouldn't be able to. A fair number of these opportunists, alas, work within the Trump administration. And over the past few weeks, these officials have been busy checking items off of the fossil fuel industry's wish list — and hoping that most of us won't notice.
It's hard to pick the most egregious example of recent administrative wrongdoing; each is horrible in its own special way. So let's just start with the most brazen. On March 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would be easing enforcement of a wide swath of legally mandated environmental protections during the COVID-19 crisis, citing "consequences [that] may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water." Henceforth, if a regulated business can plausibly blame the pandemic for its noncompliance with monitoring or reporting obligations, the EPA will waive any fines and/or civil penalties for violators. Rules that require the monitoring, recording, and reporting of emissions and pollution data have for decades been one of the few ways that Americans could learn about how industrial activity is affecting their communities and their health. Now, should a facility decide that it would rather not be so transparent, it doesn't have to be.
For how long, you ask? Well, for as long as the pandemic lasts. And how long might that be — from an official, governmental standpoint? Right now, we have no idea. Meanwhile, the scientific and public health communities are buzzing over an alarming new report from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health that suggests COVID-19 may be more deadly in populations that have faced higher long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution. Inviting industry to spew more air pollution into our communities right now certainly isn't the best way for the EPA to respond to this historic public health crisis.
The agency's announcement of this indefinite relaxation of environmental protections came only three days after the American Petroleum Institute — the ridiculously powerful trade association that lobbies for the interests of our nation's oil and gas industry — sent a letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler pleading for the same. Other industries with oversize carbon footprints that received similar "relief" weren't even necessarily asking for it. Five days after the EPA's move, on March 31, President Trump decided that the time was right to finalize his rollbacks of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Even though most automakers had already come to terms with the previous mandate of increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — several were even embracing a similar plan — the president saw fit not only to lower the annual increase in fuel efficiency from 5 percent to 1.5 percent, but also to give automakers more time to reach this weaker threshold.
So, what's in it for consumers? Higher fuel costs, lower air quality, and more climate change. By the Trump administration's own estimates, the rollback could result in drivers purchasing nearly 78 billion more gallons of gas per year, increasing atmospheric CO2 by 867 million metric tons.
That the U.S. government is taking advantage of the public's distraction to push through agenda items that would, under normal conditions, be hotly debated or even aggressively opposed is what makes these anti-environment stunts so galling. In Alaska, where Governor Mike Dunleavy has issued a stay-at-home order and cracked down on travel within the state, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proceeding as planned with a major expansion of the ConocoPhillips Willow project. This would add up to five new drilling sites and more than 260 miles of pipeline to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on land adjacent to the Native Alaskan Nuiqsut community, which is already surrounded on all sides by oil fields. The next stage of the project, as it happens, is the public review process. With workplaces shuttered, travel banned, schools closed, grocery-store shelves depleted, and everyday life for Alaskans massively disrupted, the BLM (with the hearty support of ConocoPhillips) has nevertheless seen fit to place this expansion in the "business as usual" category.
"As we look to public and private health experts to end this pandemic, the BLM recognizes that it has important, statutory duties to perform," a spokesperson for the agency recently told E&E News. It would be one thing if the White House was sincerely trying to conduct the people's business while the people themselves were temporarily incapacitated. But in a handful of agencies, at least, that's not what seems to be happening. What's being conducted during this terrible crisis seems to be more along the lines of unfinished business — or even funny business. Memo to the executive branch: Bad faith is a bad look.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Kaufman
Some fires won't die.
They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They're called "overwintering," "holdover," or "zombie" fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.
