When he vetoed legislation meant to force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last week, President Obama noted that the project is designed largely as a way to route Canadian tar sands to the global export... Read More >
Three facts you should know about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and...
When he vetoed legislation meant to force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last week, President Obama noted that the project is designed largely as a way to route Canadian tar sands to the global export market.
Sure enough, the Gulf Coast refineries the pipeline would serve already export the majority of the fuel they produce, leading a four fold increase in U.S. petroleum exports overall in just the past decade. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of barrels of unrefined tar sands are being exported for Gulf Coast ports daily - a figure that many energy experts expect to increase dramatically should Keystone XL be permitted.
The Washington Post Factchecker responded with outdated and demonstrably incorrect information, relying on an industry report we've debunked and dated State Department assumptions that have since proven wrong.
The President is on solid ground. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an export pipeline through the United States, designed to increase the tar sands industry's access to the international market.
Here's what the President said:
"I've already said I'm happy to look at how we can increase pipeline production for U.S. oil, but Keystone is for Canadian oil to send that down to the Gulf. It bypasses the United States and is estimated to create a little over 250, maybe 300 permanent jobs. We should be focusing more broadly on American infrastructure for American jobs and American producers, and that's something that we very much support."
- President Obama, interview with WDAY of Fargo, N.D., Feb. 26, 2015 (emphasis added)
1. FACT: Refineries interested in Keystone XL export the majority of their refined product.
As we've detailed over the years, the Gulf Coast has become a major exporter of refined products - and coastal refineries now export the majority of their production. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Gulf refineries in coastal Texas and Louisiana exported the majority of their refined product for the first time in 2014 (with exports reaching 50.4% of their production over the course of the year). Gulf Coast exports of refined product reached an all time high of 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in December 2014. This means that Texas Gulf and Louisiana Gulf Coast refineries with access to coastal shipping exported 56% of the refined product produced in the region in December. We did not get here by accident - this has been part of a strategy that Gulf Coast refineries have been pursuing for over a decade to reposition from supplying the domestic market to maximizing their international exports - and this trend shows no signs of diminishing.
This trend is strongest among the refineries closest to the Keystone XL terminus points in the Texas ports of Houston and Port Arthur. These Texas coastal refineries began exporting the majority of their refined product in the final quarter of 2011, years before the ahead of their regional peers.
The refineries are leading a surge in U.S. exports of petroleum products, which have more than quadrupled in a decade, rising from 1 million barrels per day, on average, in 2004, to 4.2 million gallons a day in 2014 according to EIA data.
Valero, which is the largest buyer of capacity on Keystone XL, is at the forefront of this trend. Valero has been increasing the export capacity from its Gulf Coast refineries for years now. In its most recent investor presentation, Valero detailed plans to increase its Gulf Coast export capacity for gasoline and diesel alone to reach 780,000 bpd (slide 44). Given that the company's total Gulf Coast refinery capacity is less than 1.6 million bpd (slide 37), and gasoline and diesel production rarely accounts for more that 60% of a refineries output, this represents more the 80% of Valero's production of premium refined products. Moreover, lower quality refined products, such as petroleum coke - of which tar sands crude produces significantly more than conventional crude - tends to have much larger volumes exported than more products such as gasoline and diesel.
2. FACT: Unrefined Canadian tar sands crude is already being exported from the Gulf - a trend that is expected to increase.
The problem with the WaPo factchecker's argument that the Gulf Coast refineries would never allow raw Canadian crude to be exported is the fact that tar sands producers are already re-exporting 25,000 bpd of unrefined Canadian tar sands from Gulf Coast ports. That's about 10% of the total volume of Canadian crude making it to the Gulf Coast today.
Ed Morse, one of the few oil analysts who called the drop in oil prices, believes that this is just the beginning for Canadian crude re-exports from the Gulf and Martin King predicts them growing to 200,000 bpd in two years. To put that in perspective, that's more than two-thirds of all Canadian crude getting to the Gulf Coast today. We know industry is planning to re-export significantly larger volumes of Canadian tar sands from the Gulf because it is already sending millions of barrels of tar sands to refineries in Europe and Asia for testing and has spend enormous resources lobbying to weaken the European Union fuel quality standard to preserve access to that market.
