The Banner, Vol. 6, No. 35 – The Attempt to Trump Democracy

November 24, 2020
This week we review recent developments, hopeful that they mark the end of the Trump kakistocracy, government by the least competent. Many will still be holding our breath until the Electoral College vote is published, December 14. And a few more will be holding our breath until the presidential inauguration, January 20. In coming issues we will review how the nation was brought to this pass of affairs. The condition is not novel to our times, which are very similar to the foreshortening of Southern Reconstruction following the Civil War.
But first the news.

Table of Contents

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For a better experience go to our online edition at thebanner.news

NY & Northeast Activist News

National Activist News

The Attempt to Trump Democracy

Indigenous Peoples News

Resilience & Deep Adaptation

Intersections

Politics & Economics

New Energy News

Science & Climate

Industry News

Regulatory & Court News

And Now for Something Completely Different


Controversial garbage transfer and materials recovery facility
proposed for Cayuta

Bob Mente of Newfield’s Alternative Waste Services Inc. is proposing a materials recovery and garbage transfer facility in Schuyler County, but an environmental group stands in opposition to the project.

The 10,575-square-foot complex, called the County Line Materials Recovery Facility, would be located at 1313 Recycle Lane in Cayuta, next to the Schuyler County and Tompkins County line, according to documents from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

It would accept municipal solid waste, construction and demolition debris, and source-separated recyclables, with a maximum daily output of 500 tons per day.

The facility would include waste storage areas, a truck-weighing scale, trailer staging area and an onsite wastewater storage tank, plus a building for handling and storage of waste materials that will also have areas for office space. From the facility, waste would then be hauled by trash trucks, primarily to Seneca Meadows Landfill.

The application for the project states over 90 trucks and vehicles would enter and exit the facility for 185 trips daily six days per week.

A state environmental quality review determined the project would not have a significant effect on the environment.

However, an environmental group has expressed its concerns about potential adverse affects the facility would have on nearby towns and areas.

According to Seneca Lake Guardian, the traffic from trucks on Routes 13, 224, 228, 96, and 414 North would affect Alpine Junction, Odessa, Mecklenburg, Trumansburg, Covert, Interlaken, Ovid, Fayette and Seneca Falls. Montour Falls, Watkins Glen, Hector, Valois and Lodi could also be affected if trucks drive on Route 224 through Odessa to connect with Route 14 before turning onto Route 414.…—”Garbage transfer, materials recovery facility proposed for Cayuta,” Matt Steecker, Ithaca Journal, 9/17/20

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PFAS Leachate Dangers at Proposed Waste Transfer Station, Cayuta, NY

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a current major concern in the region. Recent investigations at the Seneca Army Depot identified levels among the highest in New York State and the plume is being mapped. There are also PFAS-issues at many of the fire training centers and fire departments from the use of firefighting foam.

PFAS exposure has been linked to health outcomes including elevated incidents non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and kidney, testicular, prostate, breast, liver, and ovarian cancers along with a weakened immune system- something no one can afford in the midst of a pandemic.

PFASMap

Click for interactive map

What many may not know is that solid waste, construction and demolition debris and its leachate are significant sources of PFAS contamination. In 2018, in recognition of the problem, EPA issued a grant to develop “Practical Methods to Analyze and Treat Emerging Contaminants (PFAS) in Solid Waste, Landfills, Wastewater/Leachates, Soils, and Groundwater to Protect Human Health and the Environment.”

Further reading Waste Dive takes in-depth look at the costly crisis posed by disposing toxic “forever” PFAS chemicals | Industry Dive
Toxic PFAS waste that lasts ‘forever’ poses financial, logistical challenges for landfills | Waste Dive
Practical Methods to Analyze and Treat Emerging Contaminants (PFAS) in Solid Waste, Landfills, Wastewater/Leachates, Soils, and Groundwater to Protect Human Health and the Environment | EPA

Basically, EPA is admitting that there are no good analytical methods for either materials brought to landfills or the leachate and sludge that result. EPA awarded grants to eight universities to better understand the environmental risks posed by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and identify practical approaches to manage their potential environmental impacts.

The waste industry realizes the problems that PFAS already creates. Recent studies in Vermont suggest that PFAS in contaminated waste, end up in wastewater samples. These wastewater plants discharge into our drinking water.

According to the application for the proposed facility in Schuyler County, there will be up to 22 tons of garbage held on site at any given time, which could leak PFAS into the ground. The nearly 30,000 gallons of leachate produced on site annually will be trucked to the Tompkins County WasteWater Treatment Facility. As is common with most WasteWater Treatment Facilities, Tompkins County does not have the capability of removing PFAS from the leachate before it would go into Cayuga Lake, a drinking water source for 40,000 people. There is no routine monitoring of wastewater treatment plants for PFAS, either during acceptance of the leachate or when it’s discharged back into our drinking water. Nor are there any limits set.

Until more is known about testing and control of PFAS in garbage facilities and wastewater, another new source should not be aded, especially in an environmentally sensitive area with Federally Protected wetlands. For this reason alone, I urge Governor Cuomo and the DEC to deny permits for this facility.—”PFAS Leachate Dangers at Propsed Waste Transfer Station, Cayuta, NY,” Mary Anne Kowalski, Public Statement to NY DEC,

Mary Anne Kowalski was responsible before her retirement for the legislation, regulation, freedom of information and public and media relations for the New York State Health Department (DOH) , Public Health Laboratory (Wadsworth). Wadsworth provides clinical and environmental testing for New York DOH and local health agencies and has a role in all the programs that involve testing including drinking water and environmental health activities. My regulatory responsibilities included both clinical and environmental laboratories. These activities required cooperation and coordination with other parts of the State Health Department and the State Department of Environmental Conservation on many issues, providing a background on program operations of the two agencies that most impact Seneca Lake and Finger Lakes.

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Comment to the NYS DEC
regarding County Line Materials Recovery Facility
Seneca Lake Guardian

Seneca Lake Guardians (SLG) is a New York State not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes as well as the Finger Lakes region’s residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist-related businesses. SLG’s predecessor organization Gas Free Seneca successfully defeated a proposed gas storage and transport hub along the shore of Seneca Lake in the heart of the Finger Lakes, which would have jeopardized a drinking water source for 100,000 people and severely damaged the community character of the Finger Lakes region. SLG later fought a proposed garbage incinerating facility, resulting in Governor Cuomo’s signing of the Finger Lakes Community Preservation Act of 2019, which prohibits the construction of any new garbage incinerators in the Finger Lakes Watershed. SLG fully supports recycling, and more importantly the County’s efforts to reduce waste and materials for recycling, such as through the elimination of single use plastics; however, this Project does not support those efforts. SLG and particularly those members who live next to or near the Project site have serious concerns about the Project’s potential environmental impacts and its regulatory compliance.

SLG is concerned about many aspects of the Project, including: the increase in trucks, including their air emissions and their negative impact on tourism along the routes between the Project and the landfills identified in the application; the noise, light, and odors that the facility would emit; the Project’s impacts on the emergent freshwater wetland on the site; the loss of valuable agricultural land; the potential expansion of the Project from the 7.49-acre Project site to the surrounding 80 acres that are also owned by the Applicant; and the Project’s potential long-term negative economic impact on the Town of Cayuta, the County of Schuyler, and the entire Finger Lakes region.

Remarkably, DEC failed to indicate on EAF [Environmental Assessment Form] Part 2 page 9 (paragraph 16(g)) that “The proposed action involves construction or modification of a solid waste management facility.

SLG also is concerned that the Applicant, an established member of the industry who should be well aware of the regulatory requirements, appears to have already built part or all of the facility without the necessary permits, evincing his unsuitability as an owner and operator of a solid waste management facility. In addition, the permit application and Environmental Assessment Form (“EAF”) are riddled with material omissions and inconsistencies that DEC did not examine or resolve. The hastily completed Negative Declaration suggests that DEC is rubber stamping a facility that already has been built, setting a dangerous precedent within the region and the entire state.


You can help!
Please Lend your Support:

Sign the letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to reject the proposed Waste Transfer facility. The full text of the letter can be found here.

If you are signing on as an organization, please sign the letter here.

If you are signing the letter as an individual, please sign the letter here.

You may also send a more detailed comment to DEC by referencing County Line Materials Recovery Facility Application #8-4422-00051/00001 and send your comment to: guillermo.saar@dec.ny.gov

Please share widely with your friends and like-minded organizations!
Together, we can stop this.


We therefore request that DEC deny the permit application given its significant flaws and the unsuitability of the Applicant, pursuant to 6 NYCRR § 360.16(e). If DEC will not deny the application, we request that DEC promptly commence an enforcement action and invoke its authority under 6 NYCRR § 621.3(e) to suspend the “processing and review of [the] application . . . by written notice to the applicant . . . for alleged violations of the [Environmental Conservation Law] . . . at the facility or site that is the subject of the application.” The Department should not resume processing the application, if at all, “pending final resolution of the enforcement action.” See 6 NYCRR § 621.3(e)(1). If DEC suspends and then proceeds with the consideration of the permit application after the enforcement action has been resolved, we ask that DEC rescind its Negative Declaration, require the submission of new permit application that reflects existing conditions at the site, and perform a thorough review of the application and the Project’s environmental impacts, addressing at a minimum the issues set forth below. In addition, given the Applicant’s conduct, the myriad issues and questions raised by the record thus far, and the degree of public interest in the Project, we request that DEC hold a legislative hearing.

I. The Permit Application Should Be Denied. If Not Denied, Consideration of the Permit Application Should be Suspended Pending Resolution of the Facility’s Alleged Legal Violations.

The Part 360 solid waste management facility regulations prohibit the construction or operation of a facility, or any phase of it, without a permit from DEC. 6 NYCRR § 360.9(a)(1). The Applicant filed a Part 360 permit application in January 2020 seeking DEC authorization to build the Project – a 10,575 square foot materials recovery facility. However, a portion or all of the facility already has been constructed, and DEC stated in a September 18, 2020 email that “To date, DEC has not issued any construction permits nor storm water permits for the above referenced MRF facility in the Town of Cayuta.” Indeed, Google Maps images dated October 2019 (Attachment 1) indicate that the construction commenced well before the permit application was even submitted, let alone before the required environmental review was conducted or the Part 360 permit was issued. The construction of the facility also required coverage under the SPDES General Permit for Construction Activity due to the disturbance of over an acre, which apparently also was not obtained, resulting in a violation of the Clean Water Act.2 DEC therefore should deny the permit application given the unsuitability of the Applicant, pursuant to 6 NYCRR § 360.16(e). At the very least, DEC should discontinue the processing of this permit application pending an investigation and resolution of the facility’s numerous apparent legal violations, pursuant to 6 NYCRR § 621.3(e)(1).

II. The Environmental Assessment Form Contains Material Omissions and Inconsistencies, and It Does Not Comply with State Law. DEC Should Rescind Its Negative Declaration, Require the Submission of a New and Accurate Permit Application, and Conduct the Thorough Environmental Review that SEQRA Requires.

The EAF is plagued by material omissions, provides information that is inaccurate or inconsistent with other parts of the EAF and application materials, and fails to satisfy the State Environmental Quality Review Act’s (“SEQRA”) requirement that DEC take a hard look at the Project’s potential environmental impacts.

Site and Setting of Proposed Action. As a preliminary matter, the permit application does not reflect the existence of a building on the Project site. DEC should require the Applicant to submit a new and accurate permit application after the completion of the enforcement action. Regarding the instant application, there are several issues regarding the site and setting of the Project. First, the Part 3 Supplement states that “The facility will disturb 0.412 acres within a 7.4 acre property.” However, Part 1 of the EAF indicates that the facility will in fact disturb 4.99 acres of the 7.490-acre site (p. 3) including the creation of 2.29 acres of impervious surface in the form of a building and driveway area (p. 6). Second, Part 1 of the EAF incorrectly states that the bar and grill across the street is closed (E.1.a).

Third, the average depth to the water table on the Project site is left blank (E.2.d), which is troubling given that the EAF later indicates that the Project site is located “over, or immediately adjoining” a Principal Aquifer (E.2.l). Finally, the Project is less than a mile from the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area and within five miles of the Newfield State Forest, both of which have seen a significant increase in use by hikers and hunters during the Covid-19 pandemic. The EAF does not evaluate the potential impacts of the Project on these natural areas, which impacts may include light pollution (D.2.n) and viewshed impacts.

Planning and Zoning. Contrary to the Applicant’s response to EAF question C.2.a, there is a Schuyler County Countywide Comprehensive Plan, which is readily available on the County’s website.3 The EAF indicates that the Project site is entirely “agricultural lands consisting of highly productive soils” (E.3.b); its use for a materials recovery facility therefore is inconsistent with the County’s prioritization of agriculture and “protection of farmland,” which the Plan identifies as Schuyler County’s number one key issue. (p. 6). The Plan states that “[a]s the agricultural industry and businesses continue to expand and land becomes increasingly scarce, it will be imperative to not only protect farmland but also balance the need for additional farmland with the need for housing and community functions throughout the County to maintain a high quality of life for all of the County’s residents and businesses.” (p. 15). It also emphasizes the importance of agriculture to Schuyler County as a “major employer and economic base for the county,” stating that “new development should respect the opportunities for farmland, and refrain from using land that has soils or positioning that provides the highest quality needed for agriculture.” (p. 28). The Plan also identifies three key issues specific to the Town of Cayuta: (1) desire to enhance local public parks and trails; (2) concern for the protection of local water sources, especially the aquifer; and (3) lack of local economic development initiatives (p. 59). The Project would only exacerbate these issues, given the Project’s potential impacts on the experience of those recreating and hunting at the nearby Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area and Newfield State Forest, its location over or adjoining a principal aquifer, and its destruction of high value agricultural soil.