<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.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.pjiv81dzvE2uWSwZVXH_hhoYKLl6go7m4QXYRodC8aQ/img.jpg" id="d48aa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79880bae7db4253c569739c541d26709" />Zombie fires could be awakening in the Arctic
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1258045476731002882" id="twitter-embed-1258045476731002882" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1258045476731002882&created_ts=1588776389.0&screen_name=DrTELS&text=Are+these+%27zombie%27+fires%3F+As+the+snow+melted+in+Arctic+Siberia+last+week%2C+a+number+of+fires+have+been+detected+by+s%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FMBZbBYqA2o&id=1258045476731002882&name=Dr+Thomas+Smith+%F0%9F%94%A5%F0%9F%8C%8F" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e094a6eb3039925709e345158051f4b"></iframe>
So What Happens Now?<p>In the future, fire researchers expect an uptick in zombie fires. That's because the <a is="" href="https://mashable.com/article/climate-change-business-as-usual-catastrophic/" target="_blank">planet is relentlessly warming</a>, particularly in the Arctic, which means more ready-to-burn vegetation. It's already happening. "Arctic fires<strong> </strong>are becoming more common overall," explained Miami University's McCarty.</p><p is="">And some of these fires will inevitably smolder all winter, under the snow. "With a warmer Arctic, we're more likely to see overwintering fires," noted Smith.</p><p is="">It's challenging to stop zombie fires. They can happen in extremely remote places, without any roads or means of dousing them before they erupt. "We have no way of fighting them," said McCarty. "They're often fairly far-removed. How are we going to put them out?"</p><p is="">It's a question of profound importance in the decades ahead. Preventing human-caused Arctic wildfires will be critical, emphasized McCarty. That's because Arctic fires aren't just burning trees, they're often burning through <a is="" href="https://blogs.agu.org/geospace/2019/12/06/peatlands-release-more-methane-when-disturbed-by-roads/" target="_blank">peatlands</a>, which release bounties of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane into the air. When it comes to trapping heat, methane is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases" target="_blank">25 times more potent</a> than carbon dioxide over the course of a century.</p><p is="">It's a vicious cycle. The warming Arctic produces more fires. More fires burn more forests and peatlands. This releases more methane and carbon dioxide into the air. This contributes to ever more planetary heating.</p><p is="">"Not stopping these zombie fires means further degrading these Arctic ecosystems," said McCarty. "Further warming leads to more zombie fires. It's not great."</p><a target="_blank"></a><blockquote><a href="https://mashable.com/article/zombie-fires-arctic/#" target="_blank"></a></blockquote>
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed six million Sunday, even as many countries begin to emerge from strict lockdowns.
- New Zealand Government Wins Battle Against Coronavirus ... ›
- How to Stay Healthy at Home During the Coronavirus Lockdown ... ›
- 5 Coronavirus Technologies Being Developed by Young People ... ›
- Coronavirus: When Will the Second Wave Hit? - EcoWatch ›
By Daniel Yetman
Bleach and vinegar are common household cleaners used to disinfect surfaces, cut through grime, and get rid of stains. Even though many people have both these cleaners in their homes, mixing them together is potentially dangerous and should be avoided.
Can You Mix Bleach and Vinegar?<p>Bleach can refer to any chemical that's used to get rid of stains or disinfect surfaces. The most typical form used as a cleaner is sodium hypochlorite. By itself, bleach can damage your skin but is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441921/" target="_blank">non-toxic</a> when inhaled. However, it can become potentially lethal to inhale when mixed with other household cleaners.</p><p>Sodium hypochlorite is made up of a sodium, oxygen, and chlorine atoms. When this molecule is mixed with the acetic acid in vinegar or other types of acid, it releases chlorine gas. <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Chlorine gas</a> is extremely dangerous to human health. It's so powerful that Germany used it during World War I as a chemical weapon.</p><p>Vinegar isn't the only cleaner you need to be careful mixing with bleach. Bleach also reacts with <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">ammonia</a> to create chlorine gas. Bleach can also react to some oven cleaners, insecticides, and hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>Many household cleaners contain a chemical called <a href="https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2019/acs-presspac-october-2-2019/cleaning-with-bleach-could-create-indoor-air-pollutants.html" target="_blank">limonene</a> that gives them a citrus smell. When bleach fumes mix with limonene, they create small particles that may be damaging to both people's and animals' health. However, more research is needed to examine these particles' potential health risks.</p>