The WaPo factchecker relies on the early 2014 State Department environmental review to support his critique of the President. The State Department report was published before 1) the Gulf Coast became inundated by domestic crude, lowering prices relative to international markets and 2) the trend of Canadian re-exports from the Gulf had become clear. Today, State's assumption that re-exports of Canadian crude wouldn't happen is no more accurate than its proposition that oil prices would stay between $90 and $140 a barrel. Re-exports of Canadian tar sands are a reality - and should Keystone XL bring more tar sands to the Gulf, energy experts believe they will increase substantially.
3. FACT: Keystone XL is designed for Canadian tar sands, not domestic crude.
Keystone XL was proposed in 2008, it was planned to be a bullet pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf for Canadian crude. While it's true that domestic oil producers negotiated on ramp with 100,000 bpd capacity for North Dakota crude, the state's producers have shown a marked disinterest in pipelines to the Gulf Coast, which is already inundated with light crude.
Rather than moving their crude by pipeline to the Gulf Coast, North Dakota's producers are shipping their product by rail to the East and West Coasts. According to North Dakota's Pipeline Authority, Bakken producers are only using about 25% of their existing pipeline capacity - the rest is moving by rail. They have turned down two major new oil pipelines - the 200,000 bpd Bakken Crude Express and the 250,000 bpd Dakota Express and are only using a fraction of their current pipeline capacity.
The North Dakota's Pipeline Authority shows the state will have 3.15 million bpd of rail and pipeline export capacity by 2017 - the earliest Keystone XL could be built. Of course, that's three times as much capacity as North Dakota currently needs - and of that inflated figure, North Dakota only puts Keystone XL down for 20,000 bpd. Based on how much excess transport capacity North Dakota will have and how underutilized the state's pipelines already are, that figure will likely prove to be an overestimate.
Keystone XL is an export tar sands pipeline through the United States, not too it. It would carry tar sands to Texas Gulf Coast ports where refineries have been exporting the majority of their product for years and where an increasing amount of Canadian tar sands goes straight from pipelines to tankers to be exported elsewhere. Domestic producers in North Dakota not only don't need Keystone XL, by all accounts, they don't want it. And the pipeline would enable the expansion of some of the dirties and most carbon intensive crude oil in the world, undermining efforts to address climate change while putting our communities, lands and waters at risk. It is not in the nation's interest and should be rejected.
Last year NRDC filed a petition with EPA asking them to review the use of glyphosate (also known as Roundup) in light of its effects on monarch butterflies and to impose restrictions on its use. After more than a year,... Read More >
Monarch butterflies can't wait another year - EPA needs to act now
Last year NRDC filed a petition with EPA asking them to review the use of glyphosate (also known as Roundup) in light of its effects on monarch butterflies and to impose restrictions on its use. After more than a year, EPA has yet to respond to our petition so today we are filing a lawsuit to compel them to act with expediency.
Anyone who has been following the plight of the monarch butterflies knows that they are in trouble. In the last 15 years their population has dropped dramatically from a high of a billion in the late 1990s to a mere 56.5 million this year--the second lowest count on record.
While more than 50 million butterflies may sound like a lot, it is actually dangerously low. The population which spends its winters in the forests of Mexico is vulnerable to cold snaps or other weather events which in the past have killed more butterflies than the existing population.
Scientist agree that the leading factor in the decline of monarch butterflies is the loss of milkweed, a native wildflower that the caterpillars depend on as their only food source. With the adoption of genetically modified crops that are resistant to the application of the herbicide glyphosate (also known as Roundup) milkweed that was once found in agricultural fields has been largely eliminated from the agricultural Midwest. And without sufficient amounts of milkweed the monarch population has declined.
