November 27, 2018
This week finds several remarkable court decisions in the news. Some remarkably humane. Others, not so much. We review a few of them.
But first the news

Breaking Action Alert! Senate hearing for Trump’s FERC nominee McNamee

COMMITTEE ON ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES BUSINESS MEETING:
November 27, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

This notice is to advise you of a business meeting before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The business meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, at 10:00AM in Room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.

The purpose of the business meeting is to consider the following nominations:

  • Dr. Rita Baranwal to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy);
  • Mr. Bernard L. McNamee to be a Member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission;
  • Mr. Raymond David Vela to be Director of the National Park Service.

For further information, please contact Kellie Donnelly with Chairman Murkowski’s staff or Sam Fowler with Ranking Member Cantwell’s staff at (202) 224-4971.

Darla Ripchensky, PMP, Chief Clerk, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

304 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

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Bernie McNamee says renewable energy
“screws up the whole physics of the grid.”

But promises he’ll shut up about all that,
if appointed to FERC

  • Bernard McNamee, President Trump’s nominee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, sharply criticized renewable energy and environmental groups while calling for a “unified campaign” to support fossil fuels in a Feb. 2018 speech before Texas lawmakers, a video obtained by Utility Dive shows.

  • McNamee, at the time working for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), said fossil fuels are “key to our way of life,” but renewable energy “screws up the whole physics of the grid.” He also portrayed industry lawsuits with environmental groups as a “constant battle between liberty and tyranny.”

  • McNamee’s comments come to light as the Senate considers his nomination to FERC. The former Department of Energy official told senators last week he would separate his previous policy work from his regulatory considerations if confirmed, a pledge he reiterated in a statement to Utility Dive. [Two medical firsts in one action: voluntary and verbally-induced schizophrenia.—Editor]

McNamee’s comments are likely to enhance concerns among Democratic senators, environmental groups and the clean energy industry that the FERC nominee is biased against renewable power and toward fossil fuels.

FERC is an independent agency whose regulators typically pride themselves on a “fuel neutral” approach to energy regulation, but a video of McNamee’s speech obtained by Utility Dive shows him calling for a broad industry campaign to build public support for fossil fuels.

“What this is really about is changing the hearts and minds of the American people about what they think about energy and to start believing in it again,” McNamee told an audience at TPPF’s 2018 Policy Orientation for Texas lawmakers. “Understanding that fossil fuels are not something dirty, something we have to move and get away from, but understand that they are key to our prosperity, our way of life and also to a clean environment.”…—Gavin Bade, “FERC nominee McNamee slams renewables, green groups in Feb. video,” Utility Dive, 11/21/18

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2018-2019 Rochester Drawdown Events

Reversing Global Warming: Introduction (Single Sessions)

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019
7:00-9:00pm

Third Presbyterian Church, Johnston Hall;4 Meigs St.; Rochester, NY 14607

Register:
https://connect.pachamama.org/node/1304

Tuesday, Jan 22, 2018, 6:00-7:45 pm Victor Farmington Library
15 W. Main St.; Victor, NY 14564
Register: https://connect.pachamama.org/node/1606

 

Drawdown Solutions: Getting into Action (4 Sessions per Course)

Thursdays, Feb. 14, 21, 28, Mar. 28, 2019, 6:30-9:00pm

Third Presbyterian Church, Johnston Hall; 4 Meigs St.; Rochester, NY 14607

Register:
https://connect.pachamama.org/node/1306

 

Related Event: Repairing the Earth II – Hope Through Action

January 23, 2019; 7-9 p.m.

Temple B’rith Kodesh: 2131 Elmwood Ave. 14618

Register:
https://connect.pachamama.org/node/1625

Click to download full Drawdown Rochester events flyer

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Mr. Cuomo, make New York a climate leader

Mr. Cuomo, make New York a climate leader

The United Nations last month announced that we have 12 years left for an emergency worldwide mobilization — unprecedented in human history — to halt the use of fossil fuels and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

Failure to take such dramatic action increases the likelihood that human civilization as we know it will cease to exist. Floods, sea-level rise, wildfires, heat waves and droughts will make parts of the planet uninhabitable. Climate refugees will likely be in the hundreds of millions. Support systems involving energy, food and water will break down, leading to wars over such resources. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, could die.

There is no indication that Gov. Andrew Cuomo or state lawmakers take this threat seriously or that they are prepared to launch the needed effort. Climate change was ignored by Cuomo and most lawmakers in the recent election. It also continues to be largely ignored by the media.

