Today, the Cowboy Indian Alliance set up camp on the National Mall in Washington, DC with a ceremony, march with riders on horseback, and erection of a tipi on the mall—the beginning of a weeklong encampment and events calling on... Read More >
Cowboy Indian Alliance Sets Up Camp in DC, Says No Keystone XL Tar Sands...
Today, the Cowboy Indian Alliance set up camp on the National Mall in Washington, DC with a ceremony, march with riders on horseback, and erection of a tipi on the mall—the beginning of a weeklong encampment and events calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and protect our lands, waters and climate. It was an honor to celebrate Earth Day by joining the march and bearing witness to the ceremonies and erection of the tipi.
Photo credits: Mike Hudema
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels per day of dangerous, dirty tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast from where most of it will be refined and exported. The tar sands cause more climate change pollution than conventionally produced fuels and are an environmental, public health, and human rights catastrophe where they are extracted, transported, and refined. Downstream from tar sands extraction sites in Alberta, people are experiencing high rates of rare cancers, which the Canadian government has tried to downplay – not surprising given the massive, leaching toxic waste lakes, several of which sit adjacent to the Athabasca River. Farmers, ranchers, tribes, and others along the pipeline route are at risk from pipeline spills, such as the million gallon Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, which has cost more than $1 billion and is still not cleaned up, and the spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar sands literally right across people’s yards in Mayflower, Arkansas. What’s more, many of the Gulf Coast refineries that would refine the tar sands that Keystone XL would transport are in regions that already are failing to meet air quality standards, causing a broad range of public health issues.
The State Department – in charge of making the decision about Keystone XL – announced last Friday that it would take more time to determine more about the potential route through Nebraska. Regardless of the route choice, the tar sands are too damaging to land, air, water and climate, so it’s important that we send a strong signal to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
You can visit the encampment on the National Mall between 9th St. and 12th St. any day this week. If you’re in Washington, DC or can make it here, please join the Cowboy Indian Alliance, NRDC, Sierra Club, 350.org, Bold Nebraska, and others this Saturday, April 26 at 11 am for the culminating ceremony, march, and presentation of a hand-painted tipi to the Museum of the American Indian. You can find the full details of the week here. And, if you can’t make it to Washington, DC, you can still virtually stand with us, and call on President Obama reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline at www.stoptar.org.
Assembling the tipi on the National Mall. Photo Credits: Mike Hudema
Graphic from Oil Change International The State Department is providing additional time for comments on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, extending the process, until more is known about the project’s route through Nebraska. A Nebraska court had... Read More >
Keystone XL may wait on Nebraska route, but climate change impacts wait for...
Graphic from Oil Change International
The State Department is providing additional time for comments on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, extending the process, until more is known about the project’s route through Nebraska. A Nebraska court had invalidated the state route and it may be months before the court case concludes and a route is in place.
While it makes sense to wait for a Nebraska route, one thing is certain: the impacts of climate change are not waiting. By the time the comment period on Keystone XL gets started again, we can expect to see climate chaos making an even deeper mark in communities in the US and around the world. The Keystone XL pipeline would bring some of the world’s dirtiest oil from under Canada’s Boreal forest to the Gulf Coast where much of it would be exported overseas.
Between the harm that Keystone XL can bring to the landowners and communities along its route and the urgency to tackle climate change, it is clear that the tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. And this will only become clearer as time goes on.
The State Department’s extension comes at a time of many voices being raised against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The State Department noted that it is still reviewing the unprecedented number of approximately 2.5 million public comments. And recent weeks have seen calls to reject Keystone XL come from business leaders, scientists, and Nobel Laureates.
The “Cowboy and Indian Alliance” is holding an encampment in Washington DC starting April 22 to ask the President to reject Keystone XL and protect communities, lands, waters, climate and health. The fight against Keystone XL brings people together in an effort to protect us all from the harm that our continued reliance on ever dirtier forms of oil brings.
Keystone XL remains a major threat to our climate. This pipeline as the first major conduit for tar sands to overseas markets is critical for expansion of this carbon-intensive industry. And without Keystone XL, tar sands development is not the inevitability that industry would have us believe. Other tar sands transportation projects are coming under the same public scrutiny as Keystone XL and industry itself has repeatedly acknowledged this – supporting the very reason that makes Keystone XL so dangerous for our climate.
And climate change is the urgent issue of our time. This will be even clearer in the coming months as we anticipate the additional warming effects of this year’s likely El Nino event. Climate change is reshaping our world, and the science is telling us in every way possible that we can expect more extreme weather disasters going forward, unless we do something about this now.