Schuyler County also has a Solid Waste Management Plan. This Plan identifies waste hauler consolidation as an issue, noting that “Casella has bought out several small haulers in the area, and reportedly raised fees for curbside trash pickup and tipping fees for use of their transfer station . . . Rising disposal fees have led some residents to illegal dumping and potentially harmful on-site burning and burial. In addition, there have been reports of poor and sloppily managed recycling services by Casella.” (p. I-9). This is troubling because the Applicant reportedly sold a significant portion of his company Alternative Waste Services, Inc. to Casella Waste Services in April 2020.

Further reading: Planned Waste Facility in Cayuta Draws Fire From Seneca Lake Guardian After DEC Shrugs Off Environmental Risks | Water Front

freshwater wetlands on the Project site, as indicated by the National Wetlands Inventory and in the EAF at E.2.h. While the EAF says in D.2.b that the Project would not “cause or result in alteration of, increase or decrease in size of, or encroachment into any existing wetland, waterbody, shoreline, beach or adjacent area,” the Project’s “Existing Conditions” and “Site Plan” drawings in Appendix H of the Engineering Report (figures C1 and C2, respectively) show the stormwater retention basin in close proximity to the wetland (which is generally located where the text “LOT 2A 7.49 ACRES” appears). There is no indication that a wetland delineation was done to ensure that the basin would not encroach upon the wetland. In addition, the “Grading Plan” and “Utility Plan” in Appendix H (figures C3 and C4, respectively) appear to show a swale upland of the wetland directing stormwater runoff into the wetland. Depending on the contents of the runoff, such a setup could require a Clean Water Act permit to discharge pollutants into the wetland. EAF Parts 2 and 3 contain no acknowledgment or consideration of the Project’s potential impacts on the wetland. Moreover, as the Project will require coverage under the SPDES General Permit for Stormwater from Construction Activities and under the Multi-Sector General Permit, a draft Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan should have been prepared and reviewed by DEC before making any evaluation of potential stormwater impacts.5 Thus, DEC’s conclusion that “no significant adverse impacts to surface waters are anticipated as a result of the project” is not supported by the record.

Air emissions. The list of mobile sources of air emissions in D.2.f is incomplete and inconsistent with the Engineering Report (p. 4), which adds the following sources to the four already listed: wheel loader, yard dog/ shunt truck, skid steer, and Bobcat or mini excavator. In addition, the answers to D.2.h regarding the generation or emission of methane and D.2.i regarding the release of air pollutants from open-air operations or processes have been left blank.

Traffic. The EAF indicates that the Project would not “result in a substantial increase in traffic above present levels” (D.2.j). In Part 3, DEC acknowledges that the Project will cause traffic impacts, but determines that they will be “small,” citing the existence of nearby highways, the Project’s long entrance and access road where trucks can queue, and the notion that employees will manage traffic if it becomes congested. However, the Project would generate 185 new trips per day, which may be significant considering that the Town of Cayuta’s population is approximately 554 people (as of 2012) and it is the least densely populated town in the County, with only 27 residents per square mile.6 Moreover, the potential traffic impacts of the Project are not limited to the facility’s entrance and access road; trucks bringing solid waste from the Project to the Seneca Meadows and Chemung County Landfills would travel through multiple small communities depending on the route,7 causing negative impacts on tourism and community character. The EAF fails to adequately analyze these potential impacts. DEC should require the Applicant to conduct a full traffic analysis to determine the baseline condition and analyze the significance of this increase in traffic to the facility, in the vicinity of the facility, and from the facility to the landfills. The analysis also should consider the safety of the proposed routes, as local news reports suggest that there are often accidents along the section of Route 13 that trucks would take to the Chemung County Landfill. If DEC continues processing the application at some point (i.e. after the resolution of the enforcement action) and the Applicant submits a permit modification changing the landfills that will be used, DEC should open a new public comment period after publication in the ENB and paper of record to give the public enough time to understand and comment on the impact of those changes.

Odors. The EAF indicates that the Project has the potential to produce odors during operating hours, Monday through Friday 8am-6pm and Saturday 8am-3pm (D.2.o). It also indicates that the nearest occupied structure is 600 feet away. However, the answer to the prior question (D.2.n) states that the nearest occupied structure is only 350 feet away. In addition, the Operations and Maintenance Manual is inconsistent regarding the coverage of outdoor containers, saying in some places that they would be covered at night and in other that they would remain covered during the day. DEC should require that materials stored outdoors be covered at all times.

In short, DEC’s evaluation of the Project’s potential environmental impacts does not constitute the “hard look” that SEQRA requires, and the Negative Declaration is not supported by the record. If DEC continues processing this permit application at some point (i.e. after the enforcement action has been resolved), it should rescind the Negative Declaration, require the Applicant to submit a new application reflecting the actual conditions at the site and any other Project changes (i.e. landfill selection), and conduct a thorough environmental impact review of the Project. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, we respectfully request that DEC deny the permit application. If not denied outright, we request that DEC suspend consideration of the permit application while the Project’s apparent legal violations are investigated and resolved. In the event that DEC resumes consideration of the application after the enforcement action has been completed, we request that DEC withdraw the Negative Declaration, require the Applicant to submit a new application reflecting the actual existing conditions at the site, take the requisite hard look at the Project’s potential environmental impacts, hold a legislative hearing, and carefully consider the propriety of issuing a permit to an applicant who has shown little regard for legal requirements.…—”Comment to the NYS DEC regarding County Line Materials Recovery Facility,” Joseph Michael Patrick Campbell, Seneca Lake Guardians. 9/24/20

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Schuyler Co. Legislature Passes Vote
Opposing Cayuta Recycling Facility

The proposed recycling facility would sit south of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County. (panoramio/Wikimedia Commons)

]

The Schuyler County Legislature passed a resolution opposing a permit for a waste management facility Tuesday night. The vote was 7-1.

The site of the proposed facility, which would be operated by Finger Lakes-based Alternative Waste Services, is in the town of Cayuta off of NYS Route 13, and would bring in construction debris and municipal solid waste for recycling, according to Bob Mente of Alternative Waste Services.

The resolution asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a “full, fair and exhaustive” environmental review of the facility before the application is approved. According to the county, residents expressed concerns about the effects of truck traffic and potential pollutants coming from the facility on human health, agriculture, and tourism.

County Attorney Steven Getman also said some residents fear the seven-acre facility will expand into a landfill.…—”Schuyler Co. Legislature Passes Vote Opposing Cayuta Recycling Facility,” Jillian Forstadt, WSKG, 10/17/20

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NYS Teachers: What future shall we leave for our students?

Inspired by a world-wide movement to rid pension and endowment funds of fossil fuel investments (https://gofossilfree.org), New York State teachers have launched a campaign to get the NY State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS) to divest its fossil fuel portfolio, currently totaling over $4 billion – half a billion in Exxon alone. The campaign, Divest New York Teachers, has engaged with the NYSTRS Board of Directors, and has reached out to teachers across the state. A petition action is linked on their website, as well as a video of a recent webinar, which included Bill McKibben and other presenters.

Student activists offered their powerful perspectives, and a financial expert shared data showing the energy industry is the worst performing sector of the economy, in turn causing teachers’ retirement pensions to be adversely affected. For years NYSTRS directors have avoided accountability by falsely claiming that “fiduciary responsibility,” obligates them to seek maximum return on investments, regardless of social or environmental impact. They also assert, again incorrectly, that by being shareholders “at the table”, they can influence the business practices of fossil fuel corporations. Although currently a small organization, Divest NY Teachers is working to build a statewide movement. More information can be found at their website, What future will we leave our students?—”NYS Teachers: What future shall we leave for our students?” Jim Weiss, DivestNYTeachers|Special to The Banner, 11/24/20

Jim Weiss is a retired public school teacher – 30 years, teachig science and math.

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DOD is spending millions, getting rid of toxic foam
by burning it near where people live

COHOES, N.Y. — The military stopped using firefighting foam that contains toxic PFAS chemicals because of documented health risks. To get rid of its massive stockpile, Spotlight on America discovered the Department of Defense is spending millions of taxpayer dollars, burning the toxic foam in residential areas.

Joe Ritchie lives across the railroad tracks from a hazardous waste incinerator in Cohoes, New York, so he’s familiar with the smell of burning materials. But in the last couple of years, he noticed something different. “If they’re burning something new, we see it, smell it, feel it,” Ritchie told us. Earlier this year, Ritchie and others learned the incinerator had been burning millions of gallons of firefighting foam known as AFFF, laced with a set of PFAS chemicals. Those chemicals, studies show, are linked to cancer and other health problems. And Cohoes residents like Ritchie say it’s not acceptable to burn them where people live.

PFAS-BurningRecords obtained by Spotlight on America show the foam came from the Department of Defense, which phased out the use of AFFF in recent years because they contain PFAS. As a Spotlight investigation reported last year, PFAS chemicals contaminated water and soil at hundreds of military bases nationwide, prompting the Department of Defense to pump $40 million into a PFAS health impact study to look at the chemicals’ effects when it comes to drinking water. In order to get rid of millions of pounds of AFFF left in its stockpile, the DoD decided to burn it.

The Department of Defense has been wildly irresponsible and I think they were counting on no one finding out what they were doing.—Judith Enck, former regional administrator for the EPA.

According to Cohoes officials, the burning of PFAS foam went on in 2018 and 2019 but was missed by the state monitor who was tasked with overseeing the facility. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation says that failure is part of a state investigation into the facility’s incineration of PFAS chemicals. Sean Mahar, NYDEC’s chief of staff, said, “We stepped in immediately as soon we found out what they were doing. We started a comprehensive investigation looking at our legal and regulatory oversight ability and really starting to figure out our path forward on this.”…—”DOD is spending millions, getting rid of toxic foam by burning it near where people live,” Joce Sterman, Alex Brauer, Andrea Nejman, Sinclair Broadcast Group|\WJLA

https://wjla.com/news/spotlight-on-america/dod-is-spending-millions-getting-rid-of-toxic-foam-by-burning-it-near-where-people-live

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November 10, 2020 Environmental Notice Bulletin, NYS DEC

Find Notices for:NYSDECRegionMap

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November 18, 2020 Environmental Notice Bulletin, NYS DEC

NYSDECRegionMapFind Notices for:

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November 25, 2020 Environmental Notice Bulletin, NYS DEC

NYSDECRegionMapFind Notices for:

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‘We started getting sores all over us’:
Grand jury report blasts DEP, health department
over fracking failures in Pa.

A scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report two years in the making blasted the state departments of Environment Protection and Health, alleging years of turning a blind eye to complaints against the oil and gas industry left residents exposed to harmful water and air pollution that caused nosebleeds, mysterious sores and myriad other ailments.

The 243-page report, released Thursday by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, relied on nearly 300 hours of testimony, much of it from homeowners exposed to nearby fracking operations. The grand jury previously filed criminal charges against Range Resources and Cabot Oil and Gas for allegedly repeatedly breaking state environmental law.

The final report lists eight recommendations that are meant to protect residents.

Shapiro conceded that much of the report relies on anecdotal evidence and said the industry will no doubt try to fight back.

“They’re going to say … there’s no proof that any of this was really caused by fracking,” Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg. “They’ll roll out so-called experts that they’ve paid. They’ll hold up all the donations they’ve made to the community. They’ll say, ‘Where did this water really come from?’ They’re going to ask you when the pictures were really taken.”…—”‘We started getting sores all over us’: Grand jury report blasts DEP, health department over fracking failures in Pa.,” Megan Guza, TribLIVE, 6/25/20

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Indy Documentary Trailer: Thunderdome, USA

Thunderdome, USA is a grassroots documentary shot between July 2015 and November 2016 in a rural “coal country” becoming fracking country part of Western, Pennsylvania and Jimmy Stewart’s hometown- Indiana, Pennsylvania. Filmmaker sisters Lee and Maria Ziesche return to Indiana where they worked to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012 to try to understand the legacy of the grassroots movement that elected him and their own disappointments in his presidency.

ThunderdomePosterThey end up following a Trump supporter, a Hillary supporter and a Bernie supporter who are all deeply involved in local organizing and the eccentric people of Indiana, PA and surrounding counties through one of the most intense and shocking election cycles America has ever seen, exploring the region’s struggles with fossil fuel dependency, racism and local democracy.

As some are saying that Pennsylvania could be the swing state that decides the 2020 national election, and issues like fracking have become controversial flash points. Thunderdome, USA is a crucial piece in understanding electoral politics and local organizing in rural America and how to stop repeating the same mistakes of the past.—”Thunderdome, USA,” Lee Ziesche, Maria Ziesche, Wayward Z Productions, 10/30/20

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A Climate Convergence:
Uniting for Victory 2021

WELCOME ALL!
A Climate Convergence:
Uniting for Victory 2021

What is the Strategy for National Climate Legislation?
How Can We All Unite in Common Cause for Success?

