Opposition to Keystone XL across the country and the world continues to grow, with more than 2 million comments calling for rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline delivered today. Today marked the end of the 30-day public comment... Read More >
Over 2 Million Comments Ask for Rejection of the Keystone XL Tar Sands...
Opposition to Keystone XL across the country and the world continues to grow, with more than 2 million comments calling for rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline delivered today. Today marked the end of the 30-day public comment period that helps to inform President Obama and Secretary Kerry about whether or not the risky tar sands pipeline is in the national interest. The answer has been a resounding “NO,” with members and activists affiliated with NRDC, Sierra Club, 350.org, CREDO Action, Avaaz, the Energy Action Coalition, and many other organizations submitting more than 2 million comments calling for a rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Keystone XL would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of carbon intensive tar sands from Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, from where tar sands-derived fuel products could be sent anywhere in the world. Keystone XL would cause an expansion of tar sands production, and of the associated greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore fails the climate test that President Obama set for the pipeline. Tar sands also causes pollution of land, air, and water; threatens public health in the areas around where it is extracted, transported and refined; and is risky to transport. So it’s no wonder that people across the country and the world have sent such a strong signal to President Obama and Secretary Kerry calling on them to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The big sign in the video was made before we knew that there would be not just 1.5 million comments, but over 2 million comments!
This is not the first time people have spoken out on this issue. There have been many public demonstrations and comments sent to the White House and State Department over the last several years, but over the last month, the intensity of opposition has escalated. Just days after the final environmental review was released, there were more than 280 vigils organized in almost all 50 states that drew more than 10,000 people. Last weekend, 398 students risked arrest in front of the White House to make their voices heard.
The comments delivered today included more that 1.1 million comments from people in the United States, and more than 900,000 comments from around world -- including more than half a million comments from European countries that could see an increase in tar sands-derived fuels coming to their countries if Keystone XL is approved. Concerned citizens of Indonesia -- where Secretary Kerry recently referred to climate change as the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction -- also added their voices to the outcry against Keystone XL.
As NRDC President Frances Beinecke put it:
This new outpouring of public opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates yet again that the more Americans learn about this project the more we want the Obama Administration to reject it. Instead of embracing the dirtiest oil on Earth, let’s put America squarely on the path to a cleaner energy future. This tar sands project would only aid and abet our oil addiction and worsen climate change. It is not in America’s national interest.
In addition to the roughly 90,000 comments from NRDC members and activists, NRDC and other organizations are submitting detailed comments to the State Department today about why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and should be rejected.
It’s not too late to add your voice – ask President Obama to reject Keystone XL at www.stoptar.org.
Last week, some of the world’s leading polar bear scientists released the most up-to-date information about the world’s last-remaining polar bear populations. Although some populations have temporarily stabilized, the assessment also reveals a serious ongoing problem with hunting: Hunters... Read More >
New Polar Bear Population Assessment is Released: Commercial Hunting...
Last week, some of the world’s leading polar bear scientists released the most up-to-date information about the world’s last-remaining polar bear populations. Although some populations have temporarily stabilized, the assessment also reveals a serious ongoing problem with hunting: Hunters are killing more than 200 bears a year from populations listed as “declining”; 163 bears a year are hunted from areas where the data is “deficient,” meaning there is not enough information to properly assess population trends; and hunting levels continue to be identified as a concern in a population thought to be stable.Yet, despite these figures, pressure on local wildlife management boards in Canada to raise polar bear hunting quotas, which many believe is the result of rising prices for polar bear pelts, continues.
So, what are the other major take aways from the recent population status information?
A new format makes comparisons with previous assessments difficult, and downplays future threats.
In a departure from previous updates, the polar bear group has reformatted its population status table. In the past, the polar bear scientists provided the populations “current status,” it’s “current trend,” and its “estimated risk of future decline.” It also provided an estimated “potential maximum removal” for each population (that is, the maximum number of polar bears that can be removed from a population without causing decline).