New York’s progress on meeting climate goals has been pitifully small. Sixteen years and three governors after George Pataki set some modest goals for renewable energy, New York draws only 4 percent of the state’s electricity from solar and wind.

We need New York to provide national leadership by enacting the strongest climate change agenda possible. That is the Off Fossil Fuels act, which would immediately halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure, transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030 (i.e., net-zero greenhouse gas emissions), and require all new buildings to be at least net- zero carbon emissions. California just enacted the latter requirement while also requiring new buildings to be solar-powered.…—Mark Dunlea, “Mr. Cuomo, make New York a climate leader,” Albany Times Union, 11/20/18

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Army Corps suspends permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline
stream crossings in three states

Army Corps suspends permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross streams in three states

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a national permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross more than 1,500 streams in three states, raising a potential new barrier for construction of the project through Virginia.

About half of the 600-mile pipeline would be built in Virginia from West Virginia to North Carolina, but Dominion Energy and its partners are still waiting for federal regulators to allow them to proceed with construction here.

The Army Corps’ offices in Norfolk, Wilmington, N.C., and Pittsburgh issued orders late Tuesday to suspend the Nationwide 12 permit’s use for the project’s stream crossings.

“The Army Corps of Engineers’ wise decision underscores the serious concerns we have had that a general permit is not sufficient to protect Virginia’s water quality,” said Rebecca Tomazin, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia. “In order to ensure the protection of Virginia’s waterways, we believe that individual permits should govern construction at each crossing.…—Michael Martz, “Army Corps suspends permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross streams in three states,Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/21/18”

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Courts Step up. Sometimes
Landowners beat National Fuel in court to preserve piece of paradise

Landowners beat National Fuel in court to preserve piece of paradise

Joseph and Theresa Schueckler couldn’t understand how their land could be taken from them for a project that wasn’t even approved.

It was bad enough, the couple thought, to lose a portion of their Allegany County hillside forest and pasture to make way for a natural gas pipeline they philosophically opposed. But they still faced losing their land even after the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied a permit for the pipeline last year after ruling the project couldn’t be built safely.

The state’s decision didn’t stop National Fuel Gas from using eminent domain to obtain easements for the project from landowners who didn’t want to sell.

So, the Schuecklers went to court. They lost their first round in state Supreme Court. But earlier this month they were successful in their appeal before the state appellate court in Rochester.

“This appeal … presents a novel question of condemnation law,” Patrick H. NeMoyer, associate justice for the appellate division, wrote in the majority opinion. “Can a corporation involuntarily expropriate privately-owned land when the underlying public project cannot be lawfully constructed?”

NeMoyer wrote, “We answer that question firmly in the negative.”

The case could have ripple effects on a half-dozen or so other similar lawsuits pending by landowners against National Fuel in Erie and Cattaraugus counties.

National Fuel seeks to build a 97-mile Northern Access Pipeline connecting Pennsylvania shale gas country to an eventual hub in Ontario to help it export natural gas across the continent. The pipeline would enter New York State southeast of Olean and chart a northward track through Allegany and Cattaraugus counties, entering Erie County in Sardinia and connecting with an upgraded compression station in Porterville.

Further Reading Are pipeline land takings in the public interest if oil, gas headed overseas?
Judge: Bluegrass Pipeline developers can’t use eminent domain
Court Finds That Sunco Can Obtain Easements on Private Property Through Eminent Domain for Pipeline to Transport Propane and Butane
The quagmire of eminent domain and pipelines
Kelo & Eminent Domain, Ten Years Later
Landowners Ask Supreme Court to Hear Mountain Valley Case

The pipeline would cut through some 190 creeks and streams.

The potential environmental effects prompted the DEC in April 2017 to deny National Fuel a water quality certification needed for the project.…——T.J. Pignataro, “Landowners beat National Fuel in court to preserve piece of paradise,” The Buffalo News, 11/26/18

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U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

WASHINGTON — A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth.

Mr. Trump has taken aggressive steps to allow more planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks, and has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly every country in the world pledged to cut carbon emissions. Just this week, he mocked the science of climate change because of a cold snap in the Northeast, tweeting, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

But in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by mid-century and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.