Register Today!

Wed. Dec 9 & Thurs. Dec.10, 2020
Six Sessions. Noon-2. 3-5. 6-8 pm. ET
Closing Climate Cabaret. Thurs @ 8 pm ET

Featuring
Over 25 Organizations!
1. Sascha von Bismarck, Executive Director, Environmental Investigation Agency 2. Navina Khanna, Director, HEAL Food Alliance 3. Nigel S. Savage, President & CEO, HAZON 4. Niaz Dorry, Executive Director, National Family Farm Coalition 5. Alfred Meyer, Board of Directors, Physicians for Social Responsibility 6. Chad Frishmann, Vice-President & Director of Research, Project Drawdown 7. Rev. Michael Malcom, Founder and Executive Director of the People’s Justice Council; & Executive Director, Alabama Interfaith Power & Light 8. Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity 9. Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; & Co-Chair, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival 10. Mark Reynolds, Executive Director, Citizens Climate Lobby 11. Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, GreenFaith 12. Lise Van Sustren, Steering Committee, Climate Psychiatry Alliance 13. Jacqui Patterson, Sr. Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program, NAACP 14. Michelle Deatrick, Chair, DNC Council on the Environment & Climate Crisis 15. Ken Berlin, President and CEO, Climate Reality Project 16. Shantha Ready Alonso, Executive Director, Creation Justice Ministries 17. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers 18. Rise & Resist, Climate Team, 19. Rania Batrice, Executive Director, March for Science 20. Roberto Mukaro Borrero, President, United Confederation of Taíno People 21. Bob Perkowitz, Founder & President, EcoAmerica 22. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action 23. May Boeve, Executive Director, 350org 24. Christine See, Extinction Rebellion NYC 25. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, Federation of Southern Coops 26. Tia Nelson, Managing Director Climate, Outrider 27. Peggy M. Shepard, Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice 28. Jim Walsh, Senior Energy Policy Analyst, Food & Water Action 29. John Fernandez, Director, Environmental Solutions Initiative, Massachusetts Institute of Technology & more coming!

&

★ CLIMATE CABARET ★
Featuring Stars of NY Cabaret!
★ Barbara Brussell ★ Matt Berman ★
★ Mark Arthur Miller ★ Marissa Mulder ★
★ Karen Oberlin ★ Christine Pedi ★
★ Meg MacKay ★ Billy Philadelphia ★


SIX SESSIONS

WED. DEC. 9. & THURS. DEC. 10.
WED. NOON-2. LEGISLATIVE PLANS & CONGRESS
WED. 3-5 PM. MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL ORGS
WED. 6-8 PM. NATIONAL COALITIONS
THURS. NOON-2. POLICY COALITIONS
THURS. 3-5 PM. FAITH ORGANIZATIONS
THURS. 6-8 PM. DIRECT ACTION & YOUTH
THURS. 8-9 PM. CLOSING CLIMATE CABARET\

LET’S TALK STRATEGY!
WHAT’S THE DEMAND & PLAN!
HOW ARE WE GOING TO SAVE OURSELVES?

Please Share on FB

THANK YOU SYMPOSIUM CO-HOSTS!
Climate Crisis Policy Climate Reality NYC Drawdown NYC Organic Consumers Association Family Farm Action 350 Kishwaukee Hazon Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light Mighty Earth Loretto Earth Network Climate Nashville Climate Chattanooga Climate Reality Project Peconic Region Climate Reality Project Suffolk County Students for Climate Action Climate Reality Project Capital Region Climate Reality Project Westchester Climate Reality Project Rockland Climate Reality Project Finger Lakes Climate Reality Project Chautauqua County Climate Reality Project hudson Valley & Catskills Protect All Children’s Environment Center for Biological Diversity Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy 350 Central Massachusetts Pesticide Action Network 350 Chicago Earth Day Initiative Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community Hugelrado Farms Climate Action Iowa Climate Reality Project Greater NJ Gateway Chapter United Confederation of Taíno People Rise & Resist ★ Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice

Questions for Presenters: Contact@ClimateCrisisPolicy.com
LET’S GET TOGETHER & SAVE THE WORLD!


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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Temporary “Stay”
on Mountain Valley Pipeline,
For Now Halting Work on more than1,000 Water Crossings
in WV, VA

Click for full view

Good news on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) front, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just granted a temporary administrative stay (see below) of Nationwide Permit 12, pending a full ruling on the motion for a stay. According to Jon Sokolow, an attorney and anti-pipelines activist who follows this closely, this stay “halt[s] all work on [more than 1,000] water crossings for virtually the entire length of the pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia,” pending a full decision on the motion for a stay. Sokolow adds that “while this isn’t a ruling on the merits, it is a victory for now and “perhaps an indication of where the court will ultimately rule.” Sokolow also notes, “Without this order, MVP would have been allowed to start construction on these water crossings tomorrow.” But fortunately, now it can’t!—”BREAKING: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Temporary “Stay” on Mountain Valley Pipeline, For Now Halting Work on >1,000 Water Crossings in WV, VA,” Lowell Feld, Blue Virginia, 10/16/20

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Alaska’s Controversial Pebble Mine Fails to Win Critical Permit

The proposed site of the Pebble Mine project this summer. Credit…Acacia Johnson

The immense project would have been one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, but regulators found it “contrary to the public interest” due to environmental risks in the pristine Alaskan tundra.

The immense project would have been one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, but regulators found it “contrary to the public interest” due to environmental risks in the pristine Alaskan tundra.

The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, likely dealing a death blow to a long-disputed project that aimed to extract one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and gold ore, but which threatened breeding grounds for salmon in the pristine Bristol Bay region.

The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled years ago under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Trump. But opposition, from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project.

On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Army Corps’ Alaska District Commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.”…—”Permit Denied for Pebble Mine Project in Alaska,” Henry Fountain, The New York Times, 11/25/20

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The great escape: Inky the octopus
legs it to freedom from aquarium

InkyEscape

An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea.

In scenes reminiscent of Finding Nemo, Inky – a common New Zealand octopus – made his dash for freedom after the lid of his tank was accidentally left slightly ajar.

Staff believe that in the middle of the night, while the aquarium was deserted, Inky clambered to the top of his glass enclosure, down the side of the tank and travelled across the floor of the aquarium.

Rob Yarrell, national manager of the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, said: “Octopuses are famous escape artists.

Guardian-Donate.-1But Inky really tested the waters here. I don’t think he was unhappy with us, or lonely, as octopus are solitary creatures. But he is such a curious boy. He would want to know what’s happening on the outside. That’s just his personality.”…—”The great escape: Inky the octopus legs it to freedom from aquarium,” Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian, 4/13/16

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In the Mercenaries’ Own Words:
Documents Detail TigerSwan Infiltration of Standing Rock

North Dakota’s private security regulator said a trove of company documents showed TigerSwan’s denials were “willfully false and misleading.”

The weekend before Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, a secret private security initiative called “Operation Baratheon” was scheduled to begin. A PowerPoint presentation laid out the plan for Joel McCollough, a burly ex-Marine bearing a resemblance to “Game of Thrones” character King Robert Baratheon. He had been posing as an opponent of the Dakota Access pipeline at protests in Iowa but was now assigned to travel to North Dakota to collect intelligence on the growing anti-pipeline movement.

There, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, thousands were camped out as part of the Indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. Energy Transfer, the venture’s parent company, had plans to run the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River. Calling themselves water protectors, the people in camp objected to the threat the pipeline would present to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s primary drinking water source.

For movements like the one at Standing Rock — Indigenous land and water defenders, fighting for territory central to their identity and health, and climate activists, staving off a potential future of chaos and suffering — their actions are a matter of survival. But the same can be said for the energy companies, evidenced by their willingness to deploy war-on-terror-style tactics.

The effort to stop the pipeline had quickly become one of the most important Indigenous uprisings of the past century in the U.S. And McCollough, working for the mercenary security firm TigerSwan, was a key player in Energy Transfer’s multi-state effort to defeat the resistance, newly released documents reveal. TigerSwan took a militaristic approach: To McCollough and his colleagues, the anti-pipeline movement was akin to the insurgencies the veterans had confronted in Afghanistan and Iraq. In line with that view, they deployed the same kinds of subversive tactics used in theaters of war.

One of these tactics was the use of spies to infiltrate so-called insurgents. That was McCollough’s goal when, in November 2016, he drove to North Dakota with an unwitting pipeline opponent. A PowerPoint slide titled “Mission” described exactly what he would do once he arrived: “infiltrate one of the Standing Rock camps.” Another slide, titled “Situation,” listed his adversaries, under the heading of “Belligerents”: “Native American activists, anti-establishment radicals, independent press, protester intelligence cells, camp security.…—”In the Mercenaries’ Own Words: Documents Detail TigerSwan Infiltration of Standing Rock,” Alleen Brown, The Intercept|Reader Supported News, 11/15/20

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Michigan Gov. Moves to Shut Down Line 5 Pipeline
to Protect Great Lakes

“Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life.”

Environmental and Indigenous activists celebrated Friday after Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took action to shut down the decades-old Enbridge Line 5 oil and natural gas pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac, narrow waterways that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan—two of the Great Lakes.

Citing the threat to the Great Lakes as well as “persistent and incurable violations” by Enbridge, Whitmer and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger informed the Canadian fossil fuel giant that a 1953 easement allowing it to operate the pipelines is being revoked and terminated.

The move, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the Ingham County Circuit Court to validate, gives Enbridge until May 2021 to stop operating the twin pipelines, “allowing for an orderly transition that protects Michigan’s energy needs over the coming months,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The Great Lakes collectively contain about a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. As Whitmer explained Friday, “Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people.”

“Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs,” the governor said. “They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”

“Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” she added. “That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”

Common-Dreams-Donate-1MLive noted that the state attorney general’s new filing “is in addition to Nessel’s lawsuit filed in 2019 seeking the shutdown of Line 5, which remains pending in the same court.” Nessel said Friday that Whitmer and Eichinger “are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways.”…”‘This Is a Really, Really Big Deal’: Michigan Gov. Moves to Shut Down Line 5 Pipeline to Protect Great Lakes,” Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams News, 11/13/20

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Anti-pollution Advocates Cheer
as Army Corps Reviews Formosa Plastics Permit in Louisiana

Environmental and community groups in Louisiana are elated after what they see as two back-to-back wins in their fight to protect fence-line communities from additional petrochemical industry pollution. This week, a key federal permit for a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex under construction in St. James Parish, near largely Black and poor communities, is on pause, and Louisiana voters rejected an amendment that could have let petrochemical companies off the hook for paying property taxes in the state forever.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on November 4 that the agency plans to reevaluate its wetlands permit for Formosa Plastics’ sprawling plastics manufacturing complex, known as the Sunshine Project, along a heavily industrialized stretch of the Mississippi River known by some as Cancer Alley. During the permit review, the Corps said it will address criticisms raised by environmental and community groups in a lawsuit filed in January this year.

The Corps asked a judge to halt the lawsuit while it reevaluates the permit, which it could suspend, modify, or revoke after further review. The Advocate reported that the Corps will release a more detailed explanation of its rationale for the pending review by November 10.

This move came just a day before a court deadline for the Corps in the lawsuit.

If ultimately approved, the plastics facility, one of several slated for the Gulf Coast, will be a massive complex, with 14 units producing two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

On January 15, 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity, RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Healthy Gulf sued the Corps over the wetlands permit, alleging that the Army Corps of Engineers neglected to disclose the environmental damage and public health risks of the plastics facility under the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, the suit alleges that the Corps failed to adequately consider the harm to cultural resources such as slave burial grounds on the site, which is a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.…—”Anti-pollution Advocates Cheer as Army Corps Reviews Formosa Plastics Permit in Louisiana,” Julie Dermansky, DeSmog, 11/5/20

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The Attempt to Trump Democracy

Trump’s move to fill civil service with political hacks and cronies
reflects his contempt for actual expertise

The president’s assault on the independence of the federal bureaucracy reverses a bipartisan consensus of nearly 140 years.

President Trump’s disdain for expertise is well-documented. He called Anthony S. Fauci and other medical experts “idiots.” He has ignored government scientists who accept the reality of climate change. He sidelined diplomats who warned banning Muslims would hurt the United States’ reputation overseas.

Rather than value knowledge or professional competence, Trump prizes just one thing: political loyalty. His approach has already caused long-lasting damage in the government he heads, yet he wants to go further.

Now Trump has moved to drastically expand the number of federal civil servants whom he can fire at will and replace with political hacks and cronies.

It’s a stunning assault on the independence and professionalism of the civil service, with big impact in the national capital region. It reverses a bipartisan consensus dating back 137 years that nearly all federal workers should be above party politics.

Presumably, the change won’t last if Joe Biden wins the presidency. Biden could overturn Trump’s executive order of Oct. 21 with one of his own on his first day in office, if elected.

