July 14
It is sometimes remarked, by people who are comfortable enough not to depend on them, that there is a ‘tragedy of the commons,’ an inherent inability for humans to sustainably share resources each according to need. Yet another narrative seeking to convince people that the failings of Industrial Growth Societies, with their hyper-developed sense of absolute personal individuality, are human failings, not the failings of economies that do not acknowledge ecology (sic), and of religious doctrines of the human right of domination and fundamental alienation from the rest of life. This week we look into the tragedy of privatizing government services that are essentially social and humanitarian —as if subsuming them to a business perspective and an absolute demand for profit were an improvement. We also look into some of the news heralding the terrible, horrible, very bad, no good month the oil and gas industry is having.
But first the news.

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Table of Contents

NY & Northeast Activist News


The Tragedy of Privatization

Indigenous Peoples News

Resilience & Deep Adaptation

New Energy News

Science & Climate

Industry News

Regulatory & Court News

Government & Economics

International News

In Case You Missed It

And Now for Something Completely Different

Legislators, Wolf Administration in talks
on petrochemical tax credit compromise

House and Senate lawmakers are currently in discussions with the Wolf Administration to potentially resurrect a previously-vetoed petrochemical tax credit program, the bill’s author told The PLS Reporter Wednesday.

The legislation, HB 1100, was hailed by proponents as a way of replicating what they view as a successful effort in Beaver County to build an ethane cracker plant, which was boosted by a 2012 tax credit program. That did not stop it from being met with Wolf’s veto pen earlier this year.

The bill’s author, Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne) said the discussions had been underway and that he was confident an agreement would be reached. A staffer for Sen. John Yudichak (I-Luzerne), who authored the Senate version of the bill, also confirmed the upper chamber was also engaged with the negotiations.…

ShellEthaneCrackerKaufer and other northeast Pennsylvania lawmakers believe the effort