The EPA is responsible for ensuring that the pesticides it approves do not have harmful effects on the environment. Clearly, the decline of monarch butterflies was an unintended consequence of the broad use of glyphosate. However, now that it has been identified the EPA needs to review glyphosate and impose restrictions that would help mitigate the damage that it is doing to monarch butterflies. Instead, the EPA recently approved another pesticide containing glyphosate, Enlist Duo, which we are challenging.
Rather than approving more pesticides, it's time for EPA to reverse the damage that these pesticides are causing. Since the EPA last reviewed glyphosate, its use in the US has soared. This unprecedented onslaught is hurting the monarchs as they make their migration, which will begin soon. We, and the monarchs, can't afford to wait any longer for EPA to act.
A recent opinion piece by Daniel Rubinoff argued that efforts to save the declining monarch butterfly in the US are misplaced. Chief among Rubinoff's arguments is that other species of butterflies, moths and spiders are in more critical condition and... Read More >
Let's not shoot the Monarch messenger: Butterflies (and critters) of all...
A recent opinion piece by Daniel Rubinoff argued that efforts to save the declining monarch butterfly in the US are misplaced. Chief among Rubinoff's arguments is that other species of butterflies, moths and spiders are in more critical condition and deserve as much attention. Certainly, no one is suggesting that other species should be overlooked. Indeed, let's not lose sight of the fact that many of these "less well-known insects," as Rubinoff puts it, are facing threats from the same common denominator: habitat loss and pesticide use. Addressing these issues on a broad, national scale—as is being proposed for the monarch butterfly—will bring benefits to many critters—even those we may not know as well.
In the US right now pollinators of all kinds are facing serious problems. Native prairies that were once the home for many species have been converted into large agricultural monocultures. In many areas the broad scale use of the herbicide glyphosate—also known as Roundup—in connection with genetically modified Roundup ready crops has effectively eliminated milkweed, a native wildflower that the monarch butterfly depends on. Additionally, large swaths of crops are treated with a class of pesticides called neonicitinoids which are known to severely impair bees and other beneficial insects. America's heartland has turned into a deathtrap for critters of all kinds.
Monarch butterflies are the most recognized species of butterfly in the US. They put a face (or rather recognizable wings) on the problem of species decline. Having plunged 90% in the past 15 years the migrating population that spends its winters in Mexico is now perilously small. Previous cold snaps have killed off more butterflies than currently exist suggesting that even at 50 million butterflies we are one bad weather event away from losing the entire migrating population.
But even if you buy Rubinoff's premise that the monarch migration in North America is not in danger of being lost, do we really want to send a message that it's ok if they dwindle down to numbers so small that no one in the future will remember the scores of butterflies that used to grace their backyards each summer? Let's not shoot the most inspiring of insect messengers whose decline has finally woken up government officials—from three nations, no less—to the fact that we are managing our world towards extinction.
Instead, let's embrace the fact that our government has just acknowledged that a monumental effort is needed to combat the damage that decades of poor land use practices have wreaked on our natural world. Let's delight in the fact that people from all over want to do whatever it takes to make sure monarch butterflies visit their gardens. And let's celebrate the fact that the USFWS has dedicated $3.2 million dollars towards an effort that will help improve habitat not just for monarchs but for many other "less well-known insects." Saving the monarch brings benefits to us all.
The coastal California gnatcatcher - a small bird that dines on insects and mews like a kitten - lives in the distinctive coastal sage scrub habitat of southern California. This habitat, much like the bird, is highly endangered in... Read More >
Strike Two: Developers' second shot at the coastal California gnatcatcher...
The coastal California gnatcatcher - a small bird that dines on insects and mews like a kitten - lives in the distinctive coastal sage scrub habitat of southern California. This habitat, much like the bird, is highly endangered in the US having been reduced by 70-90% over the last several decades due largely to development. As a result, the Coastal California gnatcatcher has also declined and in 1993 the gnatcatcher was added to the federal Endangered Species Act list. Nonetheless, every couple of years or so developers like the National Association of Home Builders and the Pacific Legal Foundation petition to have Endangered Species Act protections removed from gnatcatcher by claiming that the bird is not distinguishable from similar birds farther south in Baja California.
