Friday, December 8, 2017

Why the fight to stop Keystone XL is far from over

by Tim Donaghy            November 22, 2017 
This week Nebraska's Public Service Commission approved an alternate route for the Keystone XL pipeline. But that decision wasn't what the pipeline builder was hoping for -- and it shows that continued resistance will be crucial to defeating this pipeline for good.
© Amber Bracken / Greenpeace
This Monday the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved an alternate route for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and denied the company’s preferred route. The pipeline should have been rejected outright, but as the company’s grimly muted response shows, this decision by the PSC wasn’t the good news TransCanada had been hoping for.

The Keystone XL pipeline now faces significant legal, financial, and regulatory hurdles, a growing resistance movement on the ground, as well as a number of banks backing away from funding such risky and destructive projects.

With everything in front of TransCanada it’s hard to see an easy path forward for the company.

Let’s break it down.

Tell It To The Judge

Legal challenges to the Keystone XL pipeline had already started piling up before Monday’s decision.

Earlier this year environmental and grassroots groups filed suit to challenge Trump’s approval because the administration relied on an outdated and incomplete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that dated back to 2014. Monday’s decision may strengthen those arguments because the outdated EIS is based on a different route than what was ultimately approved, meaning that some environmental impacts may not have been properly studied. To give one example, the new route could impact new threatened and endangered species, including the pallid sturgeon.

The U.S. State Department has said it is reviewing the PSC decision and just today a federal judge ruled that this lawsuit can proceed, raising the possibility that further environmental reviews may be ordered before Keystone XL can move ahead.

Similarly, Dakota Rural Action, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe are involved in legal action against the state of South Dakota, which had previously approved the pipeline in that state.

Finally, groups could choose to file an appeal against the Nebraska PSC decision itself in the next 30 days.

Re-routing the pipeline could also lead to new legal headaches for TransCanada. Landowners along the new pipeline route may not have had sufficient opportunity to comment on the alternate route, and new objections and disputes could arise. TransCanada will likely need to secure  agreements with these new landowners or could be required to file eminent domain petitions to proceed with construction.

As a lawyer for the Sierra Club put it, “this decision opens up a whole new bag of (legal) issues that we can raise.” Navigating these various hurdles could be a very lengthy and potentially costly process.
Ground Resistance
Despite this approval, ground resistance to this pipeline continues to grow. The chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Harold Frazier, stated that his tribe “will fight this treaty violation with any means necessary. […] We have not asked for this danger to our way of life, yet today it is being forced upon us again.”

No Keystone XL Pipeline 

Just this week in South Dakota on the Lower Brule Reservation of the Kul Wicasa Oyate, representatives of Tribal Nations gathered for the second signing of the Treaty to Protect the Sacred from tar sands. See the livestream here.

From that important gathering, a handful of groups, including Greenpeace USA, launched the “Promise to Protect”– a promise to keep the movement against this tar sands pipeline going with peaceful, creative resistance.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has worked with a coalition of allies to plant Ponca Sacred Corn in the path of the proposed pipeline, and near the Ponca Trail of Tears. Similarly, at multiple locations along the pipeline route, families have built solar power arrays in its path as a concrete reminder that clean energy is a viable alternative to dirty tar sands and have plans for more.

TransCanada’s recent 200,000+ gallon spill from its existing Keystone 1 pipeline in South Dakota highlights why so many have pledged to stand against these pipelines.

This resistance is part of a growing movement opposed to the further expansion of risky and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure. Three proposed pipelines carrying tar sands from Alberta to ports and refineries have drawn particular opposition. Already over 150 First Nations and Tribes have declared their opposition to tar sands pipelines, rail and tanker traffic through their traditional territories and waters.

Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 expansion still has not secured final regulatory approval but has already sparked protest encampments and resistance. Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline which was proposed to carry tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Canada’s west coast has been greeted by the construction of tiny houses along its path, built by members of the Secwepmc Nation.