Is it Safe to Mix Them in Small Amounts?<p>According to the <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">Washington State Department of Health</a>, even low levels of chlorine gas, less than 5 parts per million (ppm), is likely to irritate your eyes, throat, and nose. It's never a good idea to mix these two cleaners together.</p><p>Unlike some other dangerous chemicals like carbon monoxide, chlorine gives off a distinctly <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">pungent and irritating odor</a>. If you notice a strong smell after mixing cleaners, it's a good idea to immediately leave the area.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136961/" target="_blank">severity of symptoms</a> you develop after breathing in chlorine gas depends on how concentrated it is, measured in parts per million (ppm), and how long you inhale it.</p><ul><li><strong>0.1 to 0.3 ppm.</strong> At this level, humans can smell the pungent odor of chlorine gas in the air.</li><li><strong>5 to 15 ppm. </strong>A concentration over 5 ppm causes irritation to the mucus membranes in your mouth and nose.</li><li><strong>Over 30 ppm.</strong> At a concentration higher than 30 ppm, chlorine gas can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.</li><li><strong>Above 40 ppm.</strong> Concentrations higher than 40 ppm can cause potentially dangerous fluid build-up in your lungs.</li><li><strong>Above 430 ppm</strong>. Breathing in more than <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">430 ppm</a> of chlorine gas can be lethal within 30 minutes.</li><li><strong>Above 1,000 ppm</strong>. Inhaling chlorine gas above this level can be deadly immediately.</li></ul>
Can You Combine Bleach and Vinegar in a Washing Machine?<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar in your washing machine is also a bad idea. Chlorine gas may be released from your washing machine when you take your clothes out. It may also leave traces of chlorine gas on your clothes.</p><p>If you use bleach in your laundry, it's a good idea to wait several loads before using vinegar.</p>
Symptoms of Exposure to a Bleach and Vinegar Reaction<p>The severity of the symptoms you'll develop after chlorine exposure depends on the amount of chlorine gas you inhale. Symptoms usually start fairly quickly. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">Most people</a> exposed to low amounts of chlorine gas recover without complications.</p><p>If your exposure to chlorine gas is relatively brief, you may notice irritation of your nose, mouth, and throat. Lung irritation may develop if you breathe in chlorine deeply.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a>, if you accidentally breathe in chlorine, you can experience the following:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/sudden-blurred-vision" target="_blank">blurry vision</a></li><li>a burning sensation in your nose, throat, or eyes</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/cough" target="_blank">coughing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chest-pain" target="_blank">tightness in your chest</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-difficulties" target="_blank">trouble breathing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/pulmonary-edema" target="_blank">fluid in your lungs</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nausea" target="_blank">nausea</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/vomiting" target="_blank">vomiting</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/epiphora" target="_blank">watery eyes</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/wheezing" target="_blank">wheezing</a></li></ul>
What to Do if You Get Bleach and Vinegar on Your Skin or Inhaled Chlorine Gas Vapors<p>There's <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">no cure</a> for breathing in chlorine gas. The only treatment option is removing the chlorine from your body as quickly as possible and seeking immediate medical attention to treat your symptoms.</p><p>If you breathe in chlorine gas, you can follow these steps to help get the chlorine out of your system:</p><ul><li>Immediately go somewhere where you can breathe in fresh air.</li><li>Change and wash any clothes that may have been contaminated.</li></ul><blockquote><strong>MEDICAL EMERGENCY<br><br></strong>If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) at 800-222-1222 and follow their instructions.<br></blockquote><p>Spilling <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bleach-on-skin#first-aid" target="_blank">bleach</a> can cause irritation to your skin. You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of developing complications:</p><ul><li>Remove jewelry or clothes that came in contact with bleach and clean them after you wash your skin.</li><li>Rinse your skin with a sponge or an absorbent cloth over a sink.</li><li>Avoid touching other parts of your body such as your face while cleaning.</li><li>Seek immediate medical attention if you spill bleach in your eyes or if you burn your skin.</li></ul><p>Vinegar may also irritate your skin. Even though it's unlikely to cause any serious health complications, it's a good idea to wash vinegar off your skin to avoid any redness or soreness.</p>
Takeaway<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar creates potentially lethal chlorine gas. If you notice a pungent smell after mixing household cleaners, you should immediately leave the area and try to breathe in fresh air.</p><p>If you or somebody you know notice any symptoms of chlorine gas poisoning, it's a good idea to immediately call 911 or the NCPC at 800-222-1222<em>.</em></p>
- 8 Toxic Products You Should Not Bring in Your Home + Natural ... ›
- How to Make Your Own Natural Cleaning Products - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Green Cleaning Products for Tackling Messy Homes - EcoWatch ›
Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.