Most recently, these developers filed a petition to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the gnatcatcher based on a new genetic study - which they paid for. This is the second such study that they claim demonstrates that the Coastal California gnatcatcher is not a valid subspecies. And it's the second one that fails to do so.
First of all, much like their initial study, this one by Zink et al. relies on slowly evolving gene regions that would not be expected to demonstrate differences at the subspecies level. In fact the authors themselves have previously argued against using the very type of genes that they used for this study. Furthermore, despite the fact that these genes would not be expected to show differentiation below the species level, a subsequent reanalysis of the authors' own data by another research team shows that 2 of the 7 genes actually do differentiate the coastal California gnatcatcher from other gnatcatchers to the south suggesting a genetic basis for their distinction even without using more informative genetic data.
Second, the Zink et al. study claims to use ecological niche modeling to show that gnatcatchers are habitat generalists and therefore the coastal California gnatcatcher is not uniquely adapted to the coastal sage scrub environment. They acknowledge that the coastal California gnatcatcher "occupies the distinctive CSS habitat in the north" and that they "do not have identical niches" to the gnatcatchers to the south, but they argue that when the backgrounds of each environment are taken into account that the two groups "do not exhibit significant niche divergence." However, here the authors simply misinterpret their own results. Rather than demonstrating a lack of niche divergence their analysis is inconclusive - that is, the analysis cannot determine whether there is niche divergence or not likely due to the type of data they used for their model. Zink et al. relied on climatic data that are inherently limited for detecting spatial differences and do not necessarily reflect aspects that are biologically important to the species - a point which the authors' concede.
In short, once again the developers have tried to claim that the coastal California gnatcatcher is not a subspecies and once again they have failed. The best available science continues to support the coastal California gnatcatcher as a subspecies that has been recognized for almost a century. Nonetheless the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the groups' petition as they have in the past. Each time the US Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed the status of the coastal California gnatcatcher and its need for continued protections. They should do so again.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
A column of fire lighting the sky. Oil spilling into a nearby river. If the horrifying images of this weekend's West Virginia oil train fire and spill seem familiar; they should. We saw the same type of disaster in... Read More >
Unregulated oil by rail versus Keystone XL: A false choice
A column of fire lighting the sky. Oil spilling into a nearby river. If the horrifying images of this weekend's West Virginia oil train fire and spill seem familiar; they should. We saw the same type of disaster in the state last summer too, when a train derailed last April in Lynchburg, Virginia, dumping 29,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River.
And like last year, Big Oil's allies will try to turn this mess into an argument for their pet project: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Their argument is that we can build the pipeline OR we will have more fiery infernos along the nation's rail lines. It's a scare tactic. And it's wrong.
Building Keystone XL will do little or nothing to reduce the risk of fiery disasters like we have seen in West Virginia (and Minnesota and North Dakota).
That is because those oil trains are carrying oil from the Bakken formation in the Dakotas.
Shale oil from North Dakota's Bakken formation - like oil fracked from other shale deposits in places like Colorado, Wyoming, Texas and elsewhere - contains particularly high levels of flammable gases and it has shown a higher risk of igniting in crashes. As railroads ferry more and more of this kind of crude, the risks of transporting potentially explosive cargo touches more and more of our communities.
North Dakota's producers aren't shipping their product by rail because they're not able to build pipelines. In fact, Bakken producers turned down two major pipeline proposals by Oneok and Koch Industries that would have shipped nearly half a million barrels a day to the Midwest and Gulf Coast. The simple fact is that for a variety of reasons, North Dakota's producers prefer shipping their crude by rail to the East and West Coasts than to the Gulf Coast by pipeline.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not going to take that oil off the rails. It is designed to move thick, carbon-intensive tar sands from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. Very little tar sands is moving by rail. Because shipping heavy thick bitumen by rail requires specialized infrastructure and tar sands is already so expensive to produce, the increased cost of putting tar sands on trains make it unlikely we will see that change any time soon. The first companies to try to make tar sands by rail work are either on or past the brink of bankruptcy.