“I can imagine a lawyer for the Trump administration being asked by a federal judge, ‘How can the federal government acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, and then set aside the rules that protect the American people from the problem?’ And they might squirm around coming up with an answer.”—Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University

“There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Further reading Trump Administration’s Strategy on Climate: Try to Bury Its Own Scientific Report
Trump tries to slip climate chaos report past Americans while they’re celebrating the holidays

“The decision to release this damning report when families are beginning to celebrate the holidays and newsrooms are short-staffed is a brazen attempt to bury the truth from the public that we must act now to move off fossil fuels and stabilize the climate.”—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

…Scientists who worked on the report said it did not appear that administration officials had tried to alter or suppress its findings. However, several noted that the timing of its release, at 2 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, appeared designed to minimize its public impact.…—Coral Davenport, Kendra Pierre-Louis, “U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy,” The New York Times, 11/23/18

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California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site.

California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site

The incredibly destructive Woolsey Fire in southern California has burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, killed three people, destroyed more than 400 structures, and at the time of this writing, was finally nearly completely contained.

The fire may also have released large amounts of radiation and toxins into the air after burning through a former rocket engine testing site where a partial nuclear meltdown took place nearly six decades ago.

“The Woolsey Fire has most likely released and spread both radiological and chemical contamination that was in the Santa Susana Field Laboratory’s soil and vegetation via smoke and ash,” Dr. Bob Dodge, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA), told Truthout.

Further reading: Massive Woolsey Fire Began On Contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Close to Site of Partial Meltdown—Physicians for Social Responsibility|Los Angeles

The fire has been widely reported to have started “near” the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site (SSFL), but according to PSR-LA, it appears to have started at the site itself.

The contaminated site — a 2,849-acre former rocket engine test site and nuclear research facility — is located just 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

A press release issued by PSR-LA on November 12 stated:

Cal Fire identifies the fire location as E Street and Alfa Road, a location that is in fact on SSFL. It was recently reported that the “Chatsworth electric substation” experienced a disturbance 2 minutes before the fire was reported, but that substation is in fact on SSFL, near that location. A photograph posted on Twitter from KCAL9’s Stu Mundel shows the fire starting Thursday afternoon near the same location [on November 8], which is only about 1,000 yards away from the site of the 1959 partial nuclear meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) reactor.

Cal Fire maps show that much of the SSFL is within the boundaries of the Woolsey Fire.

In the aforementioned press release on the crisis, Denise Duffield, the organization’s associate director, stated that, “Though we must wait for fire authorities to conclude their investigation, it is ironic that an electrical substation built for a reactor that melted down six decades ago now may now be associated with a catastrophic fire that began on the SSFL site that is still badly contaminated from that accident and numerous other spills and releases.”

There has been great concern about extensive and extremely toxic and radioactive waste at the SSFL for years.

And now, given that most, if not all, of the SSFL site has burned, it is possible that the millions of people who live within a 100-mile radius of the site have been exposed to its radioactive waste and toxic chemicals that are now airborne.

According to Daniel Hirsch, who recently retired as director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, SSFL is “one of the most contaminated sites in the country.”…—Dahr Jamail, “California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site,” Truthout, 11/26/18

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Exxon: First Amendment ruling on NRA
applies to climate probes

Exxon: First Amendment ruling on NRA applies to climate probes

ExxonMobil is using a recent court ruling involving the National Rifle Association to try to convince an appeals court to stop two states from investigating it for potential climate fraud.

The oil giant has been pursuing a case against the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts since 2016, alleging that their investigations are an abuse of their political positions and violate the oil giant’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights. That suit was dismissed earlier this year by U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni, who called Exxon’s allegations “implausible.”

In its appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, Exxon is doubling down on its First Amendment claim. It uses a ruling handed down earlier this month by another U.S. District judge that said the NRA may pursue a First Amendment claim in its attempt to keep New York State officials from investigating potential insurance law violations by the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance program.

The decision, by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy in National Rifle Association of America v. Cuomo, did not say the NRA’s rights have been violated, but that the organization provided enough facts to pursue a First Amendment claim.

Exxon aims to use that ruling in its appeal of Caproni’s decision. In a letter to the Second Circuit, Exxon attorney Justin Anderson said McAvoy’s ruling in the NRA case rejects many of the arguments the attorneys general made in convincing Caproni to dismiss Exxon’s First Amendment claims.

In his ruling, McAvoy wrote that “actual chilled speech is not necessary to make out a plausible First Amendment claim.”