Every day without Keystone XL driving expansion of tar sands is good for the climate. And as the Administration continues to assess the project, it should continue to consider new information not only about the route, but also about the impacts that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have in worsening climate change.
The U.S. State Department has decided to extend the comment period for the federal agencies who are weighing in on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In their announcement, the State Department cited the fact there is no legal... Read More >
A Prudent Action on the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline: Waiting for a...
The U.S. State Department has decided to extend the comment period for the federal agencies who are weighing in on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In their announcement, the State Department cited the fact there is no legal route through the state of Nebraska and there won’t likely be one for at least another 6 months to a year or more. The State Department also said they were still culling through over 2.5 million comments from the public which overwhelmingly cite the serious risks posed by the pipeline to land, water, climate, and public health. Unsurprisingly, pro-pipeline advocates have called this decision politically expedient. But in fact this decision is entirely consistent with the Administration’s efforts to ensure there is a good public process to confirm a safe proposed route for the pipeline.
At the heart of the administration’s announcement is a recognition of the right of a state to set its own pipeline route. President Obama has been clear in his support for the people of Nebraska:
"I don't think folks in Nebraska are going to say to themselves 'we'll take a few thousand jobs if it means that our kids are drinking water that can damage their health, or if rich land that is so important to agriculture in Nebraska ends up adversely affected.' That's how I'll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me." President Obama, November 2011
A recent court decision make Nebraska route illegal
In February, a Nebraska state court declared that the process for establishing a route through Nebraska for the pipeline was illegal. The decision has been appealed and the Nebraska Supreme Court will hear the case again this fall. Until at least that time (possibly much longer) there is no approved route in Nebraska. Without an approved route, the State Department is unable to evaluate the impacts of the pipeline particularly with respect to potential water contamination or threats to public health in the event of a spill.
The State Department rightly recognized that it would be improper to render any decision on the pipeline until there was a clear and defined route in Nebraska. And without a route, how could government agencies and the public have the ability to evaluate the environmental impact?
If the District court judgment is confirmed by the state Supreme Court this fall then the nonpolitical Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) will then propose another route for the pipeline through their scientific and public process. Undoubtedly, Nebraskans will weigh in at that point outlining the threats to the sensitive Ogalala Aquifer, a critical and sensitive water supply source for people and agriculture in the region.
Debate over Nebraska pipeline route ongoing
The debate over the Nebraska route isn’t new. For a detailed understanding of the history behind the siting of the Nebraska portion of the pipeline, please review the history of the debate over the Nebraska route by my colleague Anthony Swift. Nebraskans have been debating the route of the pipeline because of the tremendous potential risk it poses one of the largest underground water supplies in the United States. Back in October 2011, then Governor Heineman called for a special legislative session to pass a pipeline siting law allowing Nebraska to weigh in on a route through the Nebraska Sandhills. The start of this state session prompted the State Department to pause the process on the pipeline so that Nebraska could determine a proposed route. Shortly thereafter, Republican-sponsored legislation in the U.S. Congress forced President Obama to make a decision on the pipeline before a pipeline route was even confirmed. So in January 2012, President Obama – citing the lack of a route in Nebraska – rejected the pipeline.
After the President’s rejection of the pipeline, TransCanada chose to reapply for a new permit but then lobbied aggressively for a state law to avoid the normal public review process. TransCanada worked closely with state Republican allies to passed a law (LB 1161) that avoided the normal scientific and public review. This was the basis for the lawsuit brought by landowners challenging the law that is now deemed unconstitutional.
Why is there a debate over the route?
There is still a significant controversy in Nebraska over the route of the pipeline. All of the internal debate in Nebraska has to do with the fact that TransCanada has proposed a route through the Nebraska Sandhills which is one of the most sensitive water regions in America’s Heartland. But while TransCanada made a minor change to the route (moving it only 19 miles from the original problematic route), the pipeline still plunges straight through this sensitive water supply region. According to my colleague Anthony Swift, “That’s small comfort to Nebraska’s landowners, given the impact that tar sands spills have been shown to have on waterbodies, uncertainties surrounding spill cleanups in aquifers, and Keystone XL’s leak detection system inability to detect leaks smaller than half a million gallons per day.”
It is easy to say that the process over the decision for this pipeline has been delayed for politics. But there are real reasons behind the “delay” in the process that have to do with protecting the public’s interest in clean water and safety. This is a less about politics than it is about good process.
Global mining giant Rio Tinto announced last week that it will divest its entire stake in the controversial Pebble Mine by gifting its shares to two Alaskan charitable foundations. NRDC ran this full-page ad in today’s London Financial Times thanking... Read More >
Check out our ad in today's London Financial Times thanking Rio Tinto for...