Further reading: Trump just quietly passed an executive order that could destroy a future Biden administration | The Independent

But if Trump wins another term, tens of thousands of mid- and upper-level employees will lose their civil service protections unless the courts intervene. Trump and his appointees could fill their posts with anyone they choose — campaign donors, friends, relatives, ideologues — regardless of whether they know anything about the work they’re entrusted to do.…—”Trump’s move to fill civil service with political hacks and cronies reflects his contempt for actual expertise,” Robert McCartney, The Washington Post, 11/2/20

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Who will win the presidential cup?

PresidentialCupRace

Well welcome to the US Presidential Election Cup, and what a year it has been for America. With voter suppression, rioting and court rulings, it really is the nation that stops a race. Let’s have a look at the field.

First up – Fox News – Trainer Rupert Murdoch was always going to field this workhorse. He’ll start in gate 1 out on the far right. Look for him to stay in the background and control the field from there. Next up, the reigning champion, The Donald, what a magnificent horse, a tremendous horse, nobody knows more about being a horse than The Donald.

In gate three, its Sleepy Joe, he’s the oldest horse to ever compete in this race. Stablemate to former champion stallion, Yes We Can, he was destined for the glue factory but now a clear front runner.…—”Who will win the presidential cup?” Sammy J, YouTube, 11/4/20

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The Empire of Civilization: Book Review

The term “civilization” comes with considerable baggage, dichotomizing people, cultures, and histories as “civilized”—or not. While the idea of civilization has been deployed throughout history to justify all manner of interventions and sociopolitical engineering, few scholars have stopped to consider what the concept actually means. Here, Brett Bowden examines how the idea of civilization has informed our thinking about international relations over the course of ten centuries. From the Crusades to the colonial era to the global war on terror, this sweeping volume exposes “civilization” as a stage-managed account of history that legitimizes imperialism, uniformity, and conformity to Western standards, culminating in a liberal-democratic global order. Along the way, Bowden explores the variety of confrontations and conquests—as well as those peoples and places excluded or swept aside—undertaken in the name of civilization. Concluding that the “West and the rest” have more commonalities than differences,this provocative and engaging bookultimately points the way toward an authentic intercivilizational dialogue that emphasizes cooperation over clashes.

Further reading: Civilization and Its Consequences |Oxford Handbooks

From the Crusades to the colonial era to the global war on terror, this sweeping volume exposes “civilization” as a stage-managed account of history that legitimizes imperialism, uniformity, and conformity to Western standards, culminating in a liberal-democratic global order. Along the way, Bowden explores the variety of confrontations and conquests—as well as those peoples and places excluded or swept aside—undertaken in the name of civilization. Concluding that the “West and the rest” have more commonalities than differences,this provocative and engaging book ultimately points the way toward an authentic intercivilizational dialogue that emphasizes cooperation over clashes.…—”Book Review: The Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea,” Brett Bowden, University of Chicago Press,

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Trump Administration, in Late Push,
Moves to Sell Oil Rights in Arctic Refuge

The lease sales could occur just before Inauguration Day, leaving the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. to try to reverse them after the fact.

The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies in a last-minute push to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

That sets up a potential sale of leases just before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed drilling in the refuge, to try to reverse them after the fact.

“This lease sale is one more box the Trump administration is trying to check off for its oil industry allies,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “But it is disappointing that this administration until the very end has maintained such low regard for America’s public lands, or the wildlife and Indigenous communities that depend on them.”

Feeling gratitude for some people can be gnarly —Dwain Wilder, Editor, The Banner

The Arctic refuge is one of the last vast expanses of wilderness in the United States, 19 million acres that for the most part are untouched by people, home instead to wandering herds of caribou, polar bears and migrating waterfowl. It has long been prized, and protected, by environmentalists, but President Trump has boasted that opening part of it to oil development was among the most significant of his efforts to expand domestic fossil fuel production.…—”Trump Administration Moves to Sell Oil Rights in Arctic Refuge,” Henry Fountain, The New York Times, 11/16/20

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Monster Makers

Unless Biden fights big money, he could pave the way for someone even worse than Trump]

It brought a tear to the eye and a hand to the heart. Joe Biden, in his acceptance speech, called for unity and healing. He would work “to win the confidence of the whole people”. I just hope he doesn’t mean it. If he does, it means that nothing has been learned since Barack Obama made roughly the same speech in 2008.

The United States of America is fundamentally divided. It is divided between exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed. There is no unity to be found with kleptocrats and oligarchs. Any attempt to pretend there is will lead to political failure. It will lead not to healing but to a deflected polarisation. If Americans are not polarised against plutocrats, they will be polarised against each other.

I understand that, in a sentimental nation, bromides like Biden’s might be considered necessary. But I fear he believes what he says. When he spoke to wealthy donors at the Carlyle hotel in Manhattan last year, he told them not only that “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change”, but also that “you have to be able to reach consensus under our system”. In this context, consensus looks like appeasement.

Obama’s attempt to reconcile irreconcilable forces, to paper over the chasms, arguably gave Donald Trump his opening. Rather than confronting the banks whose reckless greed had caused the financial crisis, he allowed his Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, to “foam the runway” for them by allowing 10 million families to lose their homes. His justice department and the attorney general blocked efforts to pursue apparent wrongdoing by the financiers. He pressed for trade agreements that would erode workers’ rights and environmental standards, and presided over the widening of inequality and the concentration of wealth, casualisation of labour and record mergers and acquisitions. In other words, he failed to break the consensus that had grown around the dominant ideology of our times: neoliberalism.…—”Monster Makers,” George Monbiot, George Monbiot Blog, 11/18/20

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The Authors of the Dictator’s Handbook
on What Trump Is Doing Wrong

This autocratic power grab could be grabbier.

As President Donald Trump and his allies have spent the past several weeks attempting to pressure courts, state legislatures, and election officials to overturn the results of the November presidential election, Americans have learned, in a Soylent Green–like twist, that their much-vaunted democratic institutions are actually made out of people. From the Senate majority leader to members of county canvassing boards, individuals are making decisions based on their own perceived self-interest about whether to support a defeated leader’s bid to hold onto power.

This observation shouldn’t be surprising to readers of political scientists Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. In their 2005 academic study The Logic of Political Survival and its 2011 mass-market adaptation The Dictator’s Handbook, they propose a model for why some leaders are overthrown and other survive, known as selectorate theory. In this model, leaders survive by keeping their “winning coalition”—the essential supporters who actually have the power to overthrow them—happy. The goal of politics is not to improve conditions for the population at large; it’s to extract resources from the population at large and give them to the leader’s winning coalition. And a smart leader always keeps the number of people whom they have to keep happy as small as possible. Despite the book’s title, its model applies to democracies as well as dictatorships. In fact, the authors argue that dictatorships and democracies don’t differ in kind, but instead, in the size each requires to maintain a leader’s winning coalition. Kim Jong-un only has to keep a small group of senior party cadres happy in order to survive. For a U.S. president, the winning coalition is the key voters in swing states who determine the winner of the Electoral College.

It’s a brutally cynical but often refreshing way to look at politics, and I was curious to see what Bueno de Mesquita and Smith made of Trump’s post-election gambit, and the degree to which he’s following the rules of the dictator’s handbook. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.…—”Dictator’s Handbook authors: Trump’s power grab could be grabbier.” Joshua Keating, Slate, 11/23/20

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Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Pentatonic

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”. Watch the full program here: https://youtu.be/S0kCUss0g9Q

The World Science Festival gathers great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content that allows a broad general audience to engage with scientific discoveries. Our mission is to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.—”Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale,” World Science Festival|YouTube, 6/12/09

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Howard Zinn: Don’t Despair about the Supreme Court

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds.

John Roberts sailed through his confirmation hearings as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with enthusiastic Republican support, and a few weak mutterings of opposition by the Democrats. Then, after the far right deemed Harriet Miers insufficiently doctrinaire, Bush nominated arch conservative Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. This has caused a certain consternation among people we affectionately term “the left.”

I can understand that sinking feeling. Even listening to pieces of Roberts’s confirmation hearings was enough to induce despair: the joking with the candidate, the obvious signs that, whether Democrats or Republicans, these are all members of the same exclusive club. Roberts’s proper “credentials,” his “nice guy” demeanor, his insistence to the Judiciary Committee that he is not an “ideologue” (can you imagine anyone, even Robert Bork or Dick Cheney, admitting that he is an “ideologue”?) were clearly more important than his views on equality, justice, the rights of defendants, the war powers of the President.

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.

At one point in the hearings, The New York Times reported, Roberts “summed up his philosophy.” He had been asked, “Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?” (Would any candidate admit that he was on the side of “the big guy”? Presumably serious “hearings” bring out idiot questions.)

Roberts replied: “If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy’s going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution.”

If the Constitution is the holy test, then a justice should abide by its provision in Article VI that not only the Constitution itself but “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land.” This includes the Geneva Convention of 1949, which the United States signed, and which insists that prisoners of war must be granted the rights of due process.

A district court judge in 2004 ruled that the detainees held in Guantanamo for years without trial were protected by the Geneva Convention and deserved due process. Roberts and two colleagues on the Court of Appeals overruled this.

There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and “the rule of law.” The Constitution, like the Bible, is infinitely flexible and is used to serve the political needs of the moment. When the country was in economic crisis and turmoil in the Thirties and capitalism needed to be saved from the anger of the poor and hungry and unemployed, the Supreme Court was willing to stretch to infinity the constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It decided that the national government, desperate to regulate farm production, could tell a family farmer what to grow on his tiny piece of land.…—”Howard Zinn: Don’t Despair about the Supreme Court,” Howard Zinn, The Progressive, 10/21/05

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse speaks
during hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

WhitehouseOnBarrett

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., did not pose any questions to Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Using poster board displays, Whitehouse argued that Barrett’s nomination reflects a pattern by conservative special interest groups of using “dark money” to influence who sits on the court. It’s the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. The Oct. 13 hearing comes three weeks before Election Day. The second of four days of scheduled testimony gave senators an opportunity to ask Barrett about her record and approach to the law.

Watch highlights from from Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing – Day 1

Watch highlights from Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing – Day 2: —”WATCH: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse speaks during hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett,” PBS NewsHour|YouTube, 10/13/20

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Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation
could revive this hidden doctrine
—and derail climate action

Even if Congress pursued legislation, a push from the new Supreme Court to revive a dated doctrine could stand in the way.

Before Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on Monday, she had spent a month as a nominee saying basically nothing. In today’s world of highly partisan appointees to the Supreme Court, nominees have learned to keep their opinions buttoned-up: Barrett’s favorite phrase during the hearings was “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”

When it comes to climate change, however, what Barrett didn’t say may prove just as important as what she did. Barrett refused to acknowledge the science of global warming during her hearings. In an exchange with Senator Kamala Harris of California, Barrett said that she didn’t want to weigh in on a “very contentious matter of public debate,” causing scientists everywhere to roll their eyes. But for those calling for action on global warming, the real concern about Barrett getting a seat on the highest court isn’t her willingness to toe the Republican party line on climate vagueness. It’s how the new Supreme Court could be poised to strike down even the most bipartisan climate laws — thanks to a growing conservative movement to boost something known as the “nondelegation doctrine.”…

But even if Congress manages to pass such landmark legislation, there might be a problem. According to the doctrine, Congress shouldn’t let other branches of government do its work: That is, it shouldn’t delegate power elsewhere. That all sounds well and good. But the problem, according to Julian Mortensen and Nicholas Bagley, law professors at the University of Michigan, is that almost all government activity in the country relies on Congress handing off tasks to other branches. Congress might pass a law, for example, requiring the EPA to set pollution standards that are “requisite to protect human health,” or telling the Justice Department to regulate drugs to protect “public safety.” It’s unreasonable to expect Capitol Hill to have the time, or the expertise, to get into the nitty-gritty of every single government regulation.

That’s partly why the principle hasn’t been used by the Supreme Court since 1935, when the court struck down two provisions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal for awarding too much power to the White House. (Roosevelt, frustrated, then threatened to pack the court, and the justices eventually backed off.) Since then, the Supreme Court hasn’t invoked nondelegation in any major cases; in oral arguments in 2014, Justice Anthony Kennedy called it “moribund” — just about dead.

…even without Barrett, the court has a majority ready to revive a principle that has been defunct for decades.

“The idea is that Congress shouldn’t delegate too much power to the executive branch,” said Michael Gerrard, a professor of climate change law at Columbia University. “So Congress couldn’t just say, ‘EPA, we want you to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent and you figure it out.’ They have to give a whole lot of specific details on how this would work.”…—”Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation could revive this hidden doctrine — and derail climate action,” Shannon Osaka, Grist, 10/26/20

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State Backers of Anti-Protest Bills
Received Campaign Funding
from Oil and Gas Industry, Report Finds

Politicians responsible for drafting laws criminalizing pipeline protests in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Minnesota did so after receiving significant funding from the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The major pipelines studied in the report disproportionately impact historically disenfranchised communities who, in turn find themselves potentially targeted by the protest criminalization measures, often framed as efforts to protect “critical infrastructure,” the report details.

“Under the premise of protecting infrastructure projects,” the Institute wrote, “these laws mandate harsh charges and penalties for exercising constitutional rights to freely assemble and to protest.”