Anderson said the court also “found viewpoint discrimination plausible without requiring a showing that the government lacked a reasonable basis to investigate.”…—Karen Savage, “Exxon: First Amendment ruling on NRA applies to climate probes,” Climate Liability News, 11/26/18

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Tribes Have Climate Wisdom
and Good Reason Not to Share It

Tribes Have Climate Wisdom – and Good Reason Not to Share It

Tribes risk exploitation when sharing climate change solutions.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Reservation stretches for 25 square miles along the United States’ border with Canada. Akwesasne, as the land in Upstate New York is also known, translates roughly to “land where the partridge drums.” Nestled at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence River and several small tributaries, including the St. Regis and Raquette rivers, this ecologically rich environment consists of more than 3,000 acres of wetlands along riverbanks, islands, and inlets.

But the landscape can’t escape the encroachment of nearby pollution.

Tribal members live downstream from several major industrial facilities, hydro dams, and aluminum smelters. The Saint Lawrence has become an international shipping channel, and its sediments mix with heavy metals from old ship batteries and toxic chemicals from nearby Superfund sites. These pollutants have leached into the Saint Regis Mohawk way of life, shifting the range of flora and fauna on which many of their traditional practices rely.

The trash and toxic runoff are bad enough. They are killing off the tribe’s local fish population and medicinal plants. But now the Saint Regis Mohawk face another challenge: negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency about how best to tackle these contamination issues while incorporating — and respecting — the tribe’s traditional knowledge.

Native communities are one of the groups most impacted by a changing climate — and many of the human activities that have precipitated it. They are also a necessary part of the solution, according to the newest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Indigenous peoples comprise only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet their lands encompass 22 percent of its surface. Eighty percent of the planet’s biodiversity is on the lands where they live — and it may not be a coincidence. A significant part of traditional indigenous identity is linked to the natural world. “There is medium evidence and high agreement that indigenous knowledge is critical for adaptation,” the 2018 IPCC report states. And that’s due to their methods of managing forests and agro-ecological systems, as well as their traditions passed down through the generations.

Indeed, some in these communities believe that disseminating these traditions can help to address challenges, like climate change, that the world faces. But while the wider environmental community — and the rest of us — may benefit from gaining access to their knowledge, indigenous communities have no guarantee that their cultural values, secrets, and traditions will be respected if they offer it. That potential pitfall is prompting some Native Americans to question whether there is a way to share this knowledge that benefits the environment, as well as a tribe.

“It’s both a risk and an opportunity for indigenous peoples,” said Preston Hardison, policy analyst at the Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Treaty Rights Office in Washington state. According to Hardison, many elders feel that they’d like to help the world heal, but they want their knowledge to be employed in the right way (without any sort of exploitation). For instance, sharing their knowledge about their land and how they use it could be employed to indigenous people’s detriment by limiting their access to it.

Even when the government taps indigenous groups for input, many of the resulting collaborations don’t show respect for the tribal people or the accumulated knowledge they possess. Take, for instance, in 2011, when the Saint Regis Mohawk received an EPA grant to create a climate adaptation plan for its natural resources — their animals, their crops, their medicinal plants. Initially, the EPA called for a plethora of scientific vulnerability and risk assessments to parse what resources were important for the Akwesasne way of life. But tribal members felt the testing was an unnecessary step to get to the heart of the issue.

“We didn’t need them to tell us what’s important to us,” said Amberdawn Lafrance, coordinator at the Saint Regis Mohawk Environment Division. “We already know.”…—Paola Rosa-Aquino, “Tribes Have Climate Wisdom – and Good Reason Not to Share It,” Truthout, 11/26/18

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Court upholds historic Urgenda ruling:
the Netherlands must cut emissions

Court upholds historic Urgenda ruling: the Netherlands must cut emissions

An appeals court in the Netherlands upheld a historic ruling that requires the Dutch government to reduce emissions in the name of protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Hague Court of Appeal on Tuesday denied the request of the government to overturn the lower court ruling in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of Netherlands, which ruled in 2015 that the Dutch government must reduce emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

The plaintiffs in the case, the Urgenda Foundation and a group of 886 citizens, cited the European Convention on Human Rights as a basis of their complaint, a novel approach that has inspired other cases around the world. They also pointed to data showing that the government has had limited success in cutting emissions so far—only  13 percent, leaving only two more years to reach 25 percent.

“The court said climate change is a grave danger, and the action of the government is violating the rights of it citizens,” said Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel of the Urgenda Foundation in Amsterdam.

