By Carla Ruas
The American Petroleum Institute has rolled out a multibillion-dollar public relations campaign stating that oil and gas can help to solve climate change. The association is claiming that expanding the use of fossil fuels can lower climate emissions that are trapping heat on our planet.
If that sounds fishy, it's because it is.
The campaign, which includes online ads, airport displays and billboards, credits oil and gas for the recent dip of 2.1 percent in the U.S. climate emissions. It also pushes the false narrative that fossil fuels — especially natural gas — are the energy sources of the future.
Our new report, The Climate Report 2020: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Public Lands, shows that couldn't be farther from the truth.
While climate emissions went down slightly in 2018, the decline has more to do with the country's shift away from coal, a notoriously dirty energy source. And although the gap left by coal has been partially filled by oil and gas, to say dirty energy can stave off climate change is just plain wrong.
Our experts found that on public lands alone, oil and gas development is set to generate a massive amount of climate emissions. Federal lands leased to the industry in the last three years could produce as much as 5.9 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases. That's more than half the emissions that China — the world's largest emitter — releases per year.
You won't see that number in the industry's advertisements.
The problem is that oil and gas are far from being clean energy sources. Even the most efficient natural gas plant still emits about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by a coal plant. That's still high considering the world needs to slash carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, according to the United Nations
Federal lands leased in the last three years could generate half of China's annual climate emissions.
That's not all. The extraction of natural gas also releases methane, widely known as a climate change accelerant. The gas is released in smaller quantities than carbon dioxide, but it's 87 times more powerful in trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.
It's clear that by investing in oil and natural gas instead of coal, we're just replacing one emissions problem with another.
It's also clear that oil and gas companies are not interested in solving climate change. For instance, methane leaks could be easily cut with cost-effective solutions. But the industry has done the opposite, spending heavily to block the passage of any regulations.
The Federal Government Has the Industry's Back
The federal government has been supportive of the oil and gas industry. Mason Cummings / The Wilderness Society
As fossil fuel companies attempt to rebrand themselves as "clean" to expand operations, the federal government has been giving them full support. So far, the Trump administration has offered 461 million acres of American public lands and waters for the development of oil and gas — an area technically bigger than the state of Alaska.
Catering public lands to fossil fuel extraction is highly irresponsible. They already contribute greatly to the climate change problem: Over 20 percent of total U.S. climate emissions come from oil, gas and coal extracted on those lands.
But from the very beginning, the Trump administration has managed public lands on behalf of corporate interests instead of the public. They have been offering sites to the industry at below-market rates and have purposely hidden the climate impact of fossil fuel developments.
As the world strives to solve the climate crisis, we seem to be going in the wrong direction. The results could be catastrophic — especially for lower-income and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events including hurricanes, floods and wildfires.
The Real Solution: Healthy Lands
Instead of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound by investing in dirty energy to solve climate change, we need a long-term plan to reduce climate emissions.
We can start right here in our backyard: our shared public lands.
The federal government can easily reduce emissions stemming from public lands. They just have to reinstate limits on methane pollution, restrict the number of acres available for the oil and gas industry and charge a fair price for the land that is leased.
It gets better.
We can use this land to build responsible renewable energy projects such as wind turbines and solar panels. You know, the type that's actually clean. We can also foster natural carbon sinks—magical landscapes like the Tongass National Forest in Alaska that have the power to absorb carbon emissions. With this recipe, we can reach net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2030.
What's more, this approach is good for both the environment and people.
Less fossil fuel development on public lands will reduce air and visual pollution that so often burden local communities. Responsible renewable energy projects will put people to work. And healthy landscapes will strengthen climate resiliency for all and preserve our shared air, lands and waters.
The Tongass National Forest is a natural carbon sink. Nelson Guda / The Wilderness Society
Reposted with permission from The Wilderness Society
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By Carla Ruas
A brand new year is upon us and the future is full of possibilities. We have the chance to do better — especially when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.
The year 2019 will go down in history for being hot. Scientists estimate it was the second-warmest year since temperature recordings began in 1880. And we certainly felt the consequences in the U.S. — from wild weather swings in California to a shortage of fish in New England.
Unfortunately, the excessive heat is mostly caused by humans. The Global Carbon Project found that 43.1 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere last year – a 16 percent increase from 2018 and an all-time record. Most of the gas came from the burning of fossil fuels for our consumption, from energy to transportation.
If we continue down this road we’re in big trouble.
As we enter 2020, the planet has already warmed 1.8°F since the pre-industrial era. We're also off-track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global temperature below 3.6°F in the next decade.
If nothing changes, the future with climate change will be harsh — especially for communities of color, lower-income communities and immigrant groups that are more vulnerable to impacts from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and hurricanes.