Global mining giant Rio Tinto announced last week that it will divest its entire stake in the controversial Pebble Mine by gifting its shares to two Alaskan charitable foundations. NRDC ran this full-page ad in today’s London Financial Times thanking Rio Tinto:
NRDC Western Director Joel Reynolds will present the ad to Rio Tinto’s board of directors at the company’s Annual General Meeting today in London.
Rio Tinto’s decision to divest follows its December 2013 announcement that it would undertake a “strategic asset review,” of its interest in the Pebble Mine, including “possible divestment.”
The company certainly made good on its word. In last week’s press release, Rio Tinto pledged to gift its 19.1 percent shareholding in junior Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals -- which holds the mineral rights to develop the Pebble Mine -- to the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.
Rio Tinto’s announcement is the latest blow to an already beleaguered project that would build a gigantic gold and copper mine at the headwaters of the planet’s greatest wild salmon stronghold. It is the third large company to back out of Pebble Mine in recent years. Anglo American announced in September 2013 that it would withdraw from the project by handing its 50% stake (and $540 million invested) in the project back to Northern Dynasty and taking a $300 million write down in the process. And Mitsubishi sold all of its interest in the project in February 2011.
Anglo American's pullout left Northern Dynasty without a much-needed partner to bankroll the development of the Pebble Mine. Northern Dynasty says is continuing to search for a new partner, but Rio Tinto’s divestment signals bad news for the project – and good news for the people of Bristol Bay.
NRDC and its 1.4 million members and activists join the people from Bristol Bay, Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, jewelers, chefs, restaurant and lodge owners, and conservationists in thanking Rio Tinto for showing environmental and financial leadership by divesting from Pebble Mine.
And we once again urge EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to stop the Pebble Mine.
Photos in the ad courtesy of Robert Glenn Ketchum and Bob Waldrop
On the island of Crete, biologists have begun studying the bodies of whales that perished during the recent mass stranding. They’ll be looking for tell-tale signs of sonar pathology: bleeding around the brain, lesions in organ tissue, and damage... Read More >
Greek Mass Stranding Investigation Begins; One Whale Pregnant
On the island of Crete, biologists have begun studying the bodies of whales that perished during the recent mass stranding.
They’ll be looking for tell-tale signs of sonar pathology: bleeding around the brain, lesions in organ tissue, and damage to the acoustic fats, a mass of tissue along a whale’s jawline that helps conduct sound to the ears. These injuries are analogous to those seen in severe cases of decompression sickness, or the bends. In humans, they’re associated with pain, disorientation, nervous and cardiovascular system dysfunction, and death.
That part of the investigation will take some weeks to unfold, depending as it does on a careful, specialized analysis of the brain, ears, and organ tissue, but some details of the gross examinations that were conducted on the beaches are already out.
Most horribly, investigators discovered that one of the stranded whales was pregnant with a female calf. The sight of this is just heartbreaking – a tragedy within a tragedy. (I’ve posted two photographs below of the mother and calf: please use caution.)
The loss of an unborn calf is also very bad news for conservation. Beaked whale moms don’t have many babies, tending to wait longer between pregnancies than some other marine mammals, and most beaked whale populations that have been studied are very small to begin with. In the wake of this disaster and the suite of other sonar-related strandings that preceded it, the region's biologists are concerned about the health of beaked whale populations off Greece.
To demand that the U.S. Navy protect whales during training, please go here. You can also call NOAA (202-482-3436) – the agency that is supposed to regulate the Navy – and ask that they enforce our marine mammal laws.
They’re a tricky bunch, that’s for sure. As I watched today’s bogus House Natural Resources Committee hearing, led by Rep. Hastings (R-WA), I was stunned by the feigned sympathy he and his cohorts displayed for the Fish and Wildlife Service.... Read More >
Don't Be Fooled: Rep. Hastings & Friends DON'T Care About the Fish &...
They’re a tricky bunch, that’s for sure.
As I watched today’s bogus House Natural Resources Committee hearing, led by Rep. Hastings (R-WA), I was stunned by the feigned sympathy he and his cohorts displayed for the Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Rep. Hastings and his crew, environmental groups are hurting the Service’s ability to do its job by suing it to enforce our nation’s laws. To hear it from these folks, they’d like nothing better than for the Service to have enough time and money to be able to help all the species that need it.
What’s funny is that Rep. Hastings and the other anti-ESA Members of the House Natural Resources Committee have done everything they can over the past couple of years to prevent the Service from doing its job to save imperiled species, including voting to slash its budget and wasting countless hours of its time on unnecessary distractions.