“The European Convention on Human Rights applies to other countries. But it’s not just about specific provisions. It’s about the universality of the ruling, where the court says humans have a fundamental rights to be protected from this danger,” van Berkel said.…—Ucilia Wang, “Court upholds historic Urgenda ruling: the Netherlands must cut emissions,” Climate Liability News, 10/9/18

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‘This Is a Climate Emergency’
Extinction Rebellion Takes to Streets
to Stand for the Planet Over Polluter Profits

‘This Is a Climate Emergency’: Extinction Rebellion Takes to Streets to Stand for the Planet Over Polluter Profits

“Only through daily economic disruption will the government recognize the gravity of the crisis we all face and agree to meet with us to address our demand for radical action.”

“Business as usual equals extinction.”

As scientists warn that the “window of opportunity for action” to prevent catastrophic and irreversible planetary harm from the climate crisis “is almost closed,” members of the Extinction Rebellion movement took to the streets of London on Saturday to demand an urgent response to the world’s ecological emergency and mourn the lives that human-caused climate change has already taken—and will take in the near future in the absence of radical change.

“Last Saturday we celebrated all the life we wanted to save. This Saturday we mourn all the life we’ve lost, are losing, and are still to lose,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement. “We rebel because we love this world, it breaks our hearts to see it ravaged, to watch so many people and animals all over this world already dying, to know that this will soon happen to our children if nothing changes. There is no way forward without giving credence to our grief.”

After kicking off last weekend, Extinction Rebellion demonstrations have spread to over a dozen countries, bringing thousands into the streets to disrupt the everyday workings of major cities and demand the attention of governments that have either resisted taking bold climate action or attempted to move in the opposite direction to appease the destructive fossil fuel industry.…—Jake Johnson, “‘This Is a Climate Emergency’: Extinction Rebellion Takes to Streets to Stand for the Planet Over Polluter Profits,” Common Dreams, 11/24/18

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PA Supreme Court Agrees To Review
‘Rule Of Capture’ Decision
Fracking Your Neighbor May Not Be Legal

On November 20, the PA Supreme Court agreed to review the PA Superior Court ruling in April saying Southwestern Energy drilling company trespassed on the property of Susquehanna County landowners by taking natural gas from an adjacent property without permission through its unconventional drilling operations.

The PA Supreme Court specifically rephrased the issue it was reviewing this way–”Does the rule of capture apply to oil and gas produced from wells that were completed using hydraulic fracturing and preclude trespass liability for allegedly draining oil or gas from under nearby property, where the well is drilled solely on and beneath the driller’s own property and the hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected solely on or beneath the driller’s own property?”

The PA Superior Court ruling overturned the rule of capture practice that has been in place for as long as companies have been drilling for oil and gas and developing natural resources.

Background

Members of the Briggs family own about 11 acres of land adjacent to an unconventional natural gas well operated by Southwestern Energy since 2011 in Harford Township, Susquehanna County.

The Briggs family did not lease their mineral rights to Southwestern for development.

Southwestern Energy argued and a lower court agreed there was no trespass because of the “rule of capture.”  Rule of capture means the first person to capture a natural resources owns that resource under English common law.  It can be applied to groundwater or natural resources like oil and gas.  Click Here for a Penn State Law presentation on the issue.

The Court ruled prior cases involving the rule of capture do not apply to unconventional natural gas drilling because hydraulic fracturing is not the same as oil and natural gas freely migrating from a reservoir and across property lines.

The Court said, “Unlike oil and gas originating in a common reservoir, natural gas, when trapped in a shale formation, is non-migratory in nature.  Shale gas does not merely “escape” to adjoining land absent the application of an external force.

“Instead, the shale must be fractured through the process of hydraulic fracturing; only then may the natural gas contained in the shale move freely through the “artificially created channel[s].”

“Further, we are not persuaded by the Coastal Oil Court’s rationale that a landowner can adequately protect his interests by drilling his own well to prevent drainage to an adjoining property.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a costly and highly specialized endeavor, and the traditional recourse to “go and do likewise” is not necessarily readily available for an average landowner.…—David E. Hess, “PA Supreme Court Agrees To Review Rule Of Capture Decision Saying Taking Natural Gas Without Permission Is Trespass,” PA Environment Digest, 11/20/18

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Why the government really may need to step in
to protect the coal industry

Why the government really may need to step in to protect the coal industry

…Every coal company out there, even those whose book value is considered to be massive, is a paper tiger whose value could disappear in a puff of accounting smoke if challenged. And every coal company out there, especially the large ones, could easily find that even then they are still selling millions of tons, the revenue streams are not close to enough to fund their obligations. That’s even true for companies that — like three out of the four largest in the US — who had reorganized under bankruptcy in the last five years specifically to offload many of those obligations.