If we want to reduce the risks from oil trains, let's fix the trains and toughen safety standards. Many of the same industry groups pushing to build Keystone XL are fighting the common sense safeguards that would protect our communities from crude by rail accidents. Disingenuous efforts to tie rail safety to tar sands pipeline construction is a bait and switch that hide the industry's desire for more pipelines AND unregulated rail access. To prevent crude by rail accidents like the one in West Virginia, we are going to have to get serious about addressing the risks emanating from the crude by rail boom.
The following is a guest blog post by Margaret Hsieh, an attorney in NRDC's New York office. Female monarch in Cerro Pelón portion of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Photo credit: Margaret Hsieh. High in the Sierra Madre mountains of... Read More >
“Butterflies fill the air”: A Guest Blog From the Monarch...
The following is a guest blog post by Margaret Hsieh, an attorney in NRDC's New York office.
High in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, complete stillness seems to reign at first. The woods are tranquil, worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of the town where I've been based. As I adjust to the surrounding serenity, however, I start to notice movement all around me. At first it is imperceptible, but then it becomes unmistakable: the entire area is palpitating with the beating of thousands of butterfly wings.
I was in the Cerro Pelón portion of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, helping to monitor the remaining population of North American monarch butterflies that overwinters in Mexico each winter. Since mid-January, I accompanied staff from the World Wildlife Fund, Danaidas, and the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) to different portions of the reserve and beyond, to monitor and count the monarch colonies inhabiting each area.
The monarchs are a wonder to behold. On cold days, dense groups of butterflies hang immobile from oyamel fir and pine trees, like immense chandeliers that have sprouted bizarre and magnificent scales. But on warm days, countless monarchs descend from their roosts in search of nectar. Butterflies fill the air, carpet the ground, and alight on flowers, leaves, and branches. Those high in the sky appear as brilliant specks of orange and black, like intricately patterned confetti fluttering in the sunshine.
The monarch is a remarkable species that journeys over 2,500 miles across the North American continent annually. It takes four to five generations of butterflies to complete a single migratory cycle from Mexico to Canada and back. No butterfly that arrives in Mexico has ever been there before. Yet, somehow, the monarchs return to the same mountaintops every year.
The monarch's spectacular migration has evolved over thousands of years. Yet, within just two decades, human activity has put this phenomenon in danger, wreaking a dramatic decline of over ninety percent in the migrating monarch population. The population has been devastated by a combination of deforestation in its winter habitat, climate change, and—above all—by the pervasive use of glyphosate-containing herbicides in the United States, which has decimated the milkweed on which monarchs depend. Just last week, Mexican authorities released data indicating that monarch numbers from this year are the second lowest ever: approximately 56.5 million butterflies compared to over a billion individuals in 1997.
Although there has been a clear downward progression in monarch numbers, this decline is not inevitable. The Mexican experience provides a striking example of how forceful and concerted action can counter destruction of the butterflies' habitat. In the past, illegal logging was a key threat to the monarch reserve. Responding to this crisis, the Mexican government strengthened its enforcement efforts. Just as importantly, the government, NGOs, and private entities have collaborated to provide funding and support to local communities to develop alternative, non-timber-based sources of income. Revenue from activities such as tourism, reforestation, sale of handicrafts, and production of edible mushrooms in greenhouses has taken significant pressure off the forests inhabited by monarchs. Although small-scale logging remains a problem, large-scale logging in these forests all but ceased by 2012.
The progress in Mexico is inspiring but cannot, on its own, reverse the monarch's decline. Success in conservation of the butterflies' winter habitat in Mexico stands in sharp contrast to the ongoing, large-scale destruction of the butterflies' milkweed habitat in the United States. With the adoption of genetically modified crops that are resistant to glyphosate (also known as Roundup), the corresponding increase in use of the herbicide has led to widespread destruction of milkweed throughout the agricultural Midwest—a key breeding ground for monarchs in the United States.