Marathon Petroleum, one of three large fossil fuel companies the report names as driving state-level efforts to criminalize pipeline protests, is also facing new allegations of electoral wrong-doing in the form of a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that the company made over $1 million in contributions to Republican super PACs that are barred by rules preventing federal contractors from providing that sort of funding.

Industry Funding Flows to Bill Sponsors

The past decade has seen a glut of new pipeline construction in the U.S. More than 80,000 miles of major new pipelines, like interstate gas transmission lines and oil pipelines, have been built across the U.S., federal data shows — enough to crisscross the country from the coast to coast roughly 30 times. That’s not including over 400,000 miles of smaller gas distribution and service pipes laid across the nation during that time.

These new projects have often been dogged by controversy, both due to local opposition and because the climate crisis has spurred a needed transition away from the fossil fuels that would be carried in those pipes.

In the face of that opposition, 13 states have passed laws since 2017 designed to criminalize protests specifically related to oil and gas projects. At least three states — Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia — have pushed forward on their “critical infrastructure” protest criminalization bills since the COVID-19 pandemic began.…—”State Backers of Anti-Protest Bills Received Campaign Funding from Oil and Gas Industry, Report Finds,” Sharon Kelly, DeSmog, 10/31/20

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Our democracy no longer represents the people.
Here’s how we fix it

FixingDemocracy

Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig makes the case that our democracy has become corrupt with money, leading to inequality that means only 0.02% of the United States population actually determines who’s in power. Lessig says that this fundamental breakdown of the democratic system must be fixed before we will ever be able to address major challenges like climate change, social security, and student debt. This is not the most important problem, it’s just the first problem. Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman

Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and founder of Rootstrikers, a network of activists leading the fight against government corruption. He has authored numerous books, including Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Our Congress—and a Plan to Stop It, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Free Culture, and Remix.—”Our democracy no longer represents the people. Here’s how we fix it“, Larry Lessig, TEDxMidAtlantic|YouTube, 10/20/15

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The Fall of Trump Propels the Climate Story
Into a Decisive New Era

Humanity dodged a bullet, but journalists need to explore why half of the electorate voted not to.

Donald Trump’s defeat in the US presidential election is the biggest development in the climate story in years, if only because it means that the story might not have a hellish ending after all. News columns and Zoom meetings are already abuzz with to-do lists and speculation about what the administration of President-elect Joe Biden will or will not be able to accomplish on climate change. But that is another story for another day.

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Apollo 11 moon landing, Trump’s impending departure from the most powerful office on earth is an event of epochal importance whose ramifications cannot be fully fathomed at this point, much less confidently forecast. Instead of trying to predict what will come next, this is a time to pause and reflect. Let’s recognize the magnitude of what America’s voters just did and ponder what lessons it holds for the challenges ahead.

Penn State University scientist Michael Mann spoke for many climate experts when he warned before the election that “a second term for Trump would be ‘game over’ for climate.” That was not partisan hyperbole but unsentimental physics and math. To avoid an apocalyptic future—one shaped by intensifying heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and storms—humanity must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, scientists with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared in a landmark 2018 report. That remains an immensely difficult challenge, requiring shifts in economic behavior at a scale and speed the scientists called “unprecedented” in human history. But the task would have become outright impossible, Mann explained, if the world’s biggest economy spent a second four years galloping in the wrong direction under a reelected president Trump, with his pro–fossil fuel policies and rejection of the Paris Agreement.

Donald Trump’s defeat in the US presidential election is the biggest development in the climate story in years, if only because it means that the story might not have a hellish ending after all. News columns and Zoom meetings are already abuzz with to-do lists and speculation about what the administration of President-elect Joe Biden will or will not be able to accomplish on climate change. But that is another story for another day.

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Apollo 11 moon landing, Trump’s impending departure from the most powerful office on earth is an event of epochal importance whose ramifications cannot be fully fathomed at this point, much less confidently forecast. Instead of trying to predict what will come next, this is a time to pause and reflect. Let’s recognize the magnitude of what America’s voters just did and ponder what lessons it holds for the challenges ahead.

Penn State University scientist Michael Mann spoke for many climate experts when he warned before the election that “a second term for Trump would be ‘game over’ for climate.” That was not partisan hyperbole but unsentimental physics and math. To avoid an apocalyptic future—one shaped by intensifying heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and storms—humanity must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, scientists with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared in a landmark 2018 report. That remains an immensely difficult challenge, requiring shifts in economic behavior at a scale and speed the scientists called “unprecedented” in human history. But the task would have become outright impossible, Mann explained, if the world’s biggest economy spent a second four years galloping in the wrong direction under a reelected president Trump, with his pro–fossil fuel policies and rejection of the Paris Agreement.

That is the suicidal scenario humanity just avoided.

Further reading The World Is Burning, but the Political Press Insists It’s a Horse Race
What Amy Coney Barrett Means For the Climate
Journalists Must Demystify the Green New Deal

ProPublica-Donate-e1601416658453But make no mistake: Many more mountains remain to be climbed in order to preserve a livable climate. For example, three of the world’s four biggest economies—the European Union, Japan, and China—have recently pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or, in China’s case, 2060; citizens, public officials, and business leaders will have to push those countries’ governments to make that scientifically correct target a political reality. The United States must match these net-zero efforts, starting during the Biden administration and despite all-but-certain opposition from Republicans and other fossil fuel loyalists in Congress, and sustain that progress for decades. Meanwhile, business and financial interests the world over must shift investment and loans away from the climate-destabilizing status quo and toward clean energy, regenerative agriculture, and other foundations of a post-carbon economy. And all this and more must be accomplished even as the diminished yet still-formidable wealth and power of the fossil fuel industry continues obstructing progress.…—”The Fall of Trump Propels the Climate Story Into a Decisive New Era,” Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation, 11/11/20

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Biden Urged to Be The Climate President
by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps
in First 10 Days in Office

“Don’t let anyone tell you that Biden’s hands are tied on climate action without the Senate.”

With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.

Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”

Common-Dreams-Donate-1“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”…—”Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office,” Julia Conley, Common Dreams News, 11/9/20

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“Without a Whisper:” How Native American Women Inspired
the Women’s Rights, Suffrage Movement

WithoutAWhisper

“Without a Whisper: Konnón:kwe” is the untold story of how Indigenous women influenced the early suffragists in their fight for freedom and equality. Mohawk Clan Mother Louise Herne and Professor Sally Roesch Wagner shake the foundation of the established history of the women’s rights movement in the United States. They join forces on a journey to shed light on the hidden history of the influence of Haudenosaunee Women on the women’s rights movement, possibly changing this historical narrative forever.—”Without A Whisper – Konnón:kwe,” PBS

“Never was justice more perfect; never was civilization higher,” suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote about the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, whose territory extended throughout New York State.

Matilda Joslyn Gage led the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the three women trading executive positions over the 20 years of the organization’s existence.

Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898), American suffragette and abolitionist.(Wikimedia Commons)

According to Gloria Steinem, Gage was “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.” When the women’s suffrage leadership grew conservative, Gage dropped out of the movement. Suffragists stopped remembering her progressive contributions, like her 1893 revelation of the sex trafficking of women and girls in the United States.

Gage, and to a lesser extent Stanton, were largely dropped from the history. With their exclusion, we also lost this story of how they saw women’s rights in action in the native culture of the Haudenosaunee, and realized they could create the conditions for it in their own society.

Having worked for women’s rights for forty years, Gage and Stanton became increasingly frustrated with their inability to make major gains in their social, economic or political positions as women by the 1880’s.

In their disappointment, they looked beyond the Euro-American culture that was already known intimately to them and gained a vision of a world of equality from their nearby neighbors. Stanton and Gage grew up in the land of the Haudenosaunee, the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora who had social, religious, economic and political positions far superior to their own, they wrote.

The Six Nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy had, and still have today, a family/governmental structure based on female authority. Haudenosaunee women controlled the economy in their nations through their responsibilities for growing and distributing the food. They had the final authority over land transfers and decisions about engaging in war.…—”How Native American Women Inspired the Women’s Rights, Suffrage Movement,” Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, Ms. Magazine, 8/18/20

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Banner would like to host a one-week “Watch Page” for the full video documentary of this story “Without A Whisper – Konnón:Kwe.” We are currently negotiating the calendar for a best week for our readers to view this video. The cost to The Banner is $150. Since we operate on a strictly cost-of-publishing budget, there are no funds in hand for this initiative. If you can donate to this effort and/or interestedin watching the full documentary, please email editor@thebanner.news, indicating whether you would like to watch, donate, or both.

If you can donate, please indicate the amount you anticipate donating so we can assess whether we have a shot at hosting a viewing for our activist community before asking you to chip in. We will use an online poll of all who respond, to find the best week for the most folks. Thanks! —and please spread the word about this wonderful story.

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How A Biden Presidency Could Shape Native American Law

Native American tribes could find themselves working more with the federal government in litigation and facing off less and could reap the benefits of clean energy initiatives if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins Tuesday’s election, while tribes would look for a more active role influencing policy than they’ve had under the Trump administration, attorneys say.

The two candidates recently introduced competing agendas for tribes, with Trump promoting public safety, infrastructure and health improvements, while Biden revealed a much more detailed plan covering many of the same areas but also saying he would stimulate clean energy projects to combat climate change and protect tribal cultural sites.

With Biden leading in most polls, attorneys who represent tribes say that the former vice president could restore the close relationship tribes had with the administration of President Barack Obama while confronting new challenges, including the pandemic.

Tribes are likely to see a “reversal of fortune” from the Biden administration in litigation, particularly connected with energy, after the Trump administration has fought tribes in court on projects like the Dakota Access pipeline and the Pebble Mine in Alaska, according to Rob Roy Smith, the managing partner of Kilpatrick Townsend‘s Seattle office and co-leader of its Native American practice group. “A Biden administration can only be better for Indian Country than the Trump administration has been,” said Smith. “I think you’d see an administration that’s more open to meeting with tribal governments, more protective of sovereign rights, and certainly more protective of the environment.”…—”How A Biden Presidency Could Shape Native American Law,” Andrew Westney, Law360, 0/30/20`

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Divided We Dance

A feature documentary about people fighting for their land…

DividedWeDance

A review of “Divided We Dance,”
a documentary in the making

“Divided We Dance” is a feature documentary that tells the story of a people fighting for their land and their way of life. In the heart of ZuluLand, South Africa, a lush and hilly terrain dotted with traditional homesteads and giant aloes.

The community of Somkhele is taking Tendele Coal Mine to court. When the mine began operating in 2007, they brought with them the promise of development: clean water, roads, electricity, jobs. Seduced by the promise of modernization and cash payouts the community gave up their land and left their homes. Now a decade later, the implications of this trade off have become clear. The promises have not been met, the land has been destroyed, the community of Somkhele is left in conflict, and Tendele wants to expand.

Our story begins with a court hearing. Just before dawn dozens of villagers and farmers gather into tour buses to make the four-hour journey to the high court of Pietermaritzburg. Leading the fight is a coalition of concerned citizens that represents the highest ideals of the Rainbow Nation: A young Zulu activist, a pro bono lawyer, environmentalists and wildlife conservationists. Their goal is to have the courts of South Africa declare Tendele’s mining activity illegal and to suspend operations until they adjust their compensation and extraction methods.

Outside the court however, it becomes clear that they face not only the mine itself, but also a surprising array of actors who support resource extraction: the mine workers and their families; the traditional landowners of the Zulu Nation, and of course the mining company itself. The presence of the mine has created schisms in the community, tearing apart families and pitting neighbor against neighbor.

This documentary will navigate through the complexities of resource extraction and its impact on largely poor rural communities and the natural habitats surrounding them. We aim to tell a balanced story, and call into question the driving economic ideologies of our time. Who has the right to utilize the land? How does historical injustice apply to current events? Can resource extraction go hand and hand with community development? What can corporations do to ensure their activities have a positive impact for all? How will the courts of South Africa be able to find a balance between the rights of the people and the imperatives of economic development?—”Divided We Dance,” Anna Prichard, AnnaPrichardMedia, 2018

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South African activist killed
as contentious coal mine seeks to expand

On Oct. 22, four gunmen shot and killed anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase in her home in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. The murder points to escalating pressure on communities across South Africa to accept environmentally damaging mining operations on their land.

Ntshangase, 65, was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), which is taking legal action to prevent the expansion of an open-cast coal mine at Somkhele, on the southeastern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park. MCEJO also says the mine’s existing operations should be halted because they are not compliant with environmental and other laws.

The mine owners, Tendele Coal Mine, say they are operating lawfully, and expansion is necessary to keep the mine viable and protect 1,600 direct jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs in this impoverished part of the country.

Community impacts

The Mpunkyoni tribal area is home to about 158,000 people. Villagers here make their living raising goats and cattle, and growing food for the table. Many also depend on social welfare grants and money sent by family members working in the cities. The mine and the park are the biggest employers in the area, with more than 3,000 full- and part-time workers between them.