Even states like Wyoming whose every public service is utterly dependent on the revenue that comes from coal mining, have started to realize that they are facing imminent collapse of the ability of coal companies to cover their bond obligations. Bills are advancing, in Wyoming and elsewhere, that would place severe limits on the ability of coal companies to self-bond. To force them to put up or shut up. And they have no choice but to shut up.

Further reading The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard?
Trump says ‘the coal industry is back.’ The data say otherwise.
How should the U.S. government help coal communities?

There is a possibility that the industry will collapse neatly. None of these large mines is currently operating at capacity. In a declining market, they bump against each other, trying to land contracts on a market that’s increasingly unwilling to make long term commitments. So there are massive amounts of equipment and rail capacity gathering dust. Should companies fail one or two at a time over an extended period, the remaining industry can likely take up the slack.

But there’s a much greater than zero chance it won’t work that way; that the nulling-out of reserves in place and the ability to self-bond will simply mow down the industry at a pass. Which is why the government really does need to be prepared to step in. Not “bail out the coal industry” or “save the coal industry” but step in to keep mines operating until we can complete a build out of replacement sources. 

Government should be prepared for a structured build-down and phase out of coal. Because as much fun as it is to talk about VHS tapes, and buggy whips, and even whale oil, none of those things was fueling a third of the nation’s electricity. Coal is, without a doubt, a disaster. The most polluting source of power in terms of greenhouses gases, toxic waste, acid rain, mercury, and even radiation. But if it disappeared overnight — there would be economic consequences that went way beyond the tens of thousands of people working directly in the industry. It could also leave the taxpayers looking at a set of gargantuan new “Superfund” sites whose recovery costs are in the billions.

Democrats should be planning to help coal die with dignity by implementing plans that transition workers away, speed up implementation of reclamation plans,  and assist power companies in getting replacement systems online. Otherwise what’s likely to happen is what’s been happening — each of those companies will become a golden parachute for a few owners and executives who sponge out the last dime and leave behind a husk. 

Because an unplanned, unstructured collapse is seriously possible. Soon.— Mark Sumner, “Why the government really may need to step in to protect the coal industry,” Daily Kos, 11/24/18

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Well sir, it’s a bit like climate change – complicated but can be explained. But we may not have time for that…

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Calling for ‘Corridor of Life and Culture,’
Indigenous Groups From Amazon Propose
Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth

Calling for ‘Corridor of Life and Culture,’ Indigenous Groups From Amazon Propose Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth

“We have come from the forest, and we are worried about what is happening”

Alarmed by rampant destruction in the Amazon rainforest and the long-term impacts on biodiversity, an alliance of indigenous communities pitched the creation of the world’s largest protected area, which would reach from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, at a United Nations conference in Egypt on Wednesday.

“We have come from the forest and we worry about what is happening,” declared Tuntiak Katan, vice president of COICA, the alliance. “This space is the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity. It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed.”

COICA, which represents about 500 groups across nine countries and is seeking government-level representation at the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity, aims to safeguard a “sacred corridor of life and culture” about the size of Mexico.

The alliance hopes to implement an “ambitious” post-2020 regional plan to protect biodiversity in the Andes-Amazon-Atlantic or “triple-A” corridor from agribusiness, mining, and the global climate crisis, but they are also concerned about territorial rights, as they don’t recognize modern national borders created by colonial settlers.

“Indigenous communities are guardians of life for all humanity, but they are in danger for protecting their forest,” Katan said. “We are integrated with nature—it runs through our lives and we need rights to defend it.”

While fighting for the right to defend the forest from development and the impacts of global warming, the indigenous groups said they welcome opportunities for collaboration.

Further reading: In Brazil, new foreign minister thinks climate change a plot by cultural Marxists

Although Colombia had crafted a similar triple-A plan that was set to be unveiled at next month’s climate talks, as the Guardian noted, “the election of new right-wing leaders in Colombia and Brazil has thrown into doubt what would have been a major contribution by South American nations to reduce emissions.”…—Jessica Corbett, “Calling for ‘Corridor of Life and Culture,’ Indigenous Groups From Amazon Propose Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth,” Common Dreams, 11/21/18

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Why a Supreme Court ruling on lead paint
could impact climate cases

Why a Supreme Court ruling on lead paint could impact climate cases

On the surface, a liability verdict involving lead paint poisoning might not seem like it has much to do with climate change, but a recent Supreme Court decision has legal experts drawing some important parallels.