We don't have to choose between monarchs and food production. Prior to the widespread use of glyphosate, milkweed grew, and monarchs thrived, alongside crops in agricultural fields. However, we do need to fight back against Big Ag interests in maximizing profits through ever-increasing pesticide sales. Last February, NRDC petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review glyphosate in light of serious harm to monarchs; NRDC also challenged EPA's approval of a new, glyphosate-containing pesticide called Enlist Duo. By scaling back excessive use of pesticides and planting more milkweed, we will not only help to safeguard monarchs, but will also pave the way for more productive farms and healthier communities.
Seeing the monarchs this winter has been a life-changing experience. But I hope it is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With luck—and lots of effort by involved citizens in both countries—the monarch's extraordinary migration will be around for many years to come.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drove what may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in comments released today, linking the project to an expansion of the tar sands and... Read More >
EPA comments show Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the President's...
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drove what may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in comments released today, linking the project to an expansion of the tar sands and a significant increase in greenhouse case emissions. As the Administration concludes its review of Keystone XL, EPA's critique of the proposed tar sands pipeline exposes the project's impact on climate - an issue that President Obama said would be a threshold issue in deciding whether to allow the project to move forward. EPA's letter highlights State's conclusion that at prices between $65 to $75 a barrel, "the higher transportation costs of shipment by rail 'could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels - possibly in excess of the capacity of the proposed project.'" Observing that the development of tar sands represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, EPA's comments lay the basis for Keystone XL's rejection as failing the President's climate test.
In light of EPA's comments today, it is worth revisiting the terms of President Obama's climate test for the embattled tar sands pipeline:
"But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."
President Barack Obama, Speech at Georgetown University, June 25th, 2013 (emphasis added)
EPA's comments lay a clear framework for Keystone XL's rejection on the basis of this test. In addition to highlighting the likelihood that Keystone XL would have a substantial impact on tar sands expansion:
"[T]he Final SEIS makes clear that, compared to reference crudes, development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions."
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Comment letter to the State Department, Feb. 2, 2015 (emphasis added)
As the Administration enters the final stages of the National Interest Determination process for Keystone XL, EPA urged decision-makers to give more weight to State's low oil price scenario where "construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, over what would otherwise occur."
EPA's assessment of Keystone XL underscores a fact that has become increasingly clear - the proposed tar sands pipeline would enable expansion of tar sands development which in turn will lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It is now clear that Keystone XL fails the President's climate test and should be rejected.
Every year researchers measure the size of the population of migrating monarch butterflies who have survived to spend the winter in Mexico. For more than a decade now the population size has been dropping steadily with last year the lowest... Read More >
Monarchs remain in trouble, even if new numbers show uptick
Every year researchers measure the size of the population of migrating monarch butterflies who have survived to spend the winter in Mexico. For more than a decade now the population size has been dropping steadily with last year the lowest count on record.
This year's count will likely be announced this week by the World Wildlife Fund and Mexican conservation authorities, and it is widely predicted that the numbers will show an increase from last year's disastrous figures. But hold the champagne--the population is still dangerously low.
Update: The numbers have now been announced and although slightly increased the population size is still the second lowest on record occupying 1.13 ha which loosely translates to 56.5 million butterflies. (In comparison, last year's population occupied 0.67 ha or 33.5 million butterflies.)
The crisis is far from over.
Monarch populations, which spend the winter in a small area in the mountains west of Mexico City after a months-long migration to Canada and back, have been in sharp decline for more than a decade. While climate change and deforestation in their Mexican refuge are also factors, scientists say the main reason is the destruction of milkweed, the only food their larvae will eat.
And that has largely been caused by the broad scale use of Roundup herbicide and other glyphosate chemicals on genetically modified corn and soybeans, which now dominate the Midwest. The herbicides kill every non-GM plant in the fields, including the milkweed, a native wildflower.