The new table provides two new trends: a current trend based on a 12 year historical average, which seems to collapse the previous distinction between current status and current trend), and a trend that is relative to historic levels. The new table no longer estimates risk of future decline. It also does not provide any estimate of maximum potential removal numbers, but it does provide much more information on past removal numbers over time. You can see images of the two tables here:
The result of all these changes is mixed. One the one hand, if you were to compare the current status to current trend between the 2010 table and the 2013 table, we see that in 2010 no polar bear populations were thought to be in decline, although five were tagged as reduced. In 2013, however, four polar bear populations are labeled as declining under current trend. But, if we compare current trend from 2010 to current trend in 2013, the number of polar bear populations thought to be declining has fallen from eight in 2010 to four in 2013. Of these four populations, only one population’s status (Davis Straight) has actually changed from declining to stable. The rest have been changed from declining to data deficient.
Of course, completely missing are the six populations that in 2010 the Polar Bear Specialist Group felt had a “very high” risk of future decline. Do the majority of polar bear scientists in the specialist group still agree with that assessment, I wonder?
Hunting for commercial trade and trophies is continuing in declining populations.
More important, the population status table shows that human caused mortalities continue in all four populations labeled as declining in the 2013 chart. For example, on average 150 polar bears are taken from the Baffin Bay population, which straddles Greenland and Canada and about 40 are hunted each year in the Southern Beaufort Sea. More than 20 polar bears are taken on average from the Western Hudson Bay. Bears also continue to be removed from the Kaine Basin population. Indeed, in all but one of these populations, the polar bear experts identified “harvest” as a vulnerabilities or concern.
Hunting for commercial trade also continues in populations where population stats and trends are data deficient.
It’s also important to note that harvest is continuing in many of the populations listed as data deficient, including 90 bears removed on average from the Lancaster Sound population. Moreover, some of these populations (including Lancaster Sound) were previously thought to be in decline.
Even for populations listed as stable, hunting is identified as a possible vulnerability.
Finally, just because a population is listed as stable or even increasing doesn’t mean that hunting is still not a concern. Indeed, the table notes harvest continues to be a concern in the Southern Hudson Bay, a population from which people kill on average between 50 and 70 bears a year, and, which to this day, does not have anything in place except for a voluntary quota.
Why do these numbers matter?
Because we know that a significant portion of polar bear hunts are not for subsistence purposes (that is, the use of polar bears as food, clothing, or material by native peoples) but rather for commercial purposes (native hunters selling polar bear parts into the international fur market) and for guided trophy hunts.
The idea of putting limits on international commercial trade in polar bear fur and parts remains controversial, but at the very least we should be able to agree that international commercial trade is inappropriate for populations that scientists agree are delining or for which population trends cannot be reliably assessed.
Thank you to each and every one of the hundreds of people who joined together for a march on Washington yesterday to ask the President to “Dec-line the Pipe-line”. And a special thanks to the 398 young people who... Read More >
Youth Voices Raised to Reject Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline: "This Is Our...
Thank you to each and every one of the hundreds of people who joined together for a march on Washington yesterday to ask the President to “Dec-line the Pipe-line”. And a special thanks to the 398 young people who put themselves on the line and were arrested in the XLDissent action. This exercise in peaceful dissent is what American leadership looks like.
The marchers were demanding a rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline - the key to unlocking the oil industry’s next phase of extracting tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest to reach the higher prices of overseas markets. They were standing up to our addiction to fossil fuels that threatens our air, land, water, and communities. They were giving urgency to the need to reduce carbon pollution and tackle the climate chaos that is already bringing harm to communities in America and around the world.
Keystone XL is an important part of the fight against climate change. The soft, tar-like bitumen takes an enormous amount of energy to get out of the ground and to separate from the sand and clay. There is clear evidence that the carbon pollution from tar sands oil is much higher than conventional oil – around 3-5 times higher when you look at the production process where the big differences are.
Of course, there are those who try to minimize the impact of projects that are so very important to the oil industry such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We still hear false arguments that Keystone XL doesn’t matter to our climate since tar sands will be developed anyway. You only have to listen to the oil industry experts themselves to know differently. The oil industry makes no secret of the fact that the Keystone XL pipeline is critical to expansion of the tar sands. The fact is that the bulk of tar sands is currently landlocked and Keystone XL is the industry’s best hope to reach their goal of higher prices on overseas markets. Pipelines to the west and east are running into Canadian and First Nations opposition. And rail doesn’t make economic sense for tar sands which has different (and more expensive) technological needs than conventional oil.