In “Divided We Dance”, a 2018 short film directed by Anna Prichard, Somkhele villager Medical Ndzima talks about the many difficulties she has faced since the mine opened in 2007. “Before, this area was a good area. We had cows. We had fields. We had water — natural water from the streams. All of that is gone,” Ndzima says. Promises of infrastructure and a better life have come to naught, she says.…—”South African activist killed as contentious coal mine seeks to expand,” Fred Kockott, Matthew Hattingh, Mongabay, 10/28/20

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Peruvian Indigenous groups thwart oil drilling in their territory — for now

In the Peruvian Amazon, two Indigenous groups have been battling the government and oil companies for decades to prevent an incursion they believe would forever alter their homeland.

An immense oil concession known as Lot 64 overlaps with much of the Achuar Nation’s 8,020-square-kilometer (3,100-square-mile) homeland, as well as a portion of the neighboring territory of the Wampis people. The Achuar Nation is home to around 12,000 people living in 45 communities along tributaries of the Pastaza and Morona rivers. Some 15,000 people live in 85 communities in the Morona and Santiago river basins of the Wampis territory.

But Lot 64 could also produce 10,000 barrels of oil a day, according to GeoPark, a private oil company based in Chile, and its partner, state-owned Petroperu. That would be a significant proportion of the roughly 35,000 to 70,000 barrels of Peru’s daily oil production between 2014 and 2020, based on data from the U.S. Department of Energy and the website Trading Economics.

GeoPark is the latest in a succession of foreign companies, including U.S.-based ARCO, that have tried to tap into the lot’s oil since the mid-1990s. Any development of the block, the Achuar and the Wampis say, would almost certainly contaminate rivers vital to their existence in this corner of the Amazon.

Leaders of the two nations have fought for a permanent cancellation of Lot 64. Then, in July 2020, the Achuar and Wampis tallied a major, if temporary, victory. Amid the pandemic, tumbling oil prices and a stalled government approval process, GeoPark pulled out of its lease and gave up its 75% stake in the concession.…—”Peruvian Indigenous groups thwart oil drilling in their territory — for now,” John C. Cannon, Mongabay, 10/30/20

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Trump administration issues strategic framework
to direct federal hydrogen research

The timing of the Department of Energy’s release of the framework during the last hours of the Trump administration suggests broad bipartisan support for hydrogen, an energy attorney said.

The U.S. has lagged behind its peers in Europe and Asia with respect to hydrogen research and deployment, said Dajani, who is spearheading her firm’s hydrogen practice in New York and London.

DOE’s new report “is definitely something that is welcomed,” Dajani said. “It’s a step in the right direction, and I think we will see more of these initiatives” when Biden assumes the presidency.

Dajani said she was surprised by the timing of the report, which was released despite the expected transition in presidential authority. Biden may choose to make some changes, but the fact that the Trump administration endorsed a federal strategy on hydrogen research, suggests hydrogen technology enjoys broad support, she said.

“To me, it’s a very strong indicator of bipartisan support,” Dajani said. “It was almost like a rubber stamp.”

She added the adoption of a U.S. hydrogen strategy is also long overdue.

“This has already taken off in other parts of the world. We have dedicated clients in the space,” Dajani said. “It’s about time it came here.”… —”Trump administration issues strategic framework to direct federal hydrogen research,” Emma Penrod, Utility Dive, 11/16/20

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Jonathan Scott’s Power Trip

PowerTrip

“Property Brother” Jonathan Scott journeys across the U.S. to uncover why solar energy isn’t available to all.

Solar energy evangelist and “Property Brother” Jonathan Scott journeys all across the U.S. to uncover why clean, renewable energy isn’t available to all. While traveling to learn both the obstacles and opportunities for achieving energy freedom, Jonathan talks with conservatives fighting for solar freedom; sits down with farmers struggling to make ends meet; engages coal workers desperate for a new, healthy means of making an income; the Navajo Nation who built a utility-scale solar plant; religious leaders who made a desperate attempt to help meet their community’s energy needs; and politicians at the forefront of the battle for energy freedom.

Solar energy evangelist and “Property Brother” Jonathan Scott journeys all across the U.S. to uncover why clean, renewable energy isn’t available to all. While traveling to learn both the obstacles and opportunities for achieving energy freedom, Jonathan talks with conservatives fighting for solar freedom; sits down with farmers struggling to make ends meet; engages coal workers desperate for a new, healthy means of making an income; the Navajo Nation who built a utility-scale solar plant; religious leaders who made a desperate attempt to help meet their community’s energy needs; and politicians at the forefront of the battle for energy freedom.…—”Official Trailer | JONATHAN SCOTT’S POWER TRIP,” Scott Brothers Entertainment, PBS, 11/6/20

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Five Film4Climate films to inspire you

Film4Climate

It’s just one month into 2017, and for many, that means they have just launched their New Year’s resolutions. The gym is still crowded, your refrigerator is still full of healthy food, but that initial motivation may not be as high as it was on, say, January 2. So, it’s time to find new sources of motivation and even inspiration for keeping that New Year’s resolution. One place to find that inspiration is the Film4Climate competition. If you’re trying to find a reason to persevere through whatever new challenges you are finding, look no further than the winners of this competition. All these films put things in a unique perspective.

ThreeSecondsA good place to start is the first-place winner of the short film competition, ‘Three Seconds,’ created by Spencer Sharp and Prince Ea from the United States. ‘Three Seconds’ is all about putting things into perspective. It’s an incredible four minutes and fifteen seconds of making you realize how quick your own time on the planet is, but also highlighting how much damage humans have done in such a short time. The title ‘Three Seconds’ alludes to how much time humans have spent on the planet if you were to assume the entire history of the planet were one day. It’s a mind-blowing fact. Then the movie highlights the damage humans alone have caused in just those three seconds by polluting, wasting and deforesting, which really puts human impacts in a whole new perspective. It’s not a doomsday film, though. The film delivers when it comes to highlighting the benefits of a single action from a single person. It’s hard not to feel like you can make a difference after watching this film. So, before you pick the couch over the treadmill, look at this film, and then head on over to the gym. Together, we can tackle climate change.

‘The Snow Guardian’ Second Place

TheSnowGuardian Billy Barr has lived in an eight foot-by-ten foot shack in the woods near Gunnison, Colorado, for 40 years. For every winter during that period, Billy has tracked the snowfall twice a day. He stuck to his plan and ended up recording some incredibly valuable and worrisome trends. ‘The Snow Guardian,’ which won a second-place award, is the story not just of a lovable Colorado man in the woods; it’s the story of what’s happening in our backyards and an examination of the value of sticking to commitments. Billy stuck to his commitment every winter day for forty years. Surely after seeing his story, you can make it another day without junk food spreading your carbon footprint.

The five winners in the short film category really can be your springboard for an inspiring 2017.…—”Five Film4Climate films to inspire you in 2017,” Lucia Grenna, World Bank, 2/1/17

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The Slums of Aspen

NewJimCrowEnvironmentalism usually calls to mind images of peace and serenity, a oneness with nature, and a shared sense of responsibility. But one town in Colorado, under the guise of environmental protection, passed a resolution limiting immigration, bolstering the privilege of the wealthy and scapegoating Latin American newcomers for the area’s current and future ecological problems. This might have escaped attention save for the fact that this wasn’t some rinky-dink backwater. It was Aspen, Colorado, playground of the rich and famous and the West’s most elite ski town.

Tracking the lives of immigrant laborers through several years of exhaustive fieldwork and archival digging, The Slums of Aspen tells a story that brings together some of the most pressing social problems of the day: environmental crises, immigration, and social inequality. Park and Pellow demonstrate how these issues are intertwined in the everyday experiences of people who work and live in this wealthy tourist community.Offering a new understanding of a little known class of the super-elite, of low-wage immigrants (mostly from Latin America) who have become the foundation for service and leisure in this famous resort, and of the recent history of the ski industry, Park and Pellow expose the ways in which Colorado boosters have reshaped the landscape and altered ecosystems in pursuit of profit and pleasure. Of even greater urgency, they frame how environmental degradation and immigration reform have become inextricably linked in many regions of the American West, a dynamic that interferes with the efforts of valorous environmental causes, often turning away from conservation and toward insidious racial privilege.

Offering a new understanding of a little known class of the super-elite, of low-wage immigrants (mostly from Latin America) who have become the foundation for service and leisure in this famous resort, and of the recent history of the ski industry, Park and Pellow expose the ways in which Colorado boosters have reshaped the landscape and altered ecosystems in pursuit of profit and pleasure. Of even greater urgency, they frame how environmental degradation and immigration reform have become inextricably linked in many regions of the American West, a dynamic that interferes with the efforts of valorous environmental causes, often turning away from conservation and toward insidious racial privilege.—”Book Review:The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden,” Lisa Sun-Hee Park, Goodreads, 2011

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New Study Points to Invisible Killer of Infants

As wildfires raged up and down the Pacific Coast last month, families across California and Oregon lived in – and breathed in — smoky, toxic air for weeks. Many days, the region’s air quality ranked among the worst in the world.

Officials warned residents that the air pollution could exacerbate many health issues, such cardiovascular disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases. And it could increase the risk catching COVID-19.

But what about the youngest members of society? How does air pollution affect pregnant women and their newborn babies?

Now an international team of researchers have a better understanding of that answer. Air pollution, both inside and outside the home, contributed to the deaths of about 500,000 newborns in 2019, the team reports in the State of Global Air 2020.

“The number is just staggering,” says epidemiologist Rakesh Ghosh at the University of California, San Francisco, who led the study. Each year about 2.42 million infants die within the first 27 days of life. The new study suggests air pollution contribute to about 20% of those deaths

Most of these deaths occurred in poor countries, with nearly half in sub-Saharan Africa. And about two-thirds of the deaths were associated with air pollution inside of people’s homes, when they burn coal and wood to cook or stay warm. But pediatrician Susan Niermeyer says the air pollution problem is, by no means, exclusive to low-income regions or where people cook with hard fuels.

“I think you can easily dismiss this finding as something that only happens to people who live far away in thatched roof houses and not to us,” says Niermeyer, a professor at the University of Colorado Medicine. “But air pollution effects our babies, as well.”

For example, families who live right near a highway can be exposed to large amounts of fine particulates, called PM 2.5, and carbon monoxide, Niermeyer says. And several studies have clearly linked air pollution exposure around airports to an increased risk of premature birth here in the U.S.

Fine particulates, or PM 2.5, are especially dangerous forms of pollution because the particles are small enough to reach deep into a person’s lungs and even absorb into the bloodstream, as well.…—”New Study Points to Invisible Killer of Infants,” Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR|Reader Supported News, 10/28/20

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Hurricane Zeta Leaves Thousands Without Power,
Oily Mess On Heels of Laura and Delta in South Louisiana

I will evacuate next time a hurricane is forecast to hit the area,” Traditional Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi- Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe told me the day after Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana’s coast on October 28.

Like many in the storm’s path, she was caught off guard when the storm intensified just before slamming into the coast.

Parfait-Dardar’s tribe is threatened by climate change regardless of hurricanes. Like the remaining residents of the Isle De Jean Charles that still remain on the island, 30 miles west her tribe’s land could be underwater in as little as 20 years. Inevitably many coastal communities will need to relocate due to sea level rise quickened by climate change.

Standing next to a downed power line on Parfait-Dardar’s driveway in Chauvin, Louisiana, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, she recounted the harrowing experience of being huddled together with her husband and children in the kitchen when 110 mph winds hit.

I would have evacuated if I knew a Cat. 2 storm was headed this way and advised tribe-members to do the same,” Parfait-Dardar said. But she got word less than an hour before the storm came ashore in Cocodrie, 14 miles to the South, that her family was threatened. At that point, the best they could do was shelter in place.

She was frustrated that no one from the government gave her a heads up of the coming danger once the storm’s intensity increased from a low Category 1 to just shy of Category 3 strength.…—”Hurricane Zeta Leaves Thousands Without Power, Oily Mess On Heels of Laura and Delta in South Louisiana,” Julie Dermansky DeSmog, 10/31/31

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After a summer of racial reckoning,
is America ready to learn the truth about Thanksgiving?

After a summer of racial reckoning, is the country finally ready to learn the truth about the ‘first Thanksgiving’?

The traditional story of Thanksgiving, and by extension the Pilgrims — the one repeated in school history books and given the Peanuts treatment in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” — doesn’t start in 1620, with the cold and seasick Pilgrims stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock.

It also doesn’t start a year later, with the Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag all sitting together to “break bread” and celebrate their first successful harvest and a long, harmonious relationship to come.

It doesn’t start there because those things never happened, despite being immortalized in American mythos for generations.

The Pilgrims spent only a few weeks of 1620 in the Wampanoag village of Patuxet, which they would rename Plimoth (now Plymouth), and they certainly didn’t step off onto Plymouth Rock. As for that 1621 feast — the supposed genesis of today’s Thanksgiving tradition — there was a small feast, but the Wampanoag were not invited, they showed up later. Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders.

Lincoln’s first Thanksgiving Day didn’t mention Pilgrims

The first national Thanksgiving Day did not invoke the Pilgrims at all. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November, looking to reconcile a country in the throes of the Civil War.…—”What you learned about the first Thanksgiving isn’t true. Here’s the real story,” Eryn Dion, USA TODAY NETWORK, 11/23/20

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Treat artificial light like other forms of pollution, say scientists

Impact of human illumination has grown to point of systemic disruption, researchers find

Artificial light should be treated like other forms of pollution because its impact on the natural world has widened to the point of systemic disruption, research says.