Experts are forecasting an increase in monarchs this year primarily based on favorable weather conditions last year. There are a number of factors than can affect the monarchs as they make their famed migration across the United States and into Canada before returning to Mexico, including unexpected freezes, rainstorms, and heat. Last year's conditions allowed more butterflies to migrate and reproduce along the way.
Even at the high end of the predictions, however, the population will still be far below the amount needed to protect against any disastrous events. For example, in 2002 a freak winter storm killed an estimated 275 million monarchs at one time - well above the current population size. Clearly many more monarchs are necessary to help buffer the population against such unforeseen calamities.
Right now, however, the monarchs are limited in their ability to increase their numbers because their main food source, milkweed, has largely been eliminated from large portions of their migratory pathway.
In order for the monarch population to rebound sufficiently, they need milkweed. And lots of it. That's why NRDC is working to increase the amount of milkweed out there through our Green Gift partnership with our friends at MonarchWatch. They promote milkweed plantings at schools and nonprofits across the country.
We are also working to gain federal and state restrictions on glyphosate around field edges and in other areas like along highways. We have petitioned the EPA to review glyphosate in light of its impact on monarch butterflies and have challenged the recent approval of a new pesticide, Enlist Duo, that would further contribute to the loss of milkweed--and monarchs.
If the forthcoming announcement shows an uptick in numbers, that's no reason to slow these and other efforts. The bottom line remains: to help monarchs we will need to address the broad-scale use of herbicides in agriculture as well as actively increase milkweed on the landscape.
Monarchs have the ability to bounce back in great numbers if given the right conditions--including plenty of milkweed. But we must remain aggressive in our efforts to rein in herbicides and plant more milkweed. Help us in helping the butterflies at LetMonarchsFly.org.
Recently there have been a number of articles in the press about how people are planting the wrong kind of milkweed and that it's actually harming monarch butterflies. Inflammatory headlines have warned about how well intentioned people may actually be... Read More >
Keep Calm and Plant Milkweed
Recently there have been a number of articles in the press about how people are planting the wrong kind of milkweed and that it's actually harming monarch butterflies. Inflammatory headlines have warned about how well intentioned people may actually be "destroying" monarchs and how "the plan to save monarchs" by planting milkweed has "backfired." Well, I'm here to tell you that there is no need to freak out. And Please, KEEP PLANTING MILKWEED! Here's why.
A recent study showed that one particular variety of milkweed, an exotic plant called tropical milkweed, is posing some problems to monarchs in certain areas--particularly in the southern US where conditions allow tropical milkweed to survive year round. (The 100+ other native varieties of milkweed typically die back in the winter). In coastal areas of the southern U.S., tropical milkweed that grows year-round can allow some monarchs to breed all year and skip their migration to Mexico where they overwinter. Year round use of milkweed also increases disease transmission among the butterflies. For these reasons, the researchers have warned that tropical milkweed in the southern US may be causing harm to some monarchs--although they are not sure to what extent this might be affecting the overall monarch population.
Here's what you need to know about the broader implications of this study. The problem posed by tropical milkweed is restricted to a limited part of the monarch's range--namely portions of the southern US. Furthermore, it can be managed by having gardeners cut back the milkweed in the fall when monarchs are migrating back to Mexico. Even better, it could be replaced by other species of milkweed that are native to those areas. In short, this is a limited and manageable problem--not a complete catastrophe as some of the news articles have suggested.
Monarchs depend on milkweed to reproduce--it's the only food source for their caterpillars. The loss of native milkweed across the US largely due to the adoption of herbicide resistant crops is one of the primary drivers of the decline of monarchs. So please, everyone, carry on. Plant your milkweed. Go to your local garden store and ask for the species of milkweed that are native to your area. If you don't garden, support our Green Gift of milkweed which will pay for NATIVE milkweed to be planted by schools and nonprofits around the country in partnership with MonarchWatch. Planting milkweed is still the best thing we can do to help monarch butterflies.