Banks Think Twice About Lending to Destructive Projects

The PSC decision was seen by some financial analysts as a sign of uncertainty for the project. Moody’s Investors Service stated that the decision “does not provide certainty that the project will ultimately be built and begin operating” and that pipeline construction “would negatively affect TransCanada’s business risk profile.”

A recent report from Greenpeace and Oil Change International, In The Pipeline, outlined the significant risks to banks and investors of these three tar sands pipelines. Major risks include:

Reputational risks from projects that could violate the human rights of indigenous communities, and that have proceeded without obtaining the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of communities impacted by the pipelines.
Reputational and financial risks from projects that pose a threat to local environments from pipeline oil spills and potential contamination of water resources. In addition to last week’s Keystone spill, a recent report from Greenpeace found that the three companies proposing to build these pipelines, and their subsidiaries, have been responsible for at least 373 spills releasing over 60,000 barrels of hazardous liquids since 2010.
Undermining other actions on climate change by bankrolling projects that are flatly inconsistent with the goals of the Paris climate accords and a healthy climate. These proposed pipelines are key to unlocking up to 2 million additional barrels per day of tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive energy sources on the planet.
Questions over the economic viability of the pipelines. The expansion of the tar sands is also dependent on high future oil prices that may not materialize. China and a number of other countries have announced policies that could significantly reduce the demand for oil over the next decades.
In recent months a number of banks, including BNP Paribas (the 8th largest bank in the world), ING Bank, and US Bank have adopted policies to eliminate financial support for tar sands pipelines. Greenpeace has called on JPMorgan Chase to do the same. Twenty-five banks currently provide key financial services that allow these projects to proceed.

All of this shows that organized, people-powered resistance can beat powerful and wealthy corporations. The resistance to KXL is working, but we need to fight even harder to cancel this pipeline for good. Join the #PromiseToProtect and plug into a massive wave of creative resistance to stop the pipeline.

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Scientists express shame and anger at plastic pollution of oceans

 Wandering albatrosses scour the oceans for food to bring back to their chicks 
Scientists who advised and consulted with the Blue Planet II documentary team say they feel "shame and anger" at the “plague of plastic” impacting the natural world.
Even in the remote waters of Antarctica, they have found evidence of plastic killing and harming seabirds. Wandering albatrosses – which have the longest wingspan of any birds alive today – are thought to be especially vulnerable.
Nesting on the barren islands of South Georgia, Antarctica, they feed their young by scouring thousands of miles of ocean for squid and fish but often bring back plastic instead and feed it to their young.  The final episode of what has become one of  the most-watched TV programs of the year explores how the oceans are threatened by human activities including overfishing and pollution.
It will be broadcast on Sunday 10 December on BBC.
 The final program in the series will look at some of the threats facing the oceans
In a particularly moving scene, Dr Lucy Quinn, a zoologist, is seen checking albatross chicks on Bird Island where she was the British Antarctic Survey’s winter manager for more than two years.
One chick that Dr Quinn found dead and later dissected was killed because a plastic toothpick that it swallowed had pierced its stomach.
Others had regurgitated plastic items including cling film, food packaging, cutlery and parts of bottles.
Dr Quinn reported, “I feel real shame and anger that humans have caused this problem.
"It’s really sad because you get to know the birds and how long it takes the parents, away for ten days at a time, to collect food for their chicks and what they bring back is plastic.
"And what’s sad is that the plague of plastic is as far-reaching as these seemingly pristine environments."

Lucy Quinn seen checking albatrosses on Bird Island, part of South Georgia
It's not known how many albatross chicks in Antarctica die from plastic pollution every year – it's thought to be fewer than the losses suffered by Laysan albatrossesin the Pacific .
But on Bird Island, predators often eat dead chicks before the researchers can reach them – and the suspicion is that the effect of the plastic goes beyond the direct killing of seabirds. It causes health risks to the predators too.
According to Dr Quinn, the threat is more insidious, weakening birds as they waste energy trying to digest plastic, which has no nutritional value, and potentially poisoning them as chemicals are released when the plastic breaks down in their stomachs.