Human illumination of the planet is growing in range and intensity by about 2% a year, creating a problem that can be compared to climate change, according to a team of biologists from the University of Exeter.

Further reading: Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution | NIH

Hormone levels, breeding cycles, activity patterns and vulnerability to predators are being affected across a broad range of species, they write in a paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

From reduced pollination by insects and trees budding earlier in spring, to seabirds flying into lighthouses and sea turtles mistakenly wandering inland to bright hotels in search of the dawn sun, their study-of-studies brings together 126 previous papers to assess the extent of the impact.

Guardian-Donate.-1In all the animal species examined, they found reduced levels of melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep cycles – as a result of artificial light at night.… —”Treat artificial light like other forms of pollution, say scientists | Environment,” Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, 11/2/20

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Species more likely to die out with rapid climate change

The great tit and other birds can adapt to changes in their food supply as a result of climate change, but they run into trouble if the changes happen too quickly.

An ever warmer climate could be bad news for species that depend on stable and abundant access to food at certain times of the year.

“If changes happen too fast, species can become extinct,” says Emily Simmonds, an associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Biology. She is the first author of an article in Ecology Letters that addresses how great tits can be affected if the supply of larvae changes in the spring.

Spring, plants and larvae arriving earlier

Several bird species depend on the abundance of larvae while their young are small. If the larvae supply peaks earlier in the spring than normal, there may simply be too little food for the hatchlings. A warming climate can bring about changes like this. An earlier spring causes trees to leaf out earlier, which in turn causes the larvae that feed on the plants to hatch out earlier. “When the climate changes, the interactions between different species changes too,” Simmonds says.…—”Species more likely to die out with rapid climate change,” Steinar Brandslet, Norwegian SciTechNews, 11/5/20

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Signs point to a strong polar vortex to start winter.
Here’s what that may mean.

It should bottle up frigid air in the Arctic, favoring mild conditions in much of the Lower 48

It’s almost the time of year when the term “polar vortex” will become inescapable. It will blast across television tickers, blare from afternoon drive radio shows and crowd any headline related to snow. Though it has become a pop culture buzzword, the polar vortex is a real scientific phenomenon — and atmospheric scientists are anticipating a strong one to kick off winter.

Contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean widespread snow or cold for the Lower 48. In fact, the opposite may be true, with unseasonable warmth and mild temperatures more likely for most of the southern, central and eastern United States.

Click for full view

The polar vortex is a staple of the atmosphere; the southern hemisphere has one, too. Each polar vortex has two parts — the tropospheric polar vortex, which occupies the lowest level of the atmosphere in which we reside, and the stratospheric polar vortex up above. The tropospheric polar vortex is usually wavier and more erratic, while its counterpart in the stratosphere tends to be smoother and more self-contained.

Both are “coupled,” meaning changes in one can influence the other. That’s why meteorologists look at the health of the stratospheric polar vortex for longer-range indicators of how the weather people actually experience evolves. A stronger stratospheric polar vortex tends to fence in the cold, while a weaker one allows Arctic outbursts to visit the mid-latitudes.…—”What a strong polar vortex could mean for the start of winter,” Matthew Cappucci, The Washington Post, 11/19/20

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Absence of ice-bonded permafrost beneath an Arctic lagoon
revealed by electrical geophysics

Fig. 1 Overview of the study site and locations of ER survey lines. The figure shows the location of Kaktovik Lagoon (inset) and the positions of a boat-towed marine ERI (A1) survey conducted in 2014, two terrestrial (B1 and B2) and one underwater (B3) ERI surveys conducted in 2015, and three terrestrial (C3, C4, and C5) and three underwater (A2, C1, and C2) ER surveys conducted in 2019. The bottom panel shows the inverted tomogram for survey transect A1-A1′ with water layer fixed at 0.35 ohm·m, bathymetry data (white line), and logarithmic color intervals. Click for full view

Abstract

Relict permafrost is ubiquitous throughout the Arctic coastal shelf, but little is known about it near shore. The presence and thawing of subsea permafrost are vital information because permafrost stores an atmosphere’s worth of carbon and protects against coastal erosion. Through electrical resistivity imaging across a lagoon on the Alaska Beaufort Sea coast in summer, we found that the subsurface is not ice-bonded down to ~20 m continually from within the lagoon, across the beach, and underneath an ice-wedge polygon on the tundra. This contrasts with the broadly held idea of a gently sloping ice-bonded permafrost table extending from land to offshore. The extensive unfrozen zone is a marine talik connected to on-land cryopeg. This zone is a potential source and conduit for water and dissolved organic matter, is vulnerable to physical degradation, and is liable to changes in biogeochemical processes that affect carbon cycling and climate feedbacks.

INTRODUCTION

Sea level rise after the Last Glacial Maximum submerged millions of square kilometers of Arctic terrestrial permafrost (1). This relict permafrost beneath the ocean is a major organic carbon stock holding the equivalent of all terrestrial permafrost in the Arctic (2). Just the top 3 m of the Arctic continental shelf is estimated to store ~220 Pg of organic carbon, which is roughly a quarter of the carbon currently held in the atmosphere (3). Subsea ice-bearing permafrost in the Arctic, which nominally extends to the 25-m isobath, has been thawing since the Pleistocene when sea level was 120 m lower (46). In particular, the subsea permafrost table has been deepening at an average of 4 cm/year beneath the Alaskan Beaufort Sea (7, 8), but at higher rates of 14 cm/year near Muostakh Island in the Laptev Sea (7, 8) and 25 cm/year in the Bykovsky Peninsula region of Siberia (9). The ongoing thaw and degradation of subsea permafrost have far-reaching effects, but perhaps none is more important than the mobilization of ancient carbon and subsequent release of carbon dioxide and methane, which has the potential to exacerbate global warming (10, 11). The degradation of relict permafrost and its local effects are even more marked adjacent to the coast, where the connection to degrading permafrost on land is even stronger. Determining the extent and thawing of subsea permafrost is imperative.

As a consequence of subsea permafrost degradation, there is a greater transfer of heat between thawed underwater sediment and the frozen coast, potentially facilitating coastal erosion. Thawing and collapsing Arctic coastlines can have erosion rates as high as 25 m/year, releasing 14 Tg of organic carbon annually into the nearshore zones (12). Thaw-induced damage is markedly felt by communities throughout the Arctic and Boreal regions (13). Such is the case in our study area near the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island, a coastal indigenous community located in the continuous permafrost region of the Alaska Beaufort Sea, whose subsistence and cultural identity is intricately connected to their environment. Adjacent to Barter Island is Kaktovik Lagoon, a typical lagoon separated by a barrier island from the Beaufort Sea. Nearly all of Kaktovik Lagoon’s coast is eroding (14). The average coastal erosion rate for this lagoon is 0.6 m/year for the period of 1947–2010, with a maximum rate of 4.5 m/year. Kaktovik Lagoon’s coastal retreat exposes terrestrial permafrost, which then becomes inundated. Such resultant subsea permafrost is expected to warm and thaw at an accelerated rate, as coastal waters heat up and experience shorter and shorter periods of ice cover. The distribution of ice and permafrost on and beneath the land and lagoon is the primary factor determining the fate and vulnerability of the coastal carbon pool and the stability of coastlines, including Kaktovik’s.

The Arctic coastal plain in the area around Kaktovik is characterized by low-relief tundra underlain by continuous permafrost. The area’s coast is similar to most of the northeastern Arctic coast of Alaska and northwestern Canada, which is lined with hundreds of kilometers of shallow lagoons bounded by barrier island systems (15); Kaktovik Lagoon is one of many such systems. Kaktovik Lagoon is covered with ice that is ~1.7 to 1.8 m thick 9 months of the year. The lagoon freezes down to its bottom only at shore; the rest of the lagoon has unfrozen hypersaline bottom waters during winter (16). The lagoon has an average depth of 2.5 m with a maximum of about ~4 m; many areas of the lagoon have depths ~3 m. The mean annual temperature of the lagoon bottom water varies from 0.36° to 0.43°C (16). The landward shores of Kaktovik Lagoon have narrow sandy beaches, typically a few meters wide, which abut bluffs that vary in height but are typically 1 to 3 m high (see Fig. 1 and fig. S1). The bluffs mark the beginning of the tundra with ice-wedge polygons. Ice-bonded permafrost within the polygons typically begins within a few decimeters beneath the surface. The boundaries of the polygons represent troughs that form a locally connected network of surface channels (e.g., fig. S1B), which drains groundwater from the polygons and delivers them to the beaches over the summer (i.e., August).…—”Absence of ice-bonded permafrost beneath an Arctic lagoon revealed by electrical geophysics,” Micaela N. Pedrazas1, M. Bayani Cardenas, et al, Science Advances, 10/23/20

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Fortress forgave huge Trump loan,
got US permits to transport LNG by rail

A multi-billion dollar private equity firm whose subsidiary was awarded two special permits by the Trump Administration to haul hazardous liquefied natural gas (LNG), including by rail along Florida’s east coast, apparently forgave more than $100 million in debt owed by President Trump.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a petition last month in the New York Supreme Court seeking to compel the Trump Organization to produce documents pertaining to a $130-million loan to Trump from Fortress Credit, part of the $45.5 billion Fortress Investment Group. The AG seeks to determine if the president evaded paying capital gains taxes on a large portion of the 2005 loan that the Attorney General says it has learned was “forgiven.” Trump and his staff have not cooperated in obtaining the loan documentation, the petition said.

Further reading NYT: Trump had $287 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven | TheHill
New York attorney general probing Trump Tower Chicago loan | Chicago Tribune
Trump Administration Releases Policy Extending LNG Export Term to 2050 | Department of Energy
New Fortress Energy terminates Centrica LNG deal | Offshore Energy

Another Fortress subsidiary, publicly traded New Fortress Energy (NASDAQ: NFE), was the beneficiary of two special permits to transport LNG by rail since Trump took office. The permits facilitate Fortress projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The use of rail is an emerging alternative to natural-gas pipelines. In April 2019, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Secretary of Transportation to permit LNG shipment in rail tank cars throughout the country. The order took effect three weeks ago on Aug. 24.

Corridor routes through heavily populated areas such as South Florida are raising safety concerns. LNG is combustible natural gas that has been chilled to a temperature of minus 260 degrees F, which condenses into a liquid allowing more gas to be shipped per load. An uncontrolled release, however, could cause a fire or explosion.

FloridaBulldogDonate2The Trump Administration’s first special permit, in 2017, went to Doral’s Energy Transport Solutions LLC, owned by New Fortress Energy. The permit allows Florida East Coast Railway, previously owned by Fortress, to ship LNG in special cryogenic rail cars from its liquefaction plant in Hialeah to ports between Jacksonville and Miami. To date, most shipments have traveled 19 miles from the Hialeah plant to Port Everglades.…—”Fortress forgave huge Trump loan, got US permits to transport LNG by rail,” Ann Henson Feltgen, Dan Christensen, Florida Bulldog, 9/17/20

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INVESTIGATION: Exclusive: GM, Ford knew
about climate change 50 years ago

Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a months-long investigation by E&E News has found.

The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.

A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It’s unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.

But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

It wasn’t until 1996 that GM produced its first commercial electric vehicle, called the EV1. Ford released a compact electric pickup truck in 1998.

More than 50 years after the automakers learned about climate change, the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.

This investigation is based on nearly five months of reporting by E&E News, including more than two dozen interviews with former GM and Ford employees, retired auto industry executives, academics, and environmentalists. Many of these details have not previously been reported.…—”INVESTIGATION: Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago,” Maxine Joselow, E&E News, 10/26/20

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˝GM drops support for Trump legal fight over CA emissions rules

United States auto giant General Motors withdraws support for Trump administration’s legal battle with California over who has the right to set auto emissions standards. Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and BMW AG never gave their support

Editor’s Note: If one needs advice on how to make way in an ill wind, follow the lead of an experienced sailor, not an experienced CEO of GM, one of whom famously opined to Congress that “what’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and visa versa. The two are intertwined.”

General Motors Co. will withdraw from the legal battle between the Trump administration and California officials over the state’s authority to set automobile emissions rules, a major shift in the contentious fight that has fractured the industry.

The decision is a significant reversal by the largest U.S. automaker after it supported the Trump administration’s legal defense of a 2019 federal rule revoking California’s authority to set tougher tailpipe greenhouse gas requirements than the federal government. GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said in a letter to environmental groups Monday that the company’s goal of speeding adoption of electric vehicles is aligned with President-elect Joe Biden’s support of cleaner cars.

“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” Barra said in the letter. “To better foster the necessary dialogue, we are immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us.”

GM’s move reflects the shift in Washington, with the incoming Biden administration expected to restore California’s waiver and bolster auto emissions standards after they were largely dismantled under President Donald Trump. Biden has promised to develop “rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified.”

Further reading Climate under Trump: A blip or four lost years?
Here’s another reason why fixing climate change is getting harder
Merkel: US, Germany must stand together on climate change
Biden’s Treasury pick could be key to tackling climate change

In September 2019, California challenged Trump’s Transportation Department’s assertion that its authority to set fuel-economy standards preempts the state’s ability to dictate its own, tougher requirements. Environmental groups joined the legal fight.