In lockstep with Congress's Big Polluter Agenda, Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin introduced a bill that would give industry a free pass to despoil Alaska's Bristol Bay by gutting EPA's authority under the... Read More >
Senate Bill Would Gut the Clean Water Act and Green Light the Pebble Mine
In lockstep with Congress's Big Polluter Agenda, Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin introduced a bill that would give industry a free pass to despoil Alaska's Bristol Bay by gutting EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act. Apparently identical to the "Regulatory Fairness Act" that Sen. Vitter unilaterally introduced several weeks ago, S. 234 is just another industry giveaway that would block EPA from doing its job under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. It's aimed at green lighting the Pebble Mine in Alaska and the Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia.
S. 234 would expose the Bristol Bay region and its people to the risk of having North America's largest open-pit mine developed near the headwaters of an unparalleled fishery. And it would fundamentally rewrite the Clean Water Act by eviscerating EPA's ability to take immediate action to protect Bristol Bay.
Under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, EPA may prohibit, restrict, deny or withdraw authorization for projects discharging dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S. "whenever" the agency finds "an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas." The key language is "whenever" - before, during, or after the permitting process. S. 234 would cripple EPA by restricting agency action to a tiny window of time during the permitting process. If the agency finds "unacceptable adverse impacts" either before or after the permitting process, then S. 234 will make it impossible for EPA to stop any environmental destruction under 404(c).
S. 234 is an industry give-away intended to restrict EPA from proactively protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine. (It would also retroactively nullify EPA's post permitting decision to restrict Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia.)
Rigorous scientific analysis has made clear that Pebble Mine would devastate the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery that generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 jobs. Salmon are the lifeblood of the region and have sustained Alaska Natives nutritionally, culturally and spiritually for thousands of years. Every year 30-50 million sockeye salmon return to the region's pristine rivers and streams, giving life not only to sustainable commercial and sports fishing industries but also to a wide variety of wildlife such as bears, eagles, whales and seals.
EPA conducted a three year scientific study of the effects of large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay, which included conducting two rounds of peer review, engaging the local and broader public, and reviewing over 1.1 million public comments. EPA's rigorous, comprehensive study concluded that "mining of the scale contemplated at the Pebble deposit would result in significant and unacceptable adverse effects to important fishery areas in the [Bristol Bay] watershed." EPA found that the Pebble Mine would have "significant" and even "catastrophic" effects on the region, including the destruction of up to 94 miles of streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands and other waters.
This is exactly the type of devastation that Section 404(c) was designed to prevent. But instead of following the science and the law, industry wants to permanently gut the Clean Water Act and get a license to pollute.
S. 234 ignores the reality that EPA has used its 404(c) authority sparingly. Out of the hundreds of thousands of 404(c) permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in the history of the Clean Water Act, EPA has used Section 404(c) only 13 times. Of those instances, 11 were under Republican administrations.
S. 234 also ignores the will of a broad coalition of Alaska Natives, fishermen, hunters and anglers, business owners, and conservationists - and hundreds of thousands of others - who petitioned EPA to take immediate action to protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine in advance of a permit application. Proponents of the Pebble Mine have been promising to submit permit applications for over a decade, and the uncertainty has resulted in anxiety and frustration in the region.
Pebble Mine is opposed by tribes, local business owners, environmentalists, conservationists, jewelers, chefs, religious leaders, a bipartisan coalition of local elected officials, the commercial and sports fishing industry, and over 1,000 hunting and angling organizations. Over 60% of Alaskans, 77% of Americans in the lower 48 states, and more than 80% of the residents of Bristol Bay oppose Pebble Mine. And by a margin of 65% in all precincts, Alaskans just passed the Bristol Bay Forever initiative - aimed at stopping large-scale mining like Pebble in the Bristol Bay watershed. Three major investors in the project - Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and Mitsubishi - have all withdrawn from the project.
Yet Congress is steamrolling ahead with its Big Polluter Agenda that would give the mining industry a free pass in Bristol Bay.
This is an attack on the Clean Water Act, Bristol Bay, and the people, wildlife, and 14,000 fish-related jobs that Bristol Bay supports -- and it must not stand. Click here to stop the Pebble Mine.