Research at the other end of the world into a smaller relative of the albatross – the fulmars of the North Sea – shows that while plastics may directly kill seabirds, it is the debilitating effects of the waste that could be more serious.
 If a human had ingested the equivalent plastic volume as the average fulmar does (L), it would fill a lunchbox (R)

Studies of fulmars found dead on beaches or caught accidentally by fishermen – which Dr Quinn has also been involved in – show that from 2010-2014,  fulmars were found to contain on average 39 particles of plastic weighing a total of 0.32 grams.
In an unsettling image, the volume of space taken up by that plastic in a fulmar’s belly is the equivalent in a human stomach of the contents of a typical lunchbox, and usually the plastic is made up of consumer items used just once and then thrown away.

Most shocking is the effect of party balloons, released in a moment of celebration, but then catching the eye of a fulmar searching for food. Dr Quinn remembers one occasion when she dissected one of the birds.
"I couldn’t believe my eyes, seeing a balloon in the bird’s oesophagus, which would have killed it, along with cling wrap, toothbrushes and packaging – I feel extremely sad for the birds; frustrated and impatient to do something," she said.
The plastic is undermining the fulmars’ health, which could affect their ability to breed - with long-term implications for the species as a whole.
The Cayman Trough: Plastic debris has descended to the deepest parts of the world's oceans
The threat from plastic waste is not limited to pieces that are visible – bottles, bags and other items break down into minute fragments, or "micro-plastics", which enter the food chain in every corner of the ocean.
Scientists from the University of Newcastle even identified tiny fibres in the smallest creatures living in the deepest part of the Pacific, the Mariana Trench.

Dr Jon Copley, of the University of Southampton, who joined the Blue Planet submarine filming in Antarctica, said, "When I've seen plastic in the deep ocean - such as a trash bin liner we found near deep-sea vents in the Cayman Trough - there's an initial shock and then deep disappointment that our garbage got here before we did as explorers."
"But then there's the realization that our everyday lives are more connected to the deep ocean than we perhaps think.
"Every piece of plastic rubbish has a story, so it also makes me wonder about the chain of events that led to that particular item ending up in the deep ocean, and whether any of those events could have been prevented."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

NASA links port-city sea levels to regional ice melt

The contribution of melting ice in Greenland to sea level rise in New York City (inset). Red indicates the greatest sea level contribution, blue is the smallest to no contribution. A new NASA tool lets users research the contributions of all regions of global land ice to sea levels in 293 port cities. Data image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Google. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
By Pat Brennan,
NASA's Sea Level Change Portal
A new NASA tool links changes in sea level in 293 global port cities to specific regions of melting land ice, such as southern Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is intended to help coastal planners prepare for rising seas in the decades to come.

All coastal cities will see some impacts of global sea level rise. But the new tool shows that, for example, New York City is more strongly affected by melting ice in northeastern Greenland than in southwestern Greenland; while Sydney has a greater risk from the rapidly melting Antarctic Peninsula than from East Antarctica.

A paper describing the new tool, titled "Should coastal planners have concern over where land ice is melting?," was recently published in the journal Science Advances. The research team is Eric Larour, Erik Ivins and Surendra Adhikari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Melting ice and rising ocean temperatures contribute about evenly to global sea level rise today. Individual cities are also affected by local conditions such as land sinking. Other Web-based resources such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit address some of these issues, but the new NASA tool is the only resource to match specific melting ice locations with their effects on the world's ports.

Water from melted ice on land doesn't spread evenly across the world's oceans because of a gravitational push-pull between ice and ocean. As a melting glacier or ice sheet dwindles, it loses mass, causing its local gravitational pull on nearby ocean water to diminish. Seawater that had been pulled toward the ice by the force of gravity flows away — in other words, sea level drops in the vicinity of a melting glacier but rises farther away. When this spatial pattern can be attributed to a given glacier or ice sheet, it is known as a sea level fingerprint.