GM along with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Toyota Motor Corp. and other carmakers had earlier backed the Trump administration’s decision to revoke California’s ability to set tougher tailpipe greenhouse gas rules than the federal government, a key part of the White House’s move to dramatically weaken ambitious fuel efficiency rules enacted by the Obama administration.

Their position contrasted with Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and BMW AG, which agreed with California officials to voluntarily exceed the weakened federal rules, bucking Trump’s plan and breaking with GM and other competitors that sided with the administration.…—”GM drops support for Trump legal fight over CA emissions rules,” Ryan Beene, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg|Al Jazeera, 11/23/20

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How One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil

In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.

All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.

On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.

An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.

As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.…—”How FTI Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil,” Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times, 11/11/20

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FirstEnergy fires CEO, 2 other top executives
in wake of $61M political bribery scandal

An independent review committee of FirstEnergy’s board of directors on Thursday evening announced the immediate termination of CEO Charles “Chuck” Jones and two other top executives overseeing marketing and external affairs for violating “certain FirstEnergy policies and its codes of conduct.” Jones during the company’s July earnings call said FirstEnergy contributed about a quarter of the $60 million campaign organized by Householder, but Jones stressed that he believed the corporation had acted ethically and within the law. Jones also confirmed that the company had received subpoenas in connection with the federal investigation.

Thursday’s announcement by FirstEnergy’s board of directors made it clear that the dismissals were in fact related to the company’s involvement in the Householder scheme that led to the successful passage of the bailout legislation, House Bill 6.

“During the course of the Company’s previously disclosed internal review related to the government investigations, the Independent Review Committee of the Board determined that these executives violated certain FirstEnergy policies and its code of conduct,” the board’s release noted.

Further reading:
a compendium
of utility perfidy
in inverted order
Facing credit downgrades after firing CEO, FirstEnergy board launches further internal investigation | Utility Dive
Ohio attorney general sues to block $1.3B bailout of former FirstEnergy nuclear plants | Utility Dive
FirstEnergy nears proposal to decouple Ohio utility revenues, electricity consumption: CEO | Utility Dive
FirstEnergy’s ‘bullet-proof’ pandemic strategy: $3.5B in liquidity, favorable rate structure | Utility Dive
Ohio political scandal nicks AEP stock price, FirstEnergy CEO clarifies defense as shares languish | Utility Dive
Ohio Supreme Court nixes cap on FirstEnergy efficiency spending, but state slated to drop standard | Utility Dive
FirstEnergy Solutions’ shift on pensions paves way for bankruptcy exit | Utility Dive
Ohio governor says nuclear bailout bill ‘tainted’ by alleged bribery, calls for repeal | Utility Dive
FirstEnergy Solutions successor faces $500M in damages and a new hearing before FERC | Utility Dive
Top Ohio lawmaker charged with accepting $61M bribe in scheme to pass nuclear bailout | Utility Dive

FirstEnergy has not been charged in the Householder probe by the Justice Department. Nor has Energy Harbor, the newly organized company that emerged in February from the two-year bankruptcy case filed by former FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions.

And despite a flurry of hearings to revoke HB 6 earlier in the fall, the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate have not moved repeal legislation out of committee.…—”FirstEnergy fires CEO, 2 other top executives in wake of $61M political bribery scandal,” John Funk, Utility Dive, 10/30/20

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Rewild to Mitigate the Climate Crisis, Urge Leading Scientists

Restoring natural landscapes damaged by human exploitation can be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to combat the climate crisis while also boosting dwindling wildlife populations, a scientific study finds.

If a third of the planet’s most degraded areas were restored, and protection was thrown around areas still in good condition, that would store carbon equating to half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution.

The changes would prevent about 70 percent of predicted species extinctions, according to the research, which is published in the journal Nature.

Scientists from Brazil, Australia, and Europe identified scores of places around the world where such interventions would be most effective, from tropical forests to coastal wetlands and upland peat. Many of them were in developing countries, but there were hotspots on every continent.

“We were surprised by the magnitude of what we found — the huge difference that restoration can make,” said Bernardo Strassburg of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and the lead author of the study. “Most of the priority areas are concentrated in developing countries, which can be a challenge, but also means they are often more cost-effective to restore.”…—”Rewild to Mitigate the Climate Crisis, Urge Leading Scientists,” Fiona Harvey, Reader Supported News, 10/18/20

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How a “Sponge Park” Cleans up Polluted NYC Waterway

There is a small new park, about 1,800 square feet along the Gowanus Canal, that will help prevent one million gallons of polluted runoff water from discharging directly into the waterway.

Designed by dlandstudio and inaugurated last week, the park is a significant piece of green infrastructure: water flows in from 2nd Street, enters the park through a set of screens and then gets absorbed by a special soil. Finally it gets released, as filtered water, into the canal.

GowanusSpongeParkThe park is designed to help reduce pollution levels in the Gowanus, one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which declared it a Superfund site: a site so damaged it would require federal funding to be restored.

The designers also came up with and trademarked the name for this innovative green infrastructure: the simultaneously catchy and explanatory Sponge Park.

“We needed something that talked about the performance of the landscape. We trademarked the name because we thought it was so memorable and had branding potential,” says Susannah Drake, principal at dlandstudio, who first envisioned the project back in 2008.

For this $1.5 million dollar infrastructure project, Drake, in collaboration with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, had to corral numerous funders as well as deal with 14 city agencies, in particular the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection, which is responsible for water management.

The park is also located next to a new residential development, which meant construction had to be closely coordinated. Luckily, the park took little time to build: it’s made of precast concrete cells. “We always joke about the fact that it took eight years to get approved and only eight weeks to build,” says Drake.…—”How a “Sponge Park” Cleans up Polluted NYC Waterway,” Karissa Rosenfield, Metropolis, 11/2/16

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Nature Is Returning

EARLY IN New York City’s pandemic lock-down, while masked, gloved, and lost in thought, I walked past one of Brooklyn’s diviest of dive bars. Suddenly, I heard screams inches from my feet, from within the shuttered bar’s normally overflowing but now barren garbage bins: Squee! Squeee!! Squeeee!!! I hurried across the street to escape. Even as the noise receded, I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that I had brushed up against some dark, David Lynchian underworld.

I later learned that the sound was most likely that of rats eating one another. While people were sheltering in place, aggressive rat colonies, deprived of the once-inexhaustible garbage stream that restaurants put out every night, were doing what was necessary to survive.

“Pest-control operators were finding remnants of eviscerated rats left on the street,” says Robert Corrigan, an urban rodentologist. “Some dominant males and females literally ate their own young.” Poison bait boxes, which savvy rodents normally shun, began turning up completely empty. Between the poison, starvation, and cannibalization, thousands of rats likely died, Corrigan says. Survivors probably descended into that old, dependable rodent stronghold, the sewer, where there’s always a steady supply of human and dog feces.

The rats won’t be gone for long, though. “They’ve taken a hit,” Corrigan says, “but as soon as we start giving them food again, we’ll be back to business as usual.”

WHETHER WE (OR THEY) like it or not, the creatures we share the planet with are ineluctably tied to us—a fact laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus that causes the disease, SARS-CoV-2, almost certainly sprang from the commercial wildlife trade, a fact that forces us to acknowledge the relationship. Wildlife-related pandemics are an extreme example: We can exploit nature, but at some point there will be serious repercussions for our species as well. We greatly influence wildlife—from the lowly rats of New York City to the lofty elephants of Zimbabwe—and it influences us in turn.

Feeding deer in Japan. | Photo by Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

That mutual influence became obvious last spring, when humanity hunkered down and the animal world quickly noted our absence. Some species that had grown dependent on us were left to scramble, while others, emboldened, began reclaiming places normally overrun with people. The national parks, which experienced a surge of visitors in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, closed their gates one by one as the pandemic progressed. That’s when the animals took over. At Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah, staff noted bats roosting for the first time in at least two decades. From Yosemite to Yellowstone, deer, bears, and bison strolled through parking lots and picnic areas. (Ironically, in seeking to become closer to wild nature, humans often drive it away.)…—”Nature Is Returning,” Rachel Nuwer, Sierra Club, 10/28/20

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Governor Cuomo Cuts $300 Million from NY Court Budget

46 New York Judges Lost!
Coronavirus Hits New York Court System

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced he will be slashing the New York court system’s annual budget by 10% — or approximately $300 million.

In a memorandum issued last week, Chief Administrative Judge, Lawrence Marks, informed the administrative judges that the cut would compel the judiciary to “implement a range of painful measures.”

Further reading As Controversy Over Cutting of 46 Older Judges Grows, Assembly Judiciary Committee Calls for Public Hearing | New York Law Journal
New York Court leaders double down on plan to cut 46 judges | Queens Daily Eagle
Watchdogs, judges object to NY state’s plan to nix elderly jurists | NY Post
NY Appellate judges sue New York court leaders over ‘arbitrary’ terminations and ‘blatant age discrimination’ | Queens Daily Eagle

One of the courts’ cost-saving measures includes granting re-certification only to three of the 49 judges over the age of 70. (Supreme Court Justices are required by state law to apply for re-certification and undergo cognitive exams every two years after turning 70.) This move is estimated to save the system approximately $55 million. One Queens judge, on the condition of anonymity, is reported to have said, “[t]hey’ve got to show the governor they’re doing something, and show the judiciary is on board, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to balance the budget[.]”

The wheels of justice already turn slowly enough, can you imagine with 46 fewer judges?”

Judge Marks’s memo also notes that the judiciary will implement a strict hiring freeze, spending reductions, and deferring debts to the next fiscal year. “We’re all in the trenches together[,]” said Lucian Chalfen, the Office of Court Administration spokesperson.…—”Governor Cuts $300 Million from Court Budget,” Newman/Ferrara, 10/6/20

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Trump’s FERC may need to shift course on clean energy,
though Biden’s road will not be easy

The rapid evolution of the power grid will require the attention of one critical agency — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And observers say no matter what happens Nov. 3, the agency will have no choice but to address the industry’s transition, even if it means backing away from some of its more controversial policies.

Over the past four years, the commission has been accused of trampling on state efforts to move away from fossil fuels and toward zero-carbon, renewable resources.

“I truly believe that the leadership at FERC has been dysfunctional for 3.5 years and it is something that is not friendly, in my opinion, to the states,” New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Chairman Joseph Fiordaliso said in an interview earlier this month. But others have praised the commission’s continued independence in the face of a pro-coal Administration — for example in shooting down a proposed coal and nuclear bailout floated by the Department of Energy in 2018.…

How liberal could FERC get under Biden?

Commissioner Richard Glick is considered to be the front-runner for chairman under a Joe Biden presidency, in part for practical reasons — Glick has been the only Democrat appointee on the commission since the July 2019 departure of Cheryl LaFleur.

Two seats remain open on the 2-1 Republican majority commission, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee is currently considering a bipartisan pairing of nominees.

But if the nominees are not confirmed by the end of the year, conceivably Biden could forward two more Democrats, flipping the majority 3-2 in his party’s favor.…—”Election 2020: Trump’s FERC may need to shift course on clean energy, though Biden’s road will not be easy,” Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive, 10/27/20

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Chatterjee says exclusion of state regulators
from carbon pricing conference was a ‘mistake’

Chatterjee on Thursday attempted to defend decisions he’s made over the past few years as chairman that have been criticized by state regulators, promising he would work closely with the states going forward as a commissioner.

Chatterjee was demoted from his role as chairman last week by the White House, a move he and others think could have been in response to his action on carbon pricing. He will stay on as commissioner until his role is up in June of next year.

Tensions between state and federal regulators reached an “all time high” this year, according to stakeholders frustrated with what they saw as FERC interfering in state clean energy plans. And although states had been in discussions with the commission to join its carbon pricing conference, no regulator from a FERC-regulated state was chosen.

Further reading: States urge FERC to avoid further intrusions on authority in any future carbon pricing policy | Utility Dive

“It’s certainly something not unexpected as far as FERC goes,” said New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso at the time. “I don’t think they’re our friend right now,” he added, referring to one of his state’s grievances with the commission — FERC’s decision to expand the Minimum Offer Price Rule within the PJM Interconnection.

FERC was also criticized for its lack of gender and racial diversity on the carbon pricing panels, and North Carolina Utilities Commissioner ToNola Brown-Bland asked Chatterjee to answer for those criticisms during the NARUC conference.… —”Chatterjee says exclusion of state regulators from carbon pricing conference was a ‘mistake’,” Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive, 11/12/20

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The Autumn Leaves

TheAutumnLeaves

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The falling leaves
Drift by the window
The autumn leaves
All red and gold
I see your lips
The summer kisses
The sunburned hands
I used to hold.

Since you went away
The days grow long…
And soon I’ll hear
Old winter songs
But I miss you most of all
My darling, when autumn leaves start to fall…

C’est une chanson
Qui nous ressemble
Toi qui m’aimais
Et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble
Tou qui m’aimais Moi qui t’aimais.

Mais la vie sépare
Ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement
Sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.… —”Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles Mortes),” Edith Piaf, YouTube

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