Local Elected Officials Urge BLM to Strengthen Proposed Fracking Rule

Last week, a group of lawmakers from Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to toughen its proposed rule for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on federal land, calling it essential to protecting the public and the environment.

Four Ohio state legislators, nine Michigan state legislators, and 22 Colorado state legislators and local elected city officials signed letters to President Obama calling for the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management to strengthen its proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing on public lands, "Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands." The rule, which is expected to be finalized in early 2014, will regulate fracking on over 750 million of acres of public land (including national forests, wildlife refuges, and BLM-managed public wildlands and habitats), tribal, and even private lands.   

Colorado lawmakers highlight that out of the 750 million acres of public land that would be affected by the BLM rule, about 23 million of those acres are in Colorado. And in February 2013 alone, the BLM leased over 88,000 acres in Colorado to oil and gas operators.  

In Ohio, 256,960 acres of public land would be affected by the BLM rule. In Michigan, 3,679,970 acres of public land would be affected. And in September 2013 alone, the BLM leased over 27,815 acres in Michigan to oil and gas operators.

In their letters, the elected officials make a compelling argument for a more stringent BLM rule: "While the proposed rule is a significant step forward, there are a number of essential features missing from the BLM proposal, many of which have already been enacted by states without opposition from industry." The rulemaking was originally initiated to provide much-needed guidelines for drilling activities on federal and tribal land under BLM jurisdiction. However, as the lawmakers point out in their letters to President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, "the BLM yielded to industry pressure and weakened the rule in its second version."

Continue reading "Local Elected Officials Urge BLM to Strengthen Proposed Fracking Rule" »

Happy Birthday Endangered Species Act

  Grizzly USFWSGrizzly bear, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

What do a green sea turtle, a brown pelican, a gray wolf, a humpback whale, and a grizzly bear all have in common? On first glance, not much. But they are all, in fact, success stories of the Endangered Species Act. All of these species were at some point on the brink of extinction in the continental United States. But thanks to the protections and recovery plans put in place by the Endangered Species Act, their populations have rebounded dramatically and, in many cases, they are thriving. They all tell the story of one of our nation's and the world's most successful laws.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. When President Nixon signed the act into law on December 28, 1973, he didn’t know that it would come to be the most effective tool we have to conserve species and biodiversity in our country. The law has been more than 99 percent successful at preventing the extinction of wildlife under its protection. And the bipartisan support shown for the Act is difficult to imagine in today's political climate. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with only a few dissenting votes in the House of Representatives.

And yet today, despite decades of success and saving icons of our natural heritage such as the bald eagle from near certain extinction, the Endangered Species Act is under attack as never before. Just a few short years ago, Congress made the unprecedented decision to intervene and legislatively remove gray wolves in Montana and Idaho from the Endangered Species list. That same year, House Republicans voted to forbid any additions to the list. And now, Senate Republicans have introduced the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act. This radical bill would allow states to simply opt out of wildlife protection regulations if they wanted to and would remove species from the list after five years, regardless of whether they are recovered.

Over the last 40 years, we have shown that we as a country value and have the ability to protect our most important and iconic wildlife. Now we must act to ensure that our children and our grandchildren can experience the wonder of hearing a wolf howl in places like Yellowstone National Park and witness flocks of brown pelicans in Florida. It's time to work together to ensure that the Endangered Species Act is just as strong 40 years from now as it is today. 

-- by Matt Kirby

Hetch Hetchy and a Century of Environmentalism

Scb_viii_plate_lv_gleasonArchival photo of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Photo by Herbert Gleason, courtesy Restore Hetch Hetchy. 

Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon. The Great Smoky Mountains, and so many more.

It's hard to imagine the United States of America without our national parks.  But in the late 19th century, preserving public land in its natural state was a new and provocative idea. It was also too late for many European countries, whose lands had already been fully developed.

It all started when President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to preserve Yosemite Valley in faraway California for "public use, resort and recreation ... inalienable for all time." Shortly afterward, Yellowstone National Park was created -- our nation's, and the world's, first wilderness park.  Yosemite, Sequoia, Mesa Verde, and Mount Rainier came soon after.

But 100 years ago, we took a step backward. San Francisco, in the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire that devastated the city, campaigned to build a dam in Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, one of two iconic glacier carved valleys in the park.  More than 200 newspapers nationwide rose in opposition to the idea that a single municipality could take over land that had been "preserved in perpetuity" for all Americans. After extensive deliberation, however, the Raker Act was passed by Congress, allowing the dam to be built. It was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on December 19, 1913.

Continue reading "Hetch Hetchy and a Century of Environmentalism" »

A New Playing Field for Tomorrow's Energy Game

Believe it or not, back before the government shutdown, before Ted Cruz became a household name, before talks of default, before the "defund Obamacare" chants, there were other issues concerning the 2014 federal budget. Fossil fuels and renewable energy were once part of this discussion.

Let's start with a new report by the International Monetary Fund. It reveals that in 2011 global fossil fuel direct, "pre-tax" subsidies (where governments just hand out money) totaled $480 billion. "Post-tax" subsidies including negative externalities totaled $1.4 trillion, or, a whopping 2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Negative externalities are things that one benefits from at the cost of another, and those that benefit don't have to compensate those that lost. These damages are sometimes called the social cost of fossil fuels. These costs are paid by our environment and health resulting from the spills, the fires, the air and water contamination, and the disease caused by extracting and burning dirty fuels. The United States led the world in pre and post-tax totals, with a total $502 billion in subsidies. This is followed by China at $209 billion. Again, at least (I say least because some, like David Roberts over at grist.org take it a step further, here.) 2 percent of global GDP is dedicated to propping up dirty fuels.

President Obama has stated, "As we continue to pursue clean energy technologies that will support future economic growth, we should not devote scarce resources to subsidizing the use of fossil fuels produced by some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world." He subsequently looked to repeal over $4 billion in direct subsidies for these companies.

Continue reading "A New Playing Field for Tomorrow's Energy Game" »

Illegal Logging and Wall Street?

Siberian Tiger
Photo by tambako on Flickr

It's been a rough start to the holiday season for Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in America. Last month I noted that federal officers raided Lumber Liquidators headquarters, investigating whether the company had imported illegally logged wood products from eastern Russia, the home of the critically endangered Siberian tiger. Importing illegally harvested timber or wildlife violates the U.S. Lacey Act, with violators subject to fines and penalties. Now, after facing criticism from a noted hedge fund advisor, Lumber Liquidators is being hit with class action lawsuits.

On Nov. 21, well-known hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson gave a presentation to a conference of investors in which he argued that Lumber Liquidators' recent increases in profit margins have come, in part, by increasing imports of illegally harvested wood from China and the Russian Far East. Tilson's presentation notes that over the last two years, Lumber Liquidators has increased the percentage of wood sourced from Asia from 42 percent to 51 percent, coinciding with a rapid increase in profits. New investigative reports have provided compelling evidence that much of this wood sourced by Lumber Liquidators was illegally harvested in the Russian Far East.

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Chill the Drills: Climate and America's Arctic


America's Arctic is a place like no other. Its unique conditions -- extreme weather, long periods of darkness -- and its remoteness from infrastructure make it both extremely harsh and fragile. Here sea ice meets the northern edge of the continent, and animals congregate in great numbers.

I have been fortunate in my life to spend a fair amount of time in arctic Alaska. This remote region is one of the wildest spots left on the globe. I've watched walrus gather on ice floes, puffins "fly" through the water, bowheads breach in ice filled waters, and polar bears prowl the ice edge. I have traveled with Alaska Native people, who have lived on these lands and waters for hundreds of generations, and I've listened as they described their connections to this land and importance of these animals to their culture and subsistence. A major spill could leave oil in these waters for decades -- killing whales, seals, and fish, and bringing to an end Alaska Natives' ancient way of life.

The Arctic is already paying the price for our fossil fuel habit. Northern Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the lower 48. The people of the North Slope see the effects every day -- in loss of sea ice, changes in animal abundance and behavior, and the loss of important subsistence opportunities.
The Obama administration is in the process of deciding if we should offer up new oil and gas leasing in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea, and Shell Oil recently announced that it wants to try once again to drill in the Arctic Ocean. This week the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) closed its official "Call for Information and Nominations for the Chukchi Sea." This "Call" is the first step in a multi-step lease sale process, where the oil industry must provide specific information to support nominations of areas to be considered for leasing. We need the Obama administration to refuse Shell's new, but not improved, exploration plan and decline to offer any new lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic polar bearDrilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with a distinctive set of risks to the environment -- and challenging risks to the would-be drillers, as Shell found out in 2012. Shell's last attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea showed clearly just how unprepared and ill-equipped oil companies are to drill in the Arctic. There is nothing to lend credence to the idea that Shell, or any other company, can drill safely in inhospitable arctic conditions. History has shown that where there is drilling, there is spilling. Oil spills in the Arctic would cause irreparable damage and be impossible to clean up.  