To calculate this and other influences on sea level such as Earth's rotation, Larour and his colleagues used a dynamic mathematical formula called the adjoint method, which is used in seismic and meteorological studies. The method enables fast computation of the sensitivity of a model's output to its inputs — in this case, the sensitivity of sea level to ice melting. They used the method with JPL's well-tested computer model of ice sheet melting, the Ice Sheet System Model, to develop their new tool, called Gradient Fingerprint Mapping.

Users of the tool need no specialized training or extreme computer power; they simply download it, input data or projections of ice loss, and let it evolve the shifting ice and water patterns forward into the future. The result: a detailed profile of the sensitivity of sea level at any of these cities to changes in ice anywhere in the world.

Calculations of sea level fingerprints have been made in previous studies but tended to be cumbersome and spatially coarse, Larour said. The new tool provides an overall mechanism for rapidly computing high-resolution results using a variety of potential data sets.

Gradient Fingerprint Mapping is not dependent on a particular climate change scenario, Larour said. "You can apply the method to any type of melting scenario that you want." That means it will retain its utility as improved projections of ice loss become available in the future.

The computations show that the specific location of mass loss in Greenland is crucial, as it greatly affects the local sea level predictions for many major coastal cities in North America and Europe. The spatial details of Antarctic melting are important for areas south of the equator in South America, Africa and South Asia.

Among some intriguing results, Larour said, are those for New York, London and Oslo. Greenland’s northeastern ice stream was shown to have an outsized effect on New York’s local sea level, but the island's southern glaciers had little influence. London was more strongly affected by Greenland’s northwestern and western glaciers. And Norway is so close to Greenland, the island's gravitational fingerprint is contributing to sea level decrease in Oslo.

The authors note that ocean dynamics can accelerate or offset the changes in sea level from gravitational fingerprints — particularly in New York, where the contribution of melting ice to accelerated sea level rise is minor compared to other sources.

“This is really a new capability,” Larour said. “Now a coastal planner can understand and see how the melting or growing of a given ice sheet could be detrimental or beneficial to a specific location.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Paris to ban all gas-powered cars by 2030

Photo published for Paris to ban all gas-powered cars by 2030
Paris City Hall wants gasoline-powered cars off the roads by 2030, which would be the latest move in a string of aggressive pro-environmental policies by the mayor. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)
The noise of car engines revving around the streets of Paris might become just a memory.
In its latest initiative to reduce air pollution, Paris City Hall wants gasoline-powered cars off the roads by 2030. The controversial move announced Thursday follows Mayor Anne Hidalgo's plan to ban all diesel cars from the city by 2024, when Paris will host the Summer Olympics.
Speaking on France Info radio, the Paris deputy mayor in charge of transport, Christophe Nadjovski, said "we have planned the end of thermic vehicle use, and therefore of fossil energies, by 2030."
Many Parisians don't own a car, but Hidalgo still has angered many of them with her efforts to make Paris a greener city, notably by adding cycling paths that have slowed vehicle traffic along the Seine River. Her detractors have accused her of waging a war against cars.

Wary of those critics, Paris City Hall issued a statement Thursday insisting the 2030 deadline isn't a proper ban, but "a feasible and realistic" goal. The statement added that Paris officials would keep discussing the issue with residents and car makers in the coming months.
Paris has faced rising air pollution in the last few years. Some pollution spikes have been so bad they forced City Hall to bar half of all cars from travelling and to make public transportation free for several days.
Hidalgo has been seeking to reduce pollution with a series of measures. She has launched a program banning traffic from the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue once a month, introduced rental bicycles in the streets as well as a fleet of electric cars to encourage residents to leave their polluting vehicles at home.

In September 2016, Paris authorities decided to close a 3.5-kilometre downtown road and transform it into a promenade. A year later, the body measuring air pollution said the move had no significant impact on residents' exposure to carbon emissions across the whole city.
With her ambition of taking gasoline-powered cars off the Paris roads by 2030, Hidalgo wants to go faster than the French government. Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot has said he wants to banish from France all fossil fuel cars by 2040.
"This government goal affects the whole French territory, rural zones included," the Paris City Hall statement said. "If we want to achieve this, it implies that the end of diesel and gasoline should take place several years in advance in urban areas, and particularly in big cities."

Paris will be a pioneer in this endeavor. The rest of the western world, and in particular, North America will reluctantly trail behind.  And if More Trump-like presidents continue to be in power,
the USA may set the process back a hundred years.

Orange is the new green: How orange peels revived a Costa Rican forest

A thousand truckloads of orange peels were unloaded onto a barren pasture in a Costa Rican national park in the mid 1990s. Today, that area is covered in lush, vine-laden forest.
  The land of orange peels
  Forgotten for years after lawsuit.
 What used to be the barren area (on the right) is now a flourishing forest, thicker, lusher and more healthy than the natural forest on the left
Proof that agricultural waste can restore decimated and barren forest land
In the mid-1990s, 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and orange pulp were purposefully unloaded onto a barren pasture in a Costa Rican national park. Today, that area is covered in lush, vine-laden forest.
A team led by Princeton University researchers surveyed the land 16 years after the orange peels were deposited. They found a 176 percent increase in aboveground biomass -- or the wood in the trees -- within the 3-hectare area (7 acres) studied. Their results are published in the journal Restoration Ecology.
This story, which involves a contentious lawsuit, showcases the unique power of agricultural waste to not only regenerate a forest but also to sequester a significant amount of carbon at no cost.
"This is one of the only instances I've ever heard of where you can have cost-negative carbon sequestration," said Timothy Treuer, co-lead author of the study and a graduate student in Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "It's not just a win-win between the company and the local park -- it's a win for everyone."
The original idea was sparked by husband-wife team Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, both ecologists at the University of Pennsylvania, who worked as researchers and technical advisers for many years at Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG, Guanacaste Conservation Area) in Costa Rica. Janzen and Hallwachs have focused the latter half of their careers on ensuring a future for endangered tropical forest ecosystems.
In 1997, Janzen and Hallwachs presented an attractive deal to Del Oro, an orange juice manufacturer that had just begun production along the northern border of Área de Conservación Guanacaste. If Del Oro would donate part of their forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, the company could deposit its orange peel waste for biodegradation, at no cost, on degraded land within the park.
But a year after the contract was signed -- during which time 12,000 metric tons of orange peels were unloaded onto the degraded land -- TicoFruit, a rival company, sued, arguing the company had "defiled a national park." The rival company won the case in front of Costa Rica's Supreme Court, and the orange-peel-covered land was largely overlooked for the next 15 years.
In the summer of 2013, Treuer was discussing potential research avenues with Janzen when they discussed the site in Costa Rica. Janzen said that, while taxonomists (biologists who classify organisms) had visited the area, no one had really done a thorough evaluation. So, while on another research trip to Costa Rica, Treuer decided to stop by the site to see what had changed over the past decade.
"It was so completely overgrown with trees and vines that I couldn't even see the 7-foot-long sign with bright yellow lettering marking the site that was only a few feet from the road," Treuer said. "I knew we needed to come up with some really robust metrics to quantify exactly what was happening and to back up this eye-test, which was showing up at this place and realizing visually how stunning the difference was between fertilized and unfertilized areas."
Treuer studied the area with Jonathan Choi, who, at the time, was a senior studying ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. Choi turned the project into his senior thesis.
"The site was more impressive in person than I could've imagined," Choi said. "While I would walk over exposed rock and dead grass in the nearby fields, I'd have to climb through undergrowth and cut paths through walls of vines in the orange peel site itself."
The research team evaluated two sets of soil samples to determine whether the orange peels enriched the soil's nutrients. The first set of samples was collected and analyzed in 2000 by co-author Laura Shanks of Beloit College, and the second set was collected in 2014 by Choi. Shanks' data were never published, so her analysis was combined with Choi's for the purposes of this study. The samples were analyzed using different but comparable methods.
To quantify changes in vegetation structure, the researchers established several transects within the orange waste treatment area. These transects were 100-meter-long parallel lines throughout the forest, where all trees within 3 meters were measured and tagged. This was done to see how much growth was brought on by the orange peels. For a comparison, the researchers constructed a similar set of routes on the pasture on the other side of the road, which hadn't been covered in orange peels. They measured tree diameter and identified all species within both areas.
They found dramatic differences between the areas covered in orange peels and those that were not. The area fertilized by orange waste had richer soil, more tree biomass, greater tree-species richness and greater forest canopy closure.
"Plenty of environmental problems are produced by companies, which, to be fair, are simply producing the things people need or want," said study co-author David Wilcove, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute. "But an awful lot of those problems can be alleviated if the private sector and the environmental community work together. I'm confident we'll find many more opportunities to use the 'leftovers' from industrial food production to bring back tropical forests. That's recycling at its best."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Conversation With Koko, the talking, feeling, thinking gorilla

This program doesn’t just talk with an ape, it carries on an intimate, decades-long dialogue with her. The story documents the incredible development of a gorilla named Koko, whose learning of American Sign Language (and understanding of spoken English) gives new meaning to the ideas of animal intelligence and inter-species communication.
Ahamo 2015 Winner: Excellence in Documentary Film:
 Gorillas in the wild are an endangered species. They are close relatives of ours. They think and feel and communicate. And yet we rob them of their habitat and food sources, hunt them and kill them.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

'War on the EPA': How Fossil Fuel Industry Executed 'Hostile Takeover' of Key Agency

Must-see Frontline details how Trump administration handed over environmental protection to oil and gas interests 

As Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt formally announced this week that he plans to pull the plug on the Clean Power Plan, Frontline released a documentary titled War on the EPA, which details the Trump administration's concerted effort to cater to the fossil fuel industry's demands and roll back environmental regulations.
Among those interviewed for the film are Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland, a 30-year EPA veteran who publicly resigned this summer and, so far, is the highest-ranking former staffer to speak out against the agency's operations under Pruitt, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and has been a key player in the administration's war on science.
"The atmosphere of EPA is really tense," Southerland said in the film. "What everyone is trying desperately to do is to hope against hope that their facts will change Scott Pruitt's mind—that they'll be special and they'll be able to convince the administrator not to go with whatever the industry people have asked him to do, and to give some deference to the science and engineering behind previous regulations."
Mere weeks after Southerland resigned from the agency, Pruitt announced the EPA had finalized plans to postpone a regulation she had worked on, which sought to prevent coal plants from dumping toxic chemicals in waterways. Pruitt's plans were immediately denounced by experts and conservationists, with the Center for Biological Diversity calling it "mind-bogglingly dangerous."
Rolling back that rule was just one of many moves by the Trump administration to implement an agenda that serves the coal, oil, and natural gas companies. Trump first visited EPA headquarters in late March, to sign an executive order directing the agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan. During his speech at the agency, the president declared: "My administration is putting an end to the war on coal."
The film also features an interview with Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal company in the United States. Murray mentioned in the film that not only was he in the audience during Trump's March speech at EPA headquarters, but that the president acknowledged the coal baron when he vowed to "put our miners back to work."
"I would say that people were really devastated by that," Southerland said of Murray's attendance. "That it was considered to be, really, an open slap in our face."
"What it conveyed is, 'this is a hostile takeover.' You, the scientists and lawyers and engineers at the agency are no longer valued," added Eric Schaeffer, who led the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement for five years, and resigned from the agency in 2002, to protest attempts by then-President George W. Bush's administration to weaken federal clean air policy.