The decision, in which the Supreme Court let stand a verdict against two paint companies for knowingly selling a dangerous product, could have an impact on climate liability cases currently being pursued against fossil fuel producers that may eventually also wind their way to the Supreme Court.

The group of California cities and counties that are currently suing fossil fuel companies over climate change impacts are following directly in the legal footsteps of the 10 communities that brought a public nuisance lawsuit in 2000 against paint manufacturers ConAgra Brands and Sherwin-Williams. The suits argued that the companies sold paint containing lead and marketed it as a safe product despite knowing it is toxic. It took more than a decade before a judge in Santa Clara County found the companies liable and an appeals court upheld that verdict in 2017.

When the California Supreme Court refused to take up the companies’ appeal, in February, the companies appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Oct. 15 refused to hear the case. That effectively upheld the verdict that the companies must pay more than $400 million in damages.

The paint companies argued that the verdict violated their free speech rights, because it challenged the truthfulness of their advertising. It’s an argument the fossil fuel companies are also using in defense of their stance on climate change: that they are not being entitled to their opinion on the issue.…—Dana Drugmand, “Why a Supreme Court ruling on lead paint could impact climate cases,” Climate Liability News, 11/13/18

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Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet.
Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.

Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.

A decade ago, the U.S. mandated the use of vegetable oil in biofuels, leading to industrial-scale deforestation — and a huge spike in carbon emissions.

The fields outside Kotawaringin village in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, looked as if they had just been cleared by armies. None of the old growth remained — only charred stumps poking up from murky, dark pools of water. In places, smoke still curled from land that days ago had been covered with lush jungle. Villagers had burned it all down, clearing the way for a lucrative crop whose cultivation now dominates the entire island: the oil-palm tree.

The dirt road was ruler straight, but deep holes and errant boulders tossed our tiny Toyota back and forth. Trucks coughed out black smoke, their beds brimming over with seven-ton loads of palm fruit rocking back and forth on tires as tall as people. Clear-cut expanses soon gave way to a uniform crop of oil-palm groves: orderly trees, a sign that we had crossed into an industrial palm plantation. Oil-palm trees look like the coconut-palm trees you see on postcards from Florida — they grow to more than 60 feet tall and flourish on the peaty wetland soil common in lowland tropics. But they are significantly more valuable. Every two weeks or so, each tree produces a 50-pound bunch of walnut-size fruit, bursting with a red, viscous oil that is more versatile than almost any other plant-based oil of its kind. Indonesia is rich in timber and coal, but palm oil is its biggest export. Around the world, the oil from its meat and seeds has long been an indispensable ingredient in everything from soap to ice cream. But it has now become a key ingredient of something else: biodiesel, fuel for diesel engines that has been wholly or partly made from vegetable oil.

Most of the plantations around us were new, their rise a direct consequence of policy decisions made half a world away. In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.

…The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.…—Abrahm Lustgarten, “Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.The New York Times, 11/20/18

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Inside a corporate giant’s fight
to thwart a massive pollution tab

Inside a corporate giant’s fight to thwart a massive pollution tab

A key component of 3M’s campaign to fend off government action is a new industry advocacy group that began weighing into the debate this summer, arguing that the chemicals don’t pose a health threat — a conclusion that numerous government agencies and independent studies have disputed. The industry group’s efforts to raise doubts about the science have caused alarm among public health watchdogs who call them reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s old playbook.

3M’s combative posture contrasts with a more conciliatory approach taken by other giant companies that have been implicated in the pollution crisis, as well as the industry’s primary lobbying group, the American Chemistry Council. Those organizations have supported federal efforts to evaluate and regulate the chemicals, banking on the Trump administration to deliver industry-friendly rules.

But as the chemicals’ original and biggest manufacturer, 3M faces a different scale of risk.…—Annie Snider, “Inside a corporate giant’s fight to thwart a massive pollution tab,” Politico, 11/23/18

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Generation Climate: Can Young Evangelicals
Change the Climate Debate?

Generation Climate: Can Young Evangelicals Change the Climate Debate?

For students at this top evangelical college, loving God means protecting creation. That includes dealing with the human sources of climate change.