The United Nations recently warned that we need to be more aggressive in implementing climate solutions. That mostly means reducing climate emissions and boosting clean energy. In order to do that, we need to look beyond the usual tactics; we need to prioritize the needs of local communities over oil companies and rethink how we use our shared lands and waters.
Here are five ways we can tackle the climate crisis in 2020 and beyond.
1. Cut fossil fuel extraction on America’s public lands.
This may come as a surprise, but American public lands are a huge source of climate emissions. More than 20 percent of the country's total emissions come from oil, natural gas and coal extracted on those sites. The federal government can easily turn this around by tightening leasing rules and charging fossil fuel companies a fair price for these lands. Right now, the Trump administration often gives acres away for the price of a cup of coffee.
2. Use damaged land to boost clean energy.
We need to generate a lot more renewable energy to replace old, dirty energy and slow down the climate crisis. And we know the perfect places for new projects. A lot of public lands across the country have been abandoned after being used for mining, landfills and coal plants. These lots are perfect for clean energy sites, since they've already been disturbed in some way and won't impact new wildlife habitats.
3. Protect and expand natural carbon sinks
Have you ever heard of carbon sinks? They are natural landscapes that have the power to absorb the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide. The Tongass Natural Forest in Alaska is the most prolific carbon sink in the country. From its trees to the underlying soil, it stores more carbon dioxide than any other forest in the country. We should take steps to preserve and expand the Tongass and other forests in the new year instead of opening them up to roads, logging and other development.
4. Bring local communities to the table.
The climate crisis impacts some communities more than others, mostly lower-income and communities of color. Hispanic immigrants, for instance, have more than three times the risk of dying from heat-related illnesses likely due to outdoor working conditions and limited access to medical care.
Communities of color are also disproportionally impacted by the air pollution that stems from fossil fuel sites. African Americans are exposed to about 56 percent more pollution than then they generate, while Hispanics bear the brunt with 63 percent. Dirty air has been associated with lung disease, heart disease and premature death.
If we're going to be successful in tackling climate change, these communities need to be a part of the conversation from the start. Their first-hand experiences and input are essential to make sure that we're not leaving anyone behind as we implement solutions.
5. Support new climate legislations.
We can't move forward with any of the tactics above without having legislation in place that establish the right framework.
We're thrilled a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). This historic bill would reduce and offset emissions from fossil fuel developments on public lands and waters. We're grateful to Chairman Grijalva for working to harness the power of our public lands to address the climate crisis and hope the Senate will do the same.
Laws to ensure that our climate lands are part of the climate solution are exactly what we need in 2020 to face the massive challenge that is climate change.
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
By Carla Ruas
Elizabeth Perez was only 10 years old when she moved with her family to the city of Bakersfield, in California. Almost immediately, she says, she began experiencing nosebleeds, headaches and difficulty breathing. Perez was in and out of a local health clinic for years, but doctors couldn't quite pinpoint what was making her sick.
Today, at age 24, she has a strong suspicion about the culprit. "I've seen a lot of people with the same symptoms in low-income communities located near oil and gas developments. And I think it's pretty clear we're being affected by heavy pollution," she said.
Perez's childhood memories have been coming back as she watches new pollution threats creep closer to Bakersfield. These come in the form of plans by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that would open well over a million acres of public lands in California to oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
The move has raised red flags among community members and environmentalists in the state's Central Valley region, which stretches north from around Bakersfield hundreds of miles through the Sacramento Valley. The area is already home to some of the nation's largest producing oil fields and a growing number of natural gas wells.
Elizabeth Perez experienced nosebleeds, headaches and difficulty breathing when she moved to Bakersfield, California.
Pollution Looms Over Bakersfield, Broader Central Valley
Central Valley residents know all too well the consequences of having fossil fuel extraction in their backyards. A combination of industrial agriculture and fossil fuel drilling has given the area at least two unwanted titles: the most polluted air in the country, with the cities of Fresno, Madera, Hanford and Bakersfield topping recent rankings of particle pollution compiled by the American Lung Association, and some of the most contaminated drinking water.
Further oil and gas development is likely to make conditions even worse.
The BLM's recent actions would end a five-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing in California that was instituted because the agency did not fully examine the environmental consequences of "fracking." The highly controversial extraction method involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into deep underground rock formations to release oil and gas. The technology not only intensifies fossil fuel extraction but also emits an array of toxic pollutants harmful to humans and the environment.
Bakersfield, which suffers from air pollution, is a town where 50% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
David Siebold / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
To measure the effects pollution is already having in and around Bakersfield, CCEJN worked with community members to collect air samples in neighborhoods where over 80% of residents identified as Hispanic or Latino.
In an initial report, they found several chemicals, including some linked to cancer and weakened immune systems.
"The levels of benzene were particularly above average," Martinez said. "There's really no safe level of this gas, but people are breathing it here daily and for several years."