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project is a clear decision that lies with President Obama. The national interest determination process for this project is underway and when all the information is tallied, it will be clear that this project is all risk and no reward and should be rejected as part of a comprehensive plan to curb climate change.
Climate change is real and happening now and it will take our best efforts on all fronts to change its path. The President has committed to put limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The Administration has already reduced American demand for oil with fuel efficiency standards that it continues to strengthen. And we also need to see rejection of dirty energy projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. All of this is necessary for American leadership on climate.
Those who scoff at climate change are often the very people who are insulated by age, status and money from the direct impacts of climate change. History will not remember the scoffers and deniers kindly. Young people have a different perspective and we can see that they are making different choices.
We know that young people are aligning differently politically. And university students around the country have voted to divest from fossil fuel companies. They do not want to be even tangentially associated with companies responsible for climate change. So it is no surprise that hundreds were willing to make their voice heard – and risk arrest – to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
For young people such as those involved in yesterday’s protest, they know that they are going to have many years to deal with the consequences of today’s decisions. When it comes to climate change, the younger you are, the higher the cost. It is their right to hold today’s decision-makers accountable and to feel a sense of urgency that we go beyond the strong words we heard from President Obama in his State of the Union address or from Secretary of State Kerry in his climate speech in Indonesia.
The real question is whether our leaders are willing to stand up to the oil industry in order to tackle climate change. And if not, are they willing to accept the consequences to our climate and to their legacy of allowing expansion of ever dirtier, more dangerous and more expensive forms of oil.
Sunday’s action builds on opposition to expansion of Canada that has come from all ages, all walks of life, and all parts of America and Canada and also from throughout Europe. On Sunday and in all the protests that came before, it is clear that expansion of tar sands oil has no place in a healthy climate legacy. To look our youth in the eye and say that we did all we could to fight climate change, we need to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
To tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline go to www.stoptar.org.
Photos from XLDissent on flickr
A new study by the Interagency Team in charge of grizzly bears will be out soon that suggests that although the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has slowed it is nonetheless still increasing. This paper is in response... Read More >
Ensuring Yellowstone Grizzly bears are secure - now and in the future
A new study by the Interagency Team in charge of grizzly bears will be out soon that suggests that although the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has slowed it is nonetheless still increasing. This paper is in response to a study released last year which cast doubt on the trajectory of the population. It is good to see the Study Team work to address questions about the status of the population – though given that much of the data needed to accurately and thoroughly assess population trends is still not available for independent analysis, we continue to have questions and concerns about the accuracy of the population size and trend.
In the meantime, we know that several of the bears’ key food sources have declined dramatically causing a shift in how bears use the landscape - bringing them in closer proximity to people where they tend to have more conflicts. Grizzlies are also slow reproducers and any effect of the loss of these key food sources on the population may not be detected for some time. And ultimately, the Yellowstone population remains isolated from any other grizzly bears and for them to have a healthy population they will need to be able to establish contact with other bears in the future.
Recently, in response to other research by the Study Team, the Interagency Committee recommended removing the Yellowstone population from the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to move forward with this recommendation and as they do it will be important to make sure that these continued threats are addressed so that regardless of where the population is now, grizzly bear recovery can successfully continue in the future.
This week NRDC joined more than 30 leaders from an unprecedented coalition of Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, business owners, and faith leaders united by one common conviction: EPA should act now to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from large-scale mining like... Read More >
Leaders in Washington, D.C. Heard a Unanimous Message This Week from Pebble...
This week NRDC joined more than 30 leaders from an unprecedented coalition of Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, business owners, and faith leaders united by one common conviction: EPA should act now to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from large-scale mining like the proposed Pebble Mine.
The coalition hosted an event on Capitol Hill to discuss EPA’s recently-released Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and why Clean Water Act protections are needed to protect Bristol Bay’s famed salmon runs – and the $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery, 14,000 jobs, subsistence fishing, sports fishing, communities, and wildlife that the salmon support.