WHEATON, Illinois — Diego Hernandez wasn’t thinking much about climate change until last summer, when he was traveling with his family along the Gulf Coast in his home state of Texas, where his ancestors—cowboys and politicians, he said—reach back to the 1600s. His mother suggested they take the “scenic route” for that summer drive, Diego said, his fingers making air-quotes because there was nothing “scenic” about it. All he saw were oil refineries. 

“At that moment,” said 19-year-old Diego, who considers himself a libertarian, “the switch kind of flipped for me.” Why are we putting refineries in this beautiful place? he thought. The impacts from Hurricane Harvey, which had hit Houston the previous August and had affected some of Diego’s relatives, were also still lingering in his mind.

“I used to be like, oh, there’s oil, go start drilling, you know, because of course it’s all about the money, right?” he said, his voice tinged with sarcasm. But after that family outing, he began to ask questions—”What is it doing to our environment? How is it going to affect us in the next 10 to 50 years?”—and since then he’s had climate change on his mind.

Diego is a clean-shaven, lifelong Christian wearing a cyan blue button-down and polished cowboy boots, and a sophomore at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, which has been called the Harvard of Christian schools. The entrance sign, framed by a glowing bed of zinnias in full bloom, pronounces the school’s motto: “For Christ and His Kingdom.” But while Diego has all the credentials of a true political conservative—president of Wheaton’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter, a cabinet member of the College Republicans—he also finds himself genuinely baffled by the right’s stance against acting on climate change.…—Meera Subramanian, “Generation Climate: Can Young Evangelicals Change the Climate Debate?InsideClimate News, 11/21/18

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In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing

In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing

In the Arctic Ocean, some ice stays frozen year-round, lasting for many years before melting. But this winter, the region hit a record low for ice older than five years.

This, along with a near-record low for sea ice over all, supports predictions that by mid-century there will be no more ice in the Arctic Ocean in summer.

As darker, heat-absorbing water replaces reflective ice, it hastens warming in the region. Older ice is generally thicker than newer ice and thus more resilient to heat. But as the old ice disappears, the newer ice left behind is more vulnerable to rising temperatures.

“First-year ice grows through winter and then to up to a maximum, which is usually around in March,” said Mark A. Tschudi, a research associate at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “As summer onsets, the ice starts to melt back.”

Some of the new ice melts each summer, but some of it lingers to grow thicker over the following winter, forming second-year ice. The next summer, some of that second-year ice survives, then grows even thicker and more resilient the next winter, creating what is known as multiyear ice. Some ice used to last more than a decade.

Today, Arctic sea ice is mostly first-year ice. While the oldest ice has always melted when currents pushed it south into warmer waters, now more of the multiyear ice is melting within the Arctic Ocean, leaving more open water in its wake.…—Jeremy White, Kendra Pierre-Louis, “In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing,” The New York Times, 5/14/18

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Abandoned oil wells hidden
under thousands of local properties

Abandoned oil wells hidden under thousands of local properties

PITTSBURGH— There’s a hidden danger under thousands of properties in Pennsylvania: abandoned oil wells.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection said they know of at least 10,000 wells in Pennsylvania, but there are possibly more than 500,000 out there. Most of them stretch along western Pennsylvania, and the DEP said if left unplugged, they could prove to be a big danger.

In 2011, a series of explosions in the Bradford area of the state were linked to abandoned wells. One explosion destroyed a man’s home.

Channel 11 News anchor David Johnson headed out with the DEP to some local well sites to see how homeowners have had to respond to these surprising discoveries feet from their homes.

“It can start with a smell, it can start with a dead patch of grass,” Dan Counahan, of the DEP, said when talking about how some homeowners have discovered wells. “It can start with effervescing water.”

In Richland Township, one homeowner’s discovery was a bit more unusual.

Charlie Brethauer was doing work in his backyard. He started digging near a tree on his property and immediately hit something odd in the earth.

Further Photos: Abandoned oil wells blamed for explosions in Pennsylvania

“I had a shovel and I jammed it into the ground there,” Brethauer said. “The first time I did it, I cracked right through the top of the bucket. My mouth dropped open.”

That bucket was hiding an old and pretty active well. It was feet from the back of his house.

Brethauer reached out to the DEP, and with help from grants and Richland Township, it was able to cap the well.…—David Johnson, “Abandoned oil wells hidden under thousands of local properties,” WPXI, 11/20/18

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And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to everyone who sent in news, action announcements and comments this week. Send kudos, rotten tomatoes and your story ideas, your group’s action events, and news of interest to intrepid climate change and environmental justice warriors! Send to editor@thebanner.news.