Climate Activists Speak Out<p>Speaking at the protest, German Fridays for Futures climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: "It's a post-factual power plant. The facts speak for themselves." She said it was a "provocation," to mark the planned coal phaseout with a new coal power plant.</p><p>"We're going to stop this power plant, we're going to bring it to a standstill, we will win this conflict," Neubauer added.</p><p>Former miners also attended the protest. "We condemn the fact that coal mining in Germany was halted and jobs were lost, only for coal now to be imported from other countries to power Datteln 4," said Sebastian Suszka, a former workers' council member.</p><p>Greta Thunberg, founder of climate activist movement Fridays for Futures tweeted that Saturday was "a shameful day for Europe.</p>
Germany's Coal Phaseout<p>Earlier this year, Germany announced a roadmap to see coal phased out, at the latest by 2038. It laid out plans for eight coal-fired power plants to be taken off the grid in 2020.</p><p>It was an important step for the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the EU — accounting for more than 22 percent of the bloc's CO2 emissions. Over a third of the electricity generated in Germany comes from burning coal.</p><p>Germany's coal commission has recommended that solutions be found for coal plants that are already built but not-yet-in-use to keep them from operating.<br></p><p>The state of North-Rhine Westphalia insisted that the additional carbon dioxide emissions from the new plant would be compensated by the closure of four other power plants.</p>
By Julia Ries
Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.
The Viral Material in Re-Positive Cases Isn’t Infectious<p>The Korean study examined 285 patients who tested positive again for the new coronavirus after they recovered from COVID-19, which had been confirmed via a negative test result.</p><p>The researchers swabbed the patients and examined the viral material to determine whether it was still actively infectious.</p><p>The team was unable to isolate live viral material, indicating that the positive diagnostic tests were picking up dead virus particles.</p><p>"[This] may speak for the fact that the virus may be dead or not be fit enough to grow — therefore the virus may not be fit enough to infect a new host," said <a href="http://www.providence.org/doctors/profile/1099717-andres-romero" target="_blank">Dr. Andres Romero</a>, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.</p><p>The researchers also tested 790 people who'd been in close contact with the "re-positive" patients. Of the 27 who tested positive, no cases appeared to be caused from exposure to someone who appeared to have a reinfection.</p><p>The report also found that the vast majority of recovered patients (96 percent) had neutralizing antibodies, indicating that they conferred immunity.</p><p>"Whether this is indicative of a completely protective response remains to be proven. If this study holds true, then people who have recovered can get back to work," Zapata said.</p><p>In response to the new findings, South Korea eliminated a policy requiring discharged patients to isolate for 2 weeks.</p>
Conducting and Interpreting PCR Tests<p>The tests widely used to diagnose COVID-19 are called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.</p><p>The tests swab a person's nose or throat and try to pick up the virus's genetic material, or RNA.</p><p>According to <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">guidance</a> from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a positive result on a PCR test doesn't "necessarily mean infectious virus is present or that the patient is contagious."</p><p>Infectious disease experts have suspected that the test kits aren't picking up actively infectious viral material in recovered patients who test positive again, but rather dead remnants of the virus.</p><p>We see this occur with other viruses, too.</p><p>"We know other viruses like parainfluenza, human metapneumovirus, or RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] may linger for months in certain patients, and that does not represent infectious state," Romero said. "Coronavirus may be the same."</p>
We Still Need to Practice Caution<p>While the findings are promising, infectious disease experts say we still need to practice caution.</p><p>More research is needed to validate these findings and determine whether they apply to distinct parts of the population, such as those who are immunocompromised.</p><p>It's common for immunocompromised patients — such as those with cancer — to continue testing positive for a virus for longer, since it takes their immune system more time to clear the virus out of their body.</p><p>"I don't think we can be 100 percent certain of whether each recovered person is no longer contagious. Again, this may differ with distinct population groups," Zapata said.</p><p>Physicians are seeing some hospitalized patients testing positive for a month after they were first swabbed for COVID-19. It's unclear whether these patients still shed infectious virus, according to Zapata.</p><p>Everyone's body mounts a distinct immune response based on their age and overall health. Different individuals will clear the virus out at different speeds, according to Zapata.</p><p>Until we have more data and a preventive vaccine, it's crucial to continue adhering to the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html" target="_blank">safety precautions</a> laid out by the CDC.</p><p>"The reality is that moving forward, the best approach will be keeping social/physical distancing, wearing a mask, and frequent hand hygiene in order to control the spread of the virus," Romero said.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Doctors and researchers have been unsure whether people who recover from COVID-19 who test positive again continue to be contagious, or if they could get a second infection.</p><p>New <a href="https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030" target="_blank">research</a> published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that recovered COVID-19 patients who test positive again aren't infectious.</p><p>The study also found that most patients who recover have neutralizing antibodies that protect them from getting sick again.</p><p>Though the study is promising, health experts say we need more data to validate the findings and determine whether they apply to all patient populations.</p>
- Asymptomatic COVID-19: Five Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- What Does 'Recovered From Coronavirus' Mean? - EcoWatch ›
By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.