The groups called on EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay.
“EPA has the scientific basis and legal authority to protect Bristol Bay now,” said Joel Reynolds, NRDC Western Director. Now that EPA has completed its final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which found that the proposed Pebble Mine would cause “significant” and even “catastrophic” harm to the watershed, it must act. The people of the region have demanded it – in overwhelming numbers – and deserve a response.
"We are here to remind EPA that their job is not finished," said Kimberly Williams, Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai, which means “Caretakers of Our Land” in native Yup’ik. "We have brought a large delegation to D.C. to tell our story."
“What’s at stake is our indigenous way of life that has thrived in Bristol Bay for millennia,” stressed United Tribes for Bristol Bay program manager Alannah Hurley. “If salmon are destroyed that would devastate the nutritional, social, and spiritual well-being of Alaska Native people in the region. How would our culture survive if this type of development is allowed?”
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Chairman Joseph Chythlook said the “importance of this resource [salmon] is not something we’d be willing to trade.”
Others agreed. "We are here to tell you that these salmon are jeopardized," said Alaska commercial fisherman and consultant for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Brett Veerhusen. "My job is jeopardized."
Bristol Bay lodge owner and sportsmen Brian Kraft emphasized that “Bristol Bay sports fishing is hands down the best in the world – there’s nothing better. Salmon is the sole existence for our being.”
The coalition is urging EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to stop large-scale mining like Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. Nine federally recognized tribes from Bristol Bay and others petitioned EPA in 2010 to use its 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay. EPA has not yet formally responded to the petition, although it did conduct a scientific assessment of impacts of large-scale mining in the watershed.
EPA has the opportunity to protect both a unique natural resource and an economic powerhouse. And it has both the scientific basis and legal authority to protect Bristol Bay now.
Photo courtesy of Robert Glenn Ketchum
Today the Obama administration released its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement on oil and gas exploration off the east coast. And not surprisingly, it is a capitulation to the forces of drill-baby-drill. Within months, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will... Read More >
Obama Opens the East Coast to Seismic Blasting; Drilling to Come
Today the Obama administration released its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement on oil and gas exploration off the east coast. And not surprisingly, it is a capitulation to the forces of drill-baby-drill. Within months, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will start issuing permits for seismic exploration, letting companies troll our coasts from New Jersey to Florida with arrays of high-powered airguns.
Airgun exploration is not only a gateway drug to offshore drilling but, as the scientific community has recognized, a major assault on the oceans in itself. Imagine dynamite going off in your neighborhood every 10 seconds for days, weeks, and months on end. Now imagine that you depend on your hearing to feed, mate, communicate, and do just about everything else necessary for survival. That’s the situation that endangered whales, commercial fish, and other marine wildlife are facing with today’s announcement. The video below shows a single airgun going off in a test pool; a large seismic array can harness more than twenty airguns going off at once.
Already industry has submitted nine applications from oil and gas companies and seismic contractors; together, those applications propose literally hundreds of thousands of miles of seismic blasting. And no doubt there are others waiting in the wings. Because of the enormous distances sound can travel in the ocean, the dangerous noise from this activity cannot remotely be confined to the waters off individual states that encourage it. Some impacts—particularly on the great baleen whales—would extend many hundreds of miles, affecting states as far north as New England. Fish and fisheries could be affected for tens of miles around every seismic ship.
The cynicism behind today’s announcement is how much it defers the hard decisions to later. Given the sheer size of their environmental footprint, the only way to meaningfully reduce harm from seismic surveys is to limit them: to strictly limit the areas in which they can occur, or the amount of activity that can take place overall within a region. BOEM has declined to do that, promising instead to consider these options when it looks at individual applications. That and about fifty dollars will buy you a share of BP.
The scientific community, conservation community, Congressional reps, and fishermen have all called on the administration to put on the brakes, but to little avail. Greener alternative technologies that could substantially cut the environmental footprint of airguns in many areas are already well into development and could be available for commercial use in three years or less. Yet the administration is opening the floodgates now.