Case in point: the four GOP bills (H.R. 4315 – H.R. 4318) discussed at today’s hearing would actually burden the agency and squander its resources in a number of ways. Indeed, three out of the four bills considered at the hearing would impose new statutory responsibilities on the Service without increasing their already-inadequate funds.
Another example: Rep. Hastings has been serving one subpoena after another on the Service, which the agnecy's Director Ashe says are “disruptive to [the] agency mission and expensive to the taxpayer.” The subpoena Rep. Hastings issued last month over bird protection laws required 125 agency employees to work 2,600 hours at a taxpayer cost of $150,000. As Director Ashe said, "[t]hese are the world's most highly trained wildlife law enforcement professionals, and right now they're sidelined while internationally syndicated criminal rings are decimating elephants, rhinos and other iconic species." And just yesterday, Rep. Hastings served yet another subpoena on the Service regarding the listing of a flowering plant that will only waste more of the agency's time and money.
And if all of that doesn’t convince you of these Members' real motives, most of these folks voted, back in 2011, to ZERO the Service’s budget to protect species, providing them with money only to delist. Fortunately, champs like Reps. Dicks (D-WA), Hanabusa (D-HI), and Thompson (D-CA), squashed that attempt but had it passed I think it probably would have hurt the Service’s ability to do its job. Don’t you?
As the Service’s Michael Bean stated at today’s hearing, none of the bills the Committee’s anti-ESA Members are pushing will do ANYTHING to help recover species. It’s all a hoax so the bill's supporters don’t have to voice their true feelings: they don’t give a darn about the Service’s ability to do its job and they don’t want any additional species put on the Endangered Species list. Such an opinion would be out of step with the American people – who love the Endangered Species Act and the imperiled critters it protects – and these Members know that all too well.
The following is a guest blog by NRDC wildlife attorney, Rebecca Riley: Great news for wildlife out of Springfield today. Senate Bill 3049, which protects black bears, wolves, and mountain lions in Illinois, passed in the Senate unanimously. This... Read More >
Wildlife Protections for Bears, Wolves, and Mountain Lions Pass the...
The following is a guest blog by NRDC wildlife attorney, Rebecca Riley:
Great news for wildlife out of Springfield today. Senate Bill 3049, which protects black bears, wolves, and mountain lions in Illinois, passed in the Senate unanimously. This represents a huge achievement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chief Sponsor Senator Linda Holmes, NRDC, and the environmental community, who have all been working hard to halt the killing of these apex predators when they enter our state.
If enacted, Senate Bill 3049 will give black bears, wolves, and mountain lions the common-sense protections enjoyed by almost all other mammals in Illinois, while still allowing farmers to protect their livestock. It will stop the shoot-on-sight incidents that have repeatedly plagued mountain lions, in particular, when they make the trek to the prairie state.
We applaud the Department of Natural Resources’ and Senator Linda Holmes’ leadership in protecting these native predators as they return to their former range. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Department and working with members of the House of Representatives to get this important initiative to the governor’s desk.
In case you missed it, this weekend NPR News featured a story about Wildlife Services, the federal program that kills 100,000 native predators each year, and the ongoing federal investigation into its activities. In the piece, several claims are attributed... Read More >
Setting the Record Straight: Why Wildlife Services Needs to Be Investigated
In case you missed it, this weekend NPR News featured a story about Wildlife Services, the federal program that kills 100,000 native predators each year, and the ongoing federal investigation into its activities. In the piece, several claims are attributed to Kevin Shea, USDA’s Wildlife Service’s Administrator, which are, at best, misleading. Among them:
- Wildlife Services “collects fees from ranchers to pay for its work;”
- “Lethal methods are used sparingly and as a last resort;” and
- “Wildlife Services is working to become more transparent. He says every lethal encounter is now posted on its website.”
Let’s take these one-by-one, shall we?
First, while it true that Wildlife Services collects fees from ranchers to help pay for its work, what Shea doesn’t seem to point out is that the federal taxpayer still foots the bill for about half of all of Wildlife Services’ costs. That adds up to $87milliion dollars a year in taxpayer dollars, money which goes to activities such as paying over $800 per hour to shoot wolves from helicopters and airplanes (a doubly-ironic expenditure of funds, given that taxpayers also footed the bill to reintroduced wolves in the West and some of the killing even goes on in federal wilderness—far away from any ranch). More perniciously using taxpayer funds to subsidize predator control creates a vicious circle all around: local governments and private ranchers have little incentive to try nonlethal methods of predator control when they can buy federal lethal control at a fifty-percent discount; as for Wildlife Services’, its budget and staffing quickly becomes captive to securing its clients’ fees.
Second, when it comes to its predator control program, Wildlife Services simply does not use lethal methods “sparingly.” As my colleague Melissa Waage points out, 98% of Wildlife Services’ interactions predators such as bears, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats, end with a dead predator. Indeed, Wildlife Services kills an astonishing 227 coyotes every day, that’s over 1 million coyotes dead since 2000 (all of which may be counter-productive, as there is evidence that killing coyotes actually spurs overall population growth).
Third, while it is true that Wildlife Services reports the number of animals it kills (that’s how we calculated the chart you see here) the agency refuses to disclose much more than that, even to Congress. As the NPR story makes clear, Wildlife Services will not provide any detailed information on how much money it spends, say, putting explosive poison bait on public land, or where that bait is scattered. It won’t tell us the location of the animals it kills with any sort of detail, nor does it usually disclose why individual animals are killed. Representative Peter DeFazio summed it up best:
"It is probably one of the most opaque, unaccountable agencies in the federal government," DeFazio says. "I've served on Homeland Security for a number of years, and I can safely say that the doings of Wildlife Services are much more obscure."
So it should come as no big surprise that the USDA’s Inspector General is now auditing Wildlife Services. An investigation is long overdue. Ask the Secretary of Agriculture to fully support this investigation here.
This past week Michelle Obama held her sixth annual White House garden planting. Each year the first lady has welcomed kids from local schools to help her plant fruits and vegetables and talk about healthy eating. This year Michelle Obama... Read More >
Pollinators find a home at the White House
This past week Michelle Obama held her sixth annual White House garden planting. Each year the first lady has welcomed kids from local schools to help her plant fruits and vegetables and talk about healthy eating. This year Michelle Obama expanded her garden to include the White House’s first pollinator garden designed to support bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
This is an exciting new development and provides a great opportunity to talk about the ‘food’ that pollinators themselves depend on – as well as the important role they play in our own food production. The White House has kept bees on their grounds for several years now, but this is the first time that they have specifically planted native, flowering plants to provide good sources of pollen and nectar for these and other native bees.
Additionally, the new pollinator garden hosts at least two different species of milkweed – the plant that monarch butterflies are dependent on for reproducing. Monarchs have been in decline across the country in large part due to the extensive loss of milkweed in agriculture from the use of the herbicide glyphosate (also known as Round Up) in connection with Round Up resistant crops. Planting milkweed in our gardens and schoolyards is one of the best things that we can all do to help the monarch butterflies come back.
Organizations like Monarch Watch (which NRDC has partnered with to plant milkweed) provides milkweed plants to schools, businesses and the general public for planting what they call “monarch waystations”- areas that can support monarch reproduction along the butterflies’ amazing migration from Mexico to Canada and back. In February, President Obama announced a commitment with the leaders of Mexico and Canada to work together to help preserve the monarchs’ migration. So it’s a great first step to see the White House itself become a waystation for monarchs by planting milkweed in their first ever pollinator garden!
To help NRDC and Monarch Watch plant milkweed in other locations click here. You can also join NRDC in telling EPA to impose restrictions on the use of herbicides that are eliminating milkweed by clicking here.
And see Michelle Obama discuss the White House’s new pollinator garden here:
Last week, I wrote about a mass stranding of beaked whales off Crete while the Greek, U.S., and Israeli navies ran exercises offshore – the latest in a long line of whale strandings associated with naval training. At the... Read More >
Update on Greek strandings: More whales
Last week, I wrote about a mass stranding of beaked whales off Crete while the Greek, U.S., and Israeli navies ran exercises offshore – the latest in a long line of whale strandings associated with naval training. At the time somewhere between five and eight whales were known to have beached along 20.6 kilometers of coastline west of Ierapetra.
Above is a picture of one of those stranded whales, bleeding on the tidal rocks.
Now Dr. Alexandros Frantzis, Scientific Director of the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, reports that at least three whales stranded individually some 48 kilometers further west. As Alexandros observes, the distances involved suggest that impacts occurred over a large area of ocean.
It is unknown how many whales died at sea.
On Friday, NRDC sent a letter to the administration, warning of the Navy’s failure to conduct an environmental review of this dangerous training event and of its almost certain violation of U.S. law.
To demand that the Navy protect whales during training, please go here. You can also call NOAA (202-482-3436) – the agency that is supposed to regulate the Navy – and ask that they enforce our marine mammal laws.