Next year, 2014, will mark 25 years -– a quarter century -- since the Exxon-Valdez ran aground, and oil can still be found on south central Alaska beaches. But the risks extend beyond a devastating oil spill that would jeopardize wildlife and Native subsistence communities. The Arctic acts as a refrigerator for the northern hemisphere. Tapping into and burning oil from the Arctic Ocean would pump dangerous amounts of carbon pollution into the air, worsening climate change. It would also coat Arctic ice surfaces with black, heat-absorbing soot, further speeding the melting that is already at record levels in an Arctic that is already warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The effects of the melting of Arctic ice can be seen in rising sea levels in coastal areas from New Orleans to Miami and in a sharp global increase in extreme weather events.

The Obama administration identified addressing climate change as its number one environmental priority. While it has made significant progress with demand-side measures such as vehicle fuel economy and power plant carbon pollution standards, all of this progress can be negated by an "all of the above" energy plan that opens up our public lands and waters to dirty fuel production. To effectively address climate change, the United States must lead the effort to begin keeping fossil fuels -- oil, natural gas, and coal -- in the ground, especially in risky, remote, and fragile places like the Arctic Ocean.
The president's climate plan and his recent executive order on climate preparedness have spelled out the administration's commitment to combating and preparing for climate change. As part of the executive order, the president called on federal agencies to reduce the sources of climate change. If the administration is serious about addressing climate, then halting leasing and drilling in the Arctic Ocean is the place to start. The Arctic's fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. Cleaner energy and transportation options are here now. We don't need to continue investing in fuels of the past.

TAKE ACTION: Join us in asking the administration to protect the Arctic Ocean and the climate by keeping this dirty energy in the ground.

-- Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Arctic Program Director

Protecting Colorado's Browns Canyon

Browns Canyon, Colorado, credit John Fielder, johnfielderdotcom

Rafters on the Arkansas River at Brown's Canyon -- by John Fielder (johnfielder.com)

U.S. Senator Mark Udall yesterday announced he will introduce legislation to permanently protect Colorado's Browns Canyon as a national monument. Following months of public input, the proposal will safeguard 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista, create more than 10,000 acres of new wilderness, and ensure continued public access to one of the most popular rafting destinations in the country.

"We're pleased that Senator Udall is giving Browns Canyon the recognition it deserves," said Alan Apt, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter wilderness chair. "The area's unique mix of exciting whitewater, wildlife, and outdoor recreation make it an important part of our outdoor heritage and our outdoor economy, which is why so many of us here in Colorado want to see it protected."   

Browns Canyon was formed by the Arkansas River, which runs 1,400 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi. This amazing area provides sweeping views and recreation opportunities for every season. While the white water of Browns Canyon already draws rafting enthusiasts from near and far, national monument designation will truly put Browns Canyon on the map. Visitor experiences will be preserved and improved, an amazing wild place will be safeguarded, and local businesses will gain a competitive advantage that comes with protected public lands. Colorado's outdoor industry is already one of the largest in the country, contributing $10 billion annually to the state and providing over 100,000 jobs.

"Senator Udall's outreach has confirmed broad public support from local communities and nearly 200 businesses," said John Stansfield, wilderness chair for the Pikes Peak Sierra Club Group. "A Browns Canyon National Monument will ensure that this remarkable landscape is preserved while continuing current use and access to the area. We look forward to working with Senator Udall and others to finalize permanent protections for Browns Canyon."

It’s Time to Reconsider the Costs of Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon

NAU press event

Northern Arizona University students (left to right) Heath Emerson, Montana Johnson, Sienna Chapman, and Tommy Rock were all born after the Canyon Mine Environmental Impact Statement was developed. Photo: Taylor McKinnon.