As I’ve said in the past, offshore oil is a snake oil cure. Green-lighting seismic in the Atlantic is just one of many ways the federal government is coddling Big Oil and supporting its monopoly on our fuel supply. The administration must not be allowed to sacrifice wildlife and the environment for this false promise.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer from California has connected the dots and is pointing to growing evidence that communities living near tar sands mining and drilling operations, pipelines, and refineries are showing serious health risks and problems. An issue brief published... Read More >
Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer from California has connected the dots and is pointing to growing evidence that communities living near tar sands mining and drilling operations, pipelines, and refineries are showing serious health risks and problems. An issue brief published by NRDC, Tar Sands Crude Oil: Health Effects of a Dirty and Destructive Fuel, profiles some of the latest evidence including scientific research that tar sands activity is causing increasing levels of air and water pollution that are then linked to health problems including cancer. Tar sands development affects communities across North America and includes a network of mining, drilling, and upgrading operations, pipelines and refineries. This network spans from northern Canada to refineries in California, the Gulf Coast, and the Midwest. The science is mounting but state, provincial, and federal governments have done too little to protect public health. This scientific evidence was not considered by the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline. This mounting evidence shows there are considerable risks with expanding the tar sands industry.
NRDC's new issue brief reviews the latest scientific literature on this important issue.
Air pollution from tar sands operations in Alberta
Studies by the National Academy of Sciences have noted that expanding tar sands activities have increased air pollution near Fort McMurray (the epicenter of tar sands development) and just outside Edmonton, Alberta. The most recent 2014 study looked at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are chemicals known to damage DNA, are carcinogens, or cause developmental impacts. This study found that environmental impact studies drafted by the tar sands industry have systemically underestimated levels of this pollution. A 2013 study noted elevated level of hazardous air pollutants coming from upgrading facilities north of Edmonton noting elevated rates of leukemia and other cancers in areas surrounding these operations north of Edmonton.
Water pollution from tar sands operations
Researchers have confirmed the presence of elevated levels of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which can be traced directly to expansion of tar sands production. Some waters in Alberta exceed Canadian standards for chemicals linked to cancer, genetic damage, birth defects, and organ damage. Scientists have also found that tar sands development is leading to increasing amount of methylmecurcry in Alberta’s waterways including an exponential increase within 30 miles of tar sands upgraders. Methylmercury is a potential neurotoxin causing development and behavioral problems.
Tailings ponds which now cover an area the sized of Washington DC contain multiple toxic chemicals including arsenic, benzene, lead, mercury, naphthenic acid, and ammonia. As much as 2.9 million gallons of toxic tailings leak into the environment every day. A 2014 study showed that extreme concentrations of PAHs present in tailings may be evaporating into the air and then deposited into water. New federal research by Environment Canada released in February 2014 confirms that leaking tailings ponds are leaching into groundwater and then into the Athabasca River.
Rising cancer rates in First Nations communities
Scientists have confirmed increased incidences of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. There, scientists have noted an increased cancer rate from 1995 to 2009 – 30 percent higher than would be typically expected. Dr. John O’Conner, an Alberta physician, has for years called for further investigation of cancer incidences. To date, there has not been an independent study of these cancers despite repeated called by First Nations. Dr. O’Conner was invited by Senator Boxer to speak in Washington to share his observations.]
Tar sands pipeline spills
Large quantities of tar sands were spilled from leaking pipelines into two communities in Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and Mayflower Arkansas in 2013. After the spill in Michigan, 320 people suffered adverse health effects including cardiovascular, dermal, gastrointestinal, neurologic, ocular, renal and respiratory impacts according to the Michigan Department of Public Health. In Arkansas, air monitoring showed significantly increased levels of benzene. Raw tar sands is mixed with diluting agents to move the substance through pipelines. The specific content of diluting agents are unknown as they are proprietary but most formulations include natural gas liquid condensate containing volatile hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene. So far, the federal government in both Canada and the U.S. has failed to study or adopt regulations to deal with the chemical export of the unique tar sands mixture flowing through pipelines and has not commissioned any studies regarding the long-term human impacts of spills.