As someone who likes to spend time outdoors, Perez says she is concerned about what new oil and gas sites could mean for her community. Areas like Hart Memorial Park, northeast of Bakersfield, where families go hiking, fishing and picnicking, could become too toxic for recreation. "Some parks are right next to oil fields which is not a scenic sight. And it's hard to think of kids breathing pollution when they are supposed to be enjoying nature," she said.
More drilling in California also poses a major threat of increased pollution in beloved wild lands like Sequoia National Park, the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the Los Padres National Forest.
A Matter of Environmental Justice
After her teenage years, Perez graduated from the University of California, Bakersfield, majoring in Environmental Management. She still lives in Bakersfield, where she works as a ranger at a nature preserve and as a community organizer for Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN).
As part of her job, she educates low-income Latino communities about the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas operations — including her old neighborhood.
Bakersfield is a textbook example of how people of color disproportionately shoulder the burden of fossil fuel development. A recent study found that black and Hispanic Americans tend to live in communities that are exposed to more pollution, despite contributing far less than white Americans to the consumer spending that drives that activity.
What's more, energy and other highly polluting development is often sited within diverse, low income, working class or rural communities. A disparity often pointed out by environmental justice advocates.
"These communities have a large percentage of immigrants from Latin American countries, and a low-socioeconomic status," according to Nayamin Martinez, CCEJN's Director.
"That means they have less opportunities to be proactive and oppose this type of development compared to more affluent neighborhoods," she said.
The Central Valley region is already home to some of the nation's largest producing oil fields.
John Ciccarelli, BLM
Community Fights Drilling Plans
As the BLM plans move forward, community members and environmental groups are speaking up.
In 2015, regional environmental groups took the BLM to court for not explicitly addressing how the planned fracking could impact human health and the environment. A judge agreed and ordered the agency to take a closer look. As part of that process, last year the BLM received more than 8,000 public comments outlining potential threats — including air and water quality.
The resulting report predicted an increase in toxic pollution from new fracking wells. Shockingly, it didn't propose any changes to protect public health or the environment — not a single change to the original drilling plan. The BLM is now accepting public comments on this statement until June 10, a chance for the public to express their concerns once more and hopefully be heard.
There's a lot on the line. If approved, these plans would expose communities like Bakersfield to further pollution and pain. Perez is doing her part by sharing her life story and educating local communities about the risks of further oil and gas drilling in the area. "They are the ones most affected, so it's important for them to know what is going on and how to make a positive change."
Our Public Lands are being threaten under @POTUS administration! Check out these before & after animations of the proposed 1 Million acres of new #Fracking and join us in saying NO on May 21st in Bakersfield.— CCEJN (@CCEJN) May 15, 2019
Image below: East Kern @ Lake Ming/Hart Park area. @CenterForBioDiv pic.twitter.com/8vg6Vv80fQ
By Katherine Arcement
Congress wants us to drill our lands and waters … or else!
Some members of Congress are trying to rig the system to use public lands primarily for oil and gas drilling, and they are threatening to silence and punish anyone who objects.
Under the Trump administration, public lands are being offered up for drilling at higher rates than ever before. Last year the U.S. government offered up 11.8 million acres for lease, or equivalent to Vermont and New Hampshire together. Vital protections for our air, land and water have been eliminated and public input has been minimized.
New legislation is being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee that would hurry the selling of public lands by punishing states and citizens opposed to drilling. It would also relax safety requirements.
These are five of the worst ideas under consideration:
1. Making citizens pay to protest drilling
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced HR 6087, a bill that would require citizens and groups like The Wilderness Society to pay a fee to file comments opposing reckless oil and gas leasing. Oil and gas companies, however, would not have to pay a fee for expressing interest in these parcels.
Protesting is an important way for citizens to weigh in on projects that could jeopardize endangered species, water and air quality, or present other threats to the public's wellbeing. Under Cheney's bill, protesters would pay per page filed with the government. Given the technical nature of a written protest, it could cost thousands of dollars to submit a protest. Under this bill, last year The Wilderness Society would have spent $15,000 in filings.
Oil and gas operations on public lands in New MexicoMason Cummings / TWS
2. Rigging the system to benefit polluters
Rep. Steve Pearce from New Mexico introduced HR 6106 and HR 6107, bills that would limit the ability of federal regulators to review environmental, safety or public health impacts of projects. HR 6106 would stop Bureau of Land Management employees from taking a closer look at several types of oil and gas projects—including roads and pipelines—regardless of the impact they may have.
HR 6107 would similarly bar federal regulators from reviewing certain oil and gas projects regardless of impact. The bill proposes to exempt any project that taps less than 50 percent of the federal mineral resources available, so long as the land surface is owned by another party.
3. Handing out drilling permits as fast as possible
Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) proposed HR 6088, a bill creating a new program for drilling permits on many public lands. It would make it so that after a permit has been filed, a company does not need a site inspection or environmental review to drill. All they have to do is wait 45 days. The only exception is if the Secretary of the Interior personally objects. This idea to rubber-stamp drilling permits would eliminate nearly all scrutiny of public health, safety or environmental impacts of a drill site.
4. Tying our children's education funding to oil drilling
Rep. Scott Tipton's (R-CO) HR 5859 bill would require that we expand onshore energy production to provide funds for education. It would do so by encouraging expansion of drilling on our public lands and incentivizing drilling. The bill would also potentially ignore dangerous consequences on public health, wildlife habitat, and air and water quality. It creates a false choice between selling out children's wellbeing and funding their education.
5. Handing drilling on public lands over to the states and penalizing states that oppose drilling
Possibly the worst idea yet is the "Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters" bill. This proposal would allow states to apply to manage an unlimited number of acres of federal lands that were within their borders. It would also exempt oil and gas projects from federal environmental laws and put states in charge of all permitting and project regulation. States would then be forced to continue to drill these lands at increasing intervals, as they would be rewarded for drilling more and penalized or have management stripped from them for drilling less. The state of Utah could push drilling in the 2 million acres of land illegally eliminated from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments.
This proposal would also penalize states that oppose drilling off their coasts. States that object to too many leases off their coasts could be charged a penalty that could reach billions or even trillions of dollars over the course of ten years. States that go along with the program would be rewarded by larger shares of royalty payments for resources that belong to all of us.
- The "Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters" proposal was heard in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 14, 2018. It currently is a draft and could be introduced as formal legislation.
- HR 5859, 6087, 6088, and 6107 have passed the House Natural Resources Committee and now await a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives.
- HR 6106 passed the House Natural Resources Committee on June 6, 2018. It now awaits a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives.
Conservation Groups: Fracking, Drilling Would Ruin Public Lands Near Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park… https://t.co/On2eNv8oCb— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523373742.0
Researchers, led by paleontologist Rob Gay, have discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team's initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week's Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.
"Based on our small, initial excavation, we believe that this 63-meter (69-yard) site may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world. If this site can be fully excavated, it is likely that we will find many other intact specimens, and quite possibly even new vertebrate species," said Gay, whose team's 2017 dig was funded by a grant from a special Bureau of Land Management (BLM) program that funds such research on national monuments and other national conservation lands. This funding could be at risk now that the excavation site has been removed from protections due to President Trump's legally-disputed proclamation to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by more than one million acres.
"It is extremely rare to find intact fossil skulls of specimens from this period," Gay said of the three toothy, long-snouted fossils currently being examined at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. "It is rarer still to recover fossils that have been looted, which was the case with one specimen that was missing a portion of its skull. We did a little more digging before realizing this site had been looted by someone without a permit for this kind of fossil removal."
Upon discovering the missing skull fragment, Gay contacted the BLM's district paleontologist and learned that a fossil matching the specimen's description and missing the portion Gay had discovered had been surrendered by an unpermitted collector to federal officials in Arizona. Using paleontological techniques, the team matched the fossil to the recent Bears Ears findings.
"This may be one of the only times a recovered fossil has been traced all the way back to the location where it was looted," Gay said, adding that having so much of that fossil specimen still intact on-site was key to the identification.
"Within the paleontology community, the size of this site and the potentially large number of specimens buried there represent an extraordinary opportunity to expand our knowledge of species that lived during the Triassic period," said Tracy J. Thomson, coordinator of the WAVP conference. "There is an incredible amount of work yet to be done and we hope that paleontological sites like this one will get the protection they need before more of our prehistoric past is forever lost to looting or irreplaceably damaged by mining in the region."
The looted fossil skull was taken from the excavation site before Bears Ears was designated a national monument in late 2016 in an effort to protect sites and other objects of scientific interest from such looting. Now that the Trump administration has slashed the size of Bears Ears, the site and its contents are once again at risk of looting and other vandalism, said Scott Miller of The Wilderness Society. He added that the entire area also could be subject to threats from mining and off-road vehicle use, both of which have a history of destroying paleontological resources in the area.
"While a discovery of this magnitude certainly is a welcome surprise, protecting such resources was the very purpose of Bears Ears National Monument," said Miller. "That President Trump acted to revoke protections for these lands is outrageous, and that he did so despite the Department of the Interior knowing of this amazing discovery is even more shocking. I hope the courts will act quickly to restore protections for Bears Ears National Monument before any more fossils are looted from the area and lost to science."
How Trump’s Dismemberment of Bears Ears Was Driven by Racism, Grave Robbery and Mormon Beliefs… https://t.co/SNIgLp9s98— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512598513.0
New Report: Taxpayers Deserve Climate Impact Information for Fossil Fuel Development on Public Lands
A new report released Thursday by The Wilderness Society provides an in-depth look at the significant lifecycle emissions resulting from the development of fossil fuels on U.S. public lands, and the need for the federal government to account for and make available such data to the American public.
"The U.S. federal government is one of the largest energy asset managers in the world, and yet they are actively keeping their shareholders—American taxpayers—in the dark when it comes to energy development and its associated climate-related risks on our public lands," said Chase Huntley, energy and climate program director at The Wilderness Society.
According to the report, greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil, gas and coal developed on public lands is equivalent to one-fifth or more of total U.S. emissions; meaning if U.S. public lands were a country, it would rank fifth in the world in total emissions behind China, India, the U.S. and Russia.
Limited data on federal fossil fuel resources and production is publicly available, and recent behavior from the new administration suggests even less will be released. Meanwhile, land management agencies have been directed to ignore commonsense guidance for estimating carbon emissions and climate impacts for energy leases. Moreover, there is currently no systematic effort to track nor disclose the carbon consequences of energy leasing on public lands.
"Hiding data on emissions and production from the American people prohibits them from meaningfully engaging in land management decision processes," Huntley said. "Just as shareholders have the right to key information regarding financial risks to their portfolios, American taxpayers deserve adequate information on how their energy assets are being managed."
Along with the report, The Wilderness Society has utilized the limited data available to create the Federal Lands Emissions Accountability Tool (FLEAT).
The new tool, now available on The Wilderness Society website, provides the best available estimate for greenhouse gas emissions from energy production on U.S. public lands, allowing the user to explore the data by location and different fuel types.
While America Focuses on Tax Bill, Congress Quietly Tries to Open #Arctic Refuge to Oil Drilling… https://t.co/AMprPfBsH7— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512769159.0
During the government shutdown, visitors to public lands encountered locked doors, deserted parks and ambiguous instructions.
The third weekend in January kicked off with a federal government shutdown. At least some Americans went ahead with their plans to visit national parks and other public lands, perhaps heartened by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's imprecise (yet exhaustively publicized) plan to keep them open.
But by one estimate, one-third of National Park Service-administered sites ended up closed on Saturday, the first day the shutdown was in effect. This included the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which quickly became the most visible symbols of the both the shutdown's effects and the dysfunction surrounding Zinke's plan (as a vacationing firefighter told Fox News, blaming unspecified politicians, "they really kind of screwed up our day"). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo later said he'd use state funds to ensure the sites stay open.
That still left hundreds of parks theoretically open for people to enjoy, not to mention a variety of national monuments, national wildlife refuges and other public lands. And indeed, some parks were open—sort of. Per media accounts, visitors were met by a variety of staffing contingencies, you're-on-your-own placards, closed visitor centers and even shuttered restrooms. At some parks, reduced search-and-rescue capacity and unsupervised roadways raised doubts about whether it was even safe to forge ahead.
Since park staff also serve a vital role protecting the land itself, the shutdown also allowed reckless behavior to creep in. At Yellowstone National Park, a concession operator allowed two clients to drive snowmobiles too close to Old Faithful, violating park rules while most rangers were off work.
Many people trying to enjoy their public lands over the weekend encountered mixed messages. At Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 62 miles from the White House as the crow flies, visitors were greeted by a locked gate—but also a sign explaining that, without staff, they could enter at their own risk.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were both closed during the government shutdown.NPCA / Flickr
The through-line of the signs, website updates and other communiques tasked with explaining the shutdown status was ambiguity.
Washington's Mount Rainier National Park and Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park posted similar notices on their websites warning visitors that staff would be unable to provide the usual level of assistance or emergency response. But come Sunday, the former tweeted a seemingly straightforward 'open for business' message ("Mount Rainier National Park Accessible to Public during Government Shutdown"), while the latter was still sharing an old tweet advising guests that "Some RMNP areas are accessible, however access may change without notice." Each park ranks among the nation's most dangerous as measured by yearly fatalities; leaving them on a semi-operational status and offering protean or unclear messages to the public seems like a recipe for disaster.
Shutdown a Reminder of Trump Administration's Uniquely Poor Conservation Record
While all this was playing out, Secretary Zinke, showing the same knack for publicity that has led him to fly a personal flag at the Department of the Interior and ride a horse to his new office, churned out social media posts that showed him greeting visitors to the National Mall, suggesting everything was proceeding as planned.
The confusion at public lands underscored the incoherence of the Trump administration, which pays lip-service to the giants of American conservation while working feverishly to undermine their achievements. A couple days after Zinke posed for photos, with the shutdown still in effect, he signed an agreement authorizing a land exchange and construction of a needless road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its designated wilderness area. Fittingly, that agreement was the product of backroom dealings and a process that shirked transparency and ignored previous studies on the proposal. Say one thing, do another.
Keeping some parks open didn't undo the misdeeds of what is already a uniquely damaging presidency.
Majority of National Parks Panel Quits in Protest of Ryan Zinke https://t.co/1LNYh0y8ET #Zinke @NWF @NRDC… https://t.co/cNlS30lBlv— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516201167.0
Following the lead of Native American tribes, The Wilderness Society and other groups have filed lawsuits against President Trump for violating the Antiquities Act when he essentially eliminated Bears Ears and greatly reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
But while we battle it out in court, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will be opened to the scourges of development and visitor misbehavior, among other things. Moving beyond the rhetoric and political gestures, here are a few of the actual, on-the-ground threats to these public lands, beginning with the most imminent.
1. More roads and reckless motorized use
The land cut out of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments will remain public, but it will not enjoy as high a level of protection as before Trump's decision. One of the most immediate concerns in these areas is re-opened roads and reckless all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use. Motorized vehicles will now be allowed on any road that existed prior to the establishment of the monuments.
That may end up being hundreds of roads, thanks to an oft-exploited law passed in 1866. Utah county governments have used the statute to claim that derelict or disused old settler trails count as current roads. This has included more than 1,400 miles of routes claimed within Bears Ears and 2,000 miles of routes within Grand Staircase-Escalante. So we could see huge swaths of wildlands suddenly overrun by vehicles now that the monument boundaries have been drastically contracted, isolating the still-protected sites as small, disconnected islands amid oceans of disruptive traffic.
2. Increased destructive "treatments" that tear up the land
The Trump administration's new declarations specify they "may allow for active, science-based vegetation treatment" in both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This will likely lead to a range of destructive activities meant to replace native plants with perennial grass cover. One of the most viscerally upsetting is so-called "chaining," in which bulldozers drag enormous chains across the desert to uproot trees.
Research suggests this practice—which is likely to be among the first undertaken in the newly un-protected landscape—can suppress tree growth in the area for decades after the fact, especially impacting the piñon pine. Chaining also reduces biocrust, a thin layer of organisms on the soil surface that help maintain the desert ecosystem, and leads to increased wind and water erosion.
3. Damage to Native American cultural sites
With Trump's decision, priceless archaeological and cultural sites in Bears Ears will be vulnerable to looting and vandalism, as they were for years prior to monument designation. Rock art, cliff dwellings and other cultural sites now fall outside the monument boundaries, meaning less oversight for a piece of public land already extremely short on staff. A similar situation faces Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Bob Wick (BLM) / Flickr
The proclamation for Bears Ears also called for changes in the commission overseeing the monument that tribes say excludes key voices while elevating those hand-picked by anti-public lands interests. An attorney with the Native American Rights Fund characterizes a bill that more or less codifies Trump's decision as an attempt "to dilute and silence the tribal voice." It is unclear what exactly this will mean for the monument, but it's safe to say it won't involve more buffers and protection for critical tribal sites.
4. Fossils exposed to vandalism (and important research halted)
There are estimated to be more than 3,000 "scientifically important" fossil sites in the full Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Trump's cuts would leave out more than 400 of them, including many potential dinosaur finds and a large section of Triassic petrified forest mentioned in President Bill Clinton's original proclamation establishing the monument. Bears Ears has not been studied as extensively by paleontologists, but is considered ripe with potential; Trump's virtual elimination of that monument will strip protected status from a major Triassic bone bed, among other sites.
A dinosaur skeleton unearthed at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, now exhibited at the Natural History Museum of Utah.Charles (Chuck) Peterson / Flickr
This is why, in addition to Native American groups and The Wilderness Society, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is among those groups suing Trump over his monument cuts. Paleontologists worry that with former monument-protected land reverting to a less protective level of "multiple use" management, mining and other activities will come to take precedence over fossils. In the meantime, fossils will be exposed to vandalism, which is already a huge problem at some national monuments and would be even more so for tracts of land that lack that level of staff and resources.
Cuts will also interfere with research and perhaps even halt some projects entirely (a great deal of funding that led to major fossil finds in Grand Staircase-Escalante came through the monument, including the resources to airlift a rare, nearly complete tyrannosaur skeleton out of a now de-designated monument area earlier this year).
5. Uranium and coal mining in formerly protected lands
As has been extensively reported, Trump's monument attacks are likely motivated by a push to drill and mine in and around Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. In the case of Bears Ears, a uranium company lobbied the Trump administration to exclude potentially ore-rich areas from the new monument boundaries, as becomes glaringly obvious with a glance at the map:
The price of uranium is currently too low to expedite mining on the land, but that is not a permanent state. Similarly, while the area formerly protected as Bears Ears is not considered a high-potential spot for oil and gas drilling at the moment, that could easily change with market fluctuations and the development of new technologies.
Meanwhile, Trump's contracted borders for Grand Staircase-Escalante carefully tiptoe around coal deposits (see below), opening the door for coal mining operations on former monument lands. That could mean thousands of acres dug up and stripped, waterways polluted with soil and contaminants and wildlife driven away by dust and noise pollution.
Herd of caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Izuru Toki / Flickr
The U.S. Senate has passed a Republican tax-reform package that contains a provision to authorize oil drilling on the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, placing the biological heart of one of our last pristine, untouched places in severe peril.
"This vote to deface and pollute one of the nation's last pristine and untouched wild landscapes is outrageous," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, in a statement after the Senate passed the tax package. "The Arctic Refuge drilling provision has no legitimate place in a tax bill, and this backdoor political deal now threatens to destroy the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, attached her drilling bill to the tax legislation under the budget reconciliation process as a way of getting the unpopular measure passed with a mere 51 votes, with no chance of a filibuster by Democratic senators who want to defend the refuge. The bill now needs to be reconciled with the House version, which does not include an Arctic Refuge drilling provision .
Unless the drilling provision is stripped from the legislation during negotiations with the House, it will be part of the final tax bill that goes to President Trump for his signature, allowing the fragile coastal plain to be auctioned off to the oil industry and undoing nearly 40 years of bipartisan support for protecting the Arctic Refuge.
At 19.3 million acres, the Arctic Refuge is America's largest wildlife refuge and provides habitat and birthing grounds for native caribou, polar bear and migrating birds from across the globe, and a diverse range of wilderness lands. Its 1.5 million-acre coastal plain—stretching north from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean—provides vital denning habitat for endangered polar bears and is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which contains nearly 200,000 animals.
Oil and gas drilling would have devastating impacts on this pristine and fragile ecosystem, caused by the massive infrastructure needed to extract and transport oil. Drilling the Arctic is risky, would fragment vital habitat and chronic spills of oil and other toxic substances onto the fragile tundra would forever scar this now pristine landscape and disrupt its wildlife.
"This fight is not over," Williams said in his statement after Senate Republicans passed their bill in the middle of the night. "The oil industry and its allies in Congress may think they can sneak this past the American people, but communities across the country are speaking out every day. They are calling on principled leaders in Congress to reject this poison pill and oppose a tax bill that would drill the refuge."
Rep. Rob Bishop is moving legislation that would radically cut down the scope of the Antiquities Act, effectively blocking new protections of national monument lands.
Bishop's bill—in an Orwellian flourish, titled the "National Monument Creation and Protection Act"—would bar the Antiquities Act from being used to protect landmarks, prehistoric structures and objects of "scientific interest," switching the law's scope to the vague term "object or objects of antiquity."
Court rulings and more than a century of presidential practice have established that the Antiquities Act is broad and can protect large natural landscapes. Reducing its scope to the narrow yet vague and infinitely litigable terms Bishop proposes would fulfill a longstanding goal of the anti-public lands fringe and severely undermine the law.
Among other things, Bishop is infamous for remarking about Native American rock art at Nevada's Basin and Range National Monument, "Ah, bullcrap. That's not an antiquity." It's not hard to see the potential damage done by reshaping a bedrock conservation law in this man's image. If thousand-year-old art—not to mention the Grand Canyon itself, whose onetime monument status led to a legal ruling that the Antiquities Act could be applied to large natural landscapes—isn't an "antiquity," then what would he deem worth saving?
Based on past remarks, Rep. Rob Bishop might not consider the rock art at Basin and Range National Monument (Nevada) a worthy criterion for Antiquities Act protection.Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
Bishop's bill would also outlaw monuments beyond a certain acreage, allow future presidents to slash existing monuments down to a fraction of their size, and completely end the practice of setting aside marine habitat under monument status.
"On the heels of [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke's secret report to illegally roll back national monument protections across the country, [House Natural Resources Committee] Chairman Bishop has one-upped him by trying once again to gut the law that protected these treasures in the first place," said Dan Hartinger, deputy director for parks & public lands defense at The Wilderness Society. "It seems as though they're in some perverse contest to see who can author the most radical proposal to sell out our public lands to development."
Antiquities Act Has Been a Long-Running, Bipartisan Success
Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to protect important archaeological, historic and scientific resources on public lands under the designation "national monument." It has been used on a bipartisan basis by almost every president, a method supported by some 90 percent of voters that forms the backbone of our National Park System.
Despite its popularity and proven track record, in the spring of 2017, President Trump signed an executive order launching a "review" of every large national monument established under the Antiquities Act since the beginning of 1996. It was a move transparently spurred by extreme members of Congress trying to shrink boundaries and reduce protections in their respective states.
In September, media outlets reported that Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's recommendations based on that review featured changes to 10 national monument lands, including shrinking Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou.
Bishop's law is the natural next step, a killing blow aimed at the very foundation of the American public lands tradition. The goal is to not only roll back what has been protected in the past, but to prevent any and all protections in the future.
We don't know precisely what path this bill will take, but should it come to a full House vote, we will call on Wilderness Society supporters to mobilize and let their members of Congress know Bishop's proposal is totally unacceptable.
A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.
Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.
"Some places are simply too wild to drill," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. "The federal government must resist pressure from energy companies and other special interests to open up our last remaining wild places for development."
Energy development damages landscapes, often permanently. Impacts resulting from infrastructure like well pads, oil rigs, roads, fences and pipelines include air and water pollution from haze, spills, chemicals and dust, as well as phenomena like industrial traffic, gas flares and other light pollution, and loud noise that can disrupt communities and wildlife.
The Wilderness Society issues a new version of Too Wild To Drill every few years to call attention to vulnerable places on public lands. The release of this edition falls in the midst of numerous reviews of public lands policies, ordered by President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary, taking place behind closed doors with little or no public oversight or accountability.
In fact, earlier this week news broke of the Trump administration's secret efforts to roll back protections for several wild places featured in the report, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, presumably to make them available for energy development.
"The Interior Department is required by Congress to manage, on behalf of the American people, almost 450 million acres of public lands for many different purposes, not just energy extraction," Williams said. "Yet oil, gas and coal have long had an outsized influence—and footprint—on public lands. It is long past time that we take some of these lands off the table."
Energy companies already have more leases than they can apparently use. Of the 27 million acres currently under lease to oil and gas companies—an area about the size of Tennessee—more than half are sitting idle. And the coal industry already has 20 years of reserves under lease on public lands.
While oil, gas and coal companies and their activities have an indisputably disproportionate influence on public lands, other imminent threats to treasured public lands identified by Too Wild To Drill include uranium and sulfide-ore copper mining and groundwater extraction.
This month also marks the end of the 180-day review period established by President Trump's "Energy Independence and Economic Growth" Executive Order. The directive requires federal agencies to review any regulations that could "potentially burden" fossil fuel development. The Trump administration is known for its close ties to the extractive industries.
"We must set aside our wildest, most pristine places for future generations to enjoy," Williams said. "Selling out our public lands for short-term profit should not be an option for these special places. Once they're gone, we can never get them back."
In April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to review 27 parks designated since the beginning of 1996, with an eye toward shrinking boundaries and reducing protection for many of them. Shortly after, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke opened a comment period to solicit input from the public, ostensibly to inform his recommendations about what to do with each of them.
Since then, some of the parks on the list have been granted stays of execution, while others, like Utah's Bears Ears National Monument, received word that the Trump administration intends to cut them to pieces. Throughout the summer, Trump and Zinke's review played out as a reality show-like spectacle, lacking either transparency or a sense of why it was necessary in the first place.
This Man Visited 27 National Monuments in 2 Weeks to Protect Them From Destruction https://t.co/cdeWxyHgvH @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501104628.0
Now, days before Zinke is scheduled to deliver his final recommendations on Aug. 24, one thing—and only one thing—is clear: the American people decisively reject the parks review and favor the continued protection of natural and cultural landmarks.
More than 2.8 million comments were submitted to Interior during the public comment period and an analysis of 1.3 million comments publicly available on regulations.gov found that 99.2 percent opposed Trump's executive order, with respondents mentioning a wide variety of concerns.
Key takeaways from the analysis:
- 99.2 percent of all comments received opposed Trump's executive order reviewing the 27 parks.
- Percent of comments that opposed review of key parks: 95.6 percent for Bears Ears National Monument (Utah), 92.1 percent for Gold Butte National Monument (Nevada), 95.3 percent for Grand-Stairacse Escalante National Monument (Utah), 92.6 percent for Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (New Mexico), 89.4 percent for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Maine)
- 80 percent of commenters who specified their location resided in a state containing a park under review; 90.9 percent of Utahns, whose home state has been ground zero for many attacks on public lands, opposed the review.
- Commenters who mentioned concerns about the preservation of cultural artifacts, which has been an ongoing concern in the areas now designated Bears Ears National Monument and Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument, were 98.5 percent opposed to the review
Key-Log Economics, a consulting firm, analyzed and reviewed comments using a "machine learning algorithm." This algorithm was trained based on the efforts of human volunteers who evaluated thousands of comments.
As we await the Trump administration's recommendations on the 27 parks, the new numbers serve as another reminder that Americans will likely oppose any anti-public lands policies that arise from them, whether through legislative or administrative action. This review, as well as the larger campaign to hand protected places over to fossil fuel interests, mining companies and more, is as deeply unpopular as ever.