NAU Against Uranium, a volunteer group made up of Northern Arizona University students, is demanding a new environmental review for a Grand Canyon area uranium mine. On November 21, 2013, they organized a "Youth Speak in Defense of the Canyon" press conference confronting the exclusion of young people from the public review process for the Canyon uranium mine, located just six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. Students, Havasupai tribal members, and NAU faculty spoke in support of youth inclusion.

The Forest Service's refusal to update the Canyon mine's 1986 environmental review has meant that anyone born after 1986 has not been given the opportunity to weigh in on the project, even though its reopening in April could significantly affect their lives. More than 500 people born after 1986 have signed a petition calling for the chance to participate through a new environmental review.

"From my perspective, my family has lost many relatives to uranium mining.  Many of my relatives were former uranium miners in Monument Valley, Utah. Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Nation still has many abandoned uranium mines scattered across the reservation. I do not want to see history repeat itself at Grand Canyon. As a Native American, Grand Canyon is a sacred area," said Northern Arizona University graduate Tommy Rock. 

Continue reading "It’s Time to Reconsider the Costs of Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon" »

A Call to Protect America’s Arctic, For Good

Arctic fox

For decades we have been fighting to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from dirty fuel development.  Every year Big Oil and its friends in Congress make new attempts to weasel their way in to this special place.  Fortunately there are those willing to stand up and fight to save our last great wild places, including the Arctic Refuge’s crown jewel-- the coastal plain.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are among those willing to take a stand. At a time when bi-partisan legislation is hard to come by, they've introduced a bill to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness.  The bill would finally protect the area for good.  

Senator Kirk has said, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine environments in the United States, and its value to our environment is undeniable.  We have a responsibility to protect this fragile ecosystem to allow wildlife to roam free without disruption of their natural habitat. Designating this land as wilderness will benefit generations to come.”

Alaska is plagued with elected officials who owe too much to the oil companies.  Alaska Governor Sean Parnell released the latest unwise proposal to begin opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to damaging oil and gas development earlier this year.  And even our Democratic Senator Mark Begich insists he should “bang Obama over the head” to change the president’s mind against protecting the Refuge.  The reality is, sometimes Alaskans need others to save us from ourselves.  I’ve come to terms with that—I just wish our delegation would too!

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our nation's greatest wilderness icon. Located in the northeast corner of Alaska, it is the only refuge specifically designated for wilderness purposes.  The Refuge is home to some of our most beloved species of wildlife, from Dall sheep to polar bears, and the coastal plain is its biological heart.  The coastal plain is the calving ground for caribou and nesting site for migratory birds that visit every state.  For the caribou and other Arctic wildlife there is no alternative to this vital and sensitive habitat that they have depended on for millennia.  It is no place for drilling.

Time and again the American people have said they do not want to see dirty fuel exploration or development on the coastal plain. Just last year nearly one million activists from across the country—many of them Sierra Club members—called on the president to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness.  Support like that can't be ignored, and the senators in Washington and Illinois have responded.  We need more members of congress to get on board to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness, to protect it once and for all. 

There is no question that the coastal plain is the heart of the Refuge, and we’ve got to keep it beating. Join us in protecting the Arctic Refuge

--  by Lindsey Hajduk, Arctic Organizer based in Anchorage, AK 

Corporate Criminals and the Need for Strong Protections Against Illegal Logging

TigerPhoto by tambako on Flickr

On an otherwise ordinary Thursday this fall, officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the corporate headquarters of Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in America, in Toano, Virginia. Along with agents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department, ICE agents were investigating whether the company had imported illegally logged wood products from eastern Russia, the home of the critically endangered Siberian Tiger.

While federal officials have yet to publicly release information on the raid, a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows how rampant illegal logging in Russia is threatening the last Siberian tigers that remain in the wild and why the U.S. must hold companies who import illegally harvested wood accountable.

The report, “Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers,” provides a sobering account of how Lumber Liquidators has been purchasing, through a Chinese supplier, millions of square feet of illegally logged hardwoods originating in the Russian Far East. Such illegal logging is devastating the region’s diverse old-growth forests of oak, ash, and other species; hardwood forests that provide habitat for the world’s 450 last remaining Siberian tigers. EIA estimates that as much as 80 percent of all timber exported annually from these critically significant Russian forests is illegally logged and traded, facilitated by corrupt or at least ineffective government officials and trafficked with forged documents.


Continue reading "Corporate Criminals and the Need for Strong Protections Against Illegal Logging" »

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