Tar sands refinery emissions
Chemicals in tar sands may be released as air pollutants during the refining process. Diluted tar sands contain 102 times more copper, 11 times more nickel and 5 time more lead than conventional crude oil. Diluted bitumen from tar sands has notably higher levels of certain sulfur compounds called mercaptans that are highly volatile and linked to central nervous system problems. Diluted bitumen also contains higher levels of naphthenic acids which can significantly increase the corrosive properties of crude oil at high temperatures during the refining process. Low quality crudes like tar sands have been identified as a contributing factor in a major refinery accidents like the one at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California which sent 15,000 residents to area hospitals and endangered the lives of 19 workers.
Petroleum Coke impacts - a byproduct from tar sands refining
The refining of tar sands creates a by-product called petroleum coke which contains relatively high concentrations of metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium, and nickel which people are exposed to when they breathe dust blown from piles of petroleum coke. This metal-laden dust can contaminate nearby homes and yards where it can accumulate. The dust is composed of particulate matter, which is recognized by the U.S. EPA to contribute to a number of negative health effects. Many of the metals in petroleum coke piles are carcinogens and linked to other health problems.
Health Concerns Deserve More Attention
Federal, state, provincial, agencies should evaluate all of the potential impacts of tar sand crude. In Canada, governments should conduct independent investigations into the health impacts on locally affected communities particularly Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, and Edmonton, Alberta. New proposals for tar sands operations and infrastructure including pipelines and refineries must consider human health impacts especially as the tar sands industry seeks to triple production. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline did not adequately consider these issues. Until there is a better understanding of how these projects will cumulatively impact human health, efforts to expand the tar sand industry should stop. This means rejecting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Go to StopTar.org to ask President Obama to reject the pipeline.
Today NRDC is calling on EPA to re-examine the widespread use of glyphosate, commonly called Roundup, in light of its impacts on monarch butterflies. Glyphosate was last approved by EPA in 1993 before the adoption of genetically modified crops that... Read More >
As monarch butterflies plummet, it's time to rethink the widespread use of...
Today NRDC is calling on EPA to re-examine the widespread use of glyphosate, commonly called Roundup, in light of its impacts on monarch butterflies. Glyphosate was last approved by EPA in 1993 before the adoption of genetically modified crops that are tolerant to its use, known as “Roundup Ready” crops. Now, however, Roundup Ready corn and soy dominate the agricultural system and the use of glyphosate has skyrocketed tenfold to 182 million pounds annually. As a result, milkweed – which is the sole food source for monarch butterfly larvae – has all but been eliminated from farm fields across the Midwest.
At the same time that spraying of glyphosate has soared, the monarch butterfly population has been plunging. This winter the population at their Mexican wintering grounds fell to just a tenth of its running average, to 33.5 million, and a calamitous drop from a high of one billion monarchs in 1997, the year after the first Roundup Ready crops were introduced to the market.
Because of this alarming decline, researchers this year declared the monarch’s migration is at “serious risk of disappearing.” This means we are in danger of losing, in just a few short years, a marvel of nature that has existed for millennia. The monarchs’ annual flight from a tiny area of Mexico to as far as Canada and back, all in a single season and spanning several generations, is a unique phenomenon still mysterious to science.
Although other factors like temperature and drought also affect the monarchs, researchers broadly agree that the widespread use of glyphosate in association with genetically modified Roundup Ready crops has been a major contributor to the decline of the monarch population. With glyphosate, says leading monarch expert Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota, “We have this smoking gun.”
Now that we know that glyphosate is having a devastating impact on one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, it’s time to restrict the pervasive use of this and other weed-killers.
The EPA has the authority to conduct an urgent review of any herbicide and impose restrictions to address its adverse impacts. That’s why NRDC has filed a petition asking the EPA to undertake such a review of glyphosate and develop measures that would reduce its impact on monarch populations. Some of the measures we propose include preventing use of glyphosate and other weed-killers along highways and power-line rights of way where milkweed, a relatively short plant, could grow freely without interfering with maintenance or emergency crews – and requiring farmers to establish herbicide-free safety zones in or around their fields, or create other milkweed-friendly habitat. And we encourage the agency to explore other safeguards to protect monarch habitat from glyphosate and other herbicides.
The devastation of the monarchs is a disheartening example of the many unintended consequences we suffer from the industrialization of the agriculture system. By taking steps to save the monarch, we must also take a hard look at the wider impacts of our current land use and farming practices. There are several other herbicide-resistant crops in line for approval that will only further contribute to the loss of milkweed and other native plants that pollinators depend on unless we build in appropriate safeguards.
Though seemingly delicate, monarch butterflies are remarkably resilient and their decline can be reversed – but for that to happen we must find a way to make a little room for the very plant that they need to survive.
Now five years after it was first proposed, why do so many Americans, including the environmental community, remain so passionately opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline? The fervor arises from a fundamental question. Will we continue relying... Read More >
Passion Remains High Because Keystone XL Marks a Turning Point on Climate
Now five years after it was first proposed, why do so many Americans, including the environmental community, remain so passionately opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline?
The fervor arises from a fundamental question. Will we continue relying on dirty fuels that threaten our waters and communities or chart a smarter course to cleaner energy? It’s also about taking one meaningful step against threat of climate change. And finally, the passion is propelled by how much the State Department just doesn’t get it.
We should all agree that we need to tackle climate change. Drought, wildfires, extreme storms, punishing floods and rising sea levels are worsening.
The chief contribution in the U.S., scientists have concluded, is the unlimited carbon emissions from power plants. So, of course, we need strong carbon controls on power plants and the president has committed to this in his national climate initiative.
But we’d be kidding ourselves if we minimized the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department’s own report made it clear just how significant this dirty energy project would be – from a climate perspective.
For the first time, it acknowledged that the pipeline could speed up tar sands development and climate change, adding pollution to our air equal to carbon emissions from 5.7 million cars. That unequivocally ramps up greenhouse gas emissions.
We disagree with State’s scenario that approving the Keystone XL pipeline won’t matter for the climate because extraction of tar sands oil would expand anyway, moved by other pipelines, rail or barge. Development is not inevitable.
The recent court decision in Nebraska finding the law unconstitutional that established the latest route, still over the valuable Ogallala Aquifer, attests to that. This case is a big deal and puts another nail in the coffin of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline showing again how strong the concerns are wherever tar sands pipeline are proposed whether in the United States or in Canada.
Tar sands producers themselves recognize that they will not realize their expansion plans without new pipelines. Just last month, the CEO of Cenovus Energy told reporters that his Canadian oil company’s plan to triple production in coming years was contingent on more pipeline capacity. Financial giants, including RBC Capital, Goldman Sachs, Barclays and CIBC, have all publicly acknowledged that a tar sands industry without new pipelines will be smaller than one with them.
Other pipeline projects in Canada are stalled, so Keystone XL has become the linchpin for industry’s plans to triple tar sands extraction and development. Joe Oliver, Canada’s natural resource minister, conceded as much, saying that for tar sands production to grow the pipeline network must be expanded through projects like Keystone XL.
Further, State’s analysis also showed that many proposed tar sands expansion projects are significantly more susceptible to cancelation in the absence of cheap pipeline capacity. In fact, right now there are 10 approved tar sands mines – which could produce nearly a million barrels per day – waiting on the sidelines. With the Keystone XL decision, the president will signal whether or not many of these carbon intensive projects can move forward.
Some also dismiss a scenario that the State Department laid out, in which oil prices drop, new pipelines are not available, and rail costs remained high and therefore a significant amount of tar sands expansion is too costly to pursue. But that scenario depends on oil price levels that are already expected by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and many more costly tar sands projects would become uneconomical even at higher oil prices.
Moreover, rail doesn’t have the capacity or the price to allow it to take up a lot of the slack if pipelines aren’t built. Rail has its dangers as does transport by pipeline and in order to support the tar sands expansion planned by the oil industry, we’d be looking at more of both. The point is that we shouldn’t have the tar sands expansion that would be generated by either mode of transport. We should instead focus on reducing our need for oil to lessen the threat that pipelines and trains pose in spills and explosions to many communities.
At the end of the day, we know we can do better. That’s hundreds of thousands of Americans have held vigils in almost every state, attended national rallies and raised their voices against Keystone XL in almost every state.
We can press ahead with clean fuels and clean energy, delivering dividends for our economy. Consider this: According to Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), over the past two years more than 186,500 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced all across the country.
That’s where our children’s future lies. Not in promoting a project that jeopardizes our farms and communities, and the health of our life-sustaining planet. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and needs to be rejected.
You can tell the President to reject the pipeline at www.stoptar.org.
Check out NRDC Trustee Robert Redford's op-ed in USA Today calling for EPA action to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from Pebble Mine -- a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of its famed salmon runs. The Bristol Bay wild salmon... Read More >
Robert Redford: National ecological treasure in danger
Check out NRDC Trustee Robert Redford's op-ed in USA Today calling for EPA action to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from Pebble Mine -- a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of its famed salmon runs. The Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery is the economic and cultural linchpin of the region, producing nearly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon catch, generating $1.5 billion annually, supporting 14,000 jobs, attracting tens of thousands of tourists each summer, and sustaining the culture and traditions of Alaska Natives for thousands of years. As Mr. Redford emphasized, it is "just too important, environmentally and economically, to be sacrificed for the sake of mining profits."
The following op-ed was originally published in USAToday.com on February 20, 2014.
I, along with many others, have been working for years to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska, from large-scale mining. This spectacular, unspoiled landscape is home to the largest wild salmon fishery in the world. Every year tens of millions of salmon return to Bristol Bay to feed thriving commercial and sports fishing industries, as well as brown bears, whales, bald eagles and wolves. And they're the centerpiece of sustenance and culture for Alaska Natives who have lived there for thousands of years.
Incredibly, a Canadian-based mining company wants to build a vast open-pit gold and copper mine, one of the largest in the world, in the heart of this national treasure. The operation, known as Pebble Mine, would threaten the ecosystem and salmon – the entire lifeblood of the region. That's why it has been crystal clear to so many of us that this misguided scheme must be stopped. And now the federal Environmental Protection Agency has provided what should be the definitive evidence that the Pebble Mine would be a disaster.
In a final assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed that took three years of extensive scientific research, peer review and public comment to produce, the agency last month found the following:
- The Bristol Bay watershed is an irreplaceable resource, producing nearly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon catch, supporting 14,000 jobs through fishing and tourism and generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year in direct expenditures.
- The proposed mine would put the fishery and Alaskans' livelihood at "significant risk," and a failure of the huge dams required to contain the tons of toxic tailings would be "catastrophically damaging."
- Just building Pebble Mine would destroy up to 94 miles of streams and up to 5,300 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, the sole owner of Pebble Mine, argues that the project would be an economic boon, creating jobs. While it might fatten their corporate profits and provide short-term gains, for the people of the region it would likely produce only losses — of traditional ways of life, a $1.5 billion annual fishing industry and 14,000 jobs.
That's why 80% of Bristol Bay residents don't want Pebble Mine – or its 10 billion tons of mining waste. Pebble Mine is opposed by a local coalition that has united commercial and sports fishermen with the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the largest private landowner in the region. They have been joined by 10 native communities, whose ancestors have fished this land for millennia.
Backers have also turned away. British mining giant Anglo American – the major money behind the mine – withdrew from the project last September, taking a loss of over $540 million to focus on projects with "lower risks."
Mitsubishi sold all of its interest in the project in February 2011. And last December, Rio Tinto, a British-Australian conglomerate, publicly announced that it, too, is considering divestment and will undertake a "strategic review" of its investment in Northern Dynasty.
Rio Tinto's announcement came after the California State Controller and New York City Comptroller – state pension funds together worth more than $500 billion and long-term, substantial shareholders in Rio Tinto – urged it to divest.
Bristol Bay is just too important, environmentally and economically, to be sacrificed for the sake of mining profits.
Because it was a scientific document, EPA's assessment made no policy recommendations. But it settles the argument that no large mine should be built at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The president said, in the State of the Union speech, that this would be "a year of action." Now is the time for EPA to take action and stop Pebble Mine once and for all.
Robert Redford, the actor and director, is a trustee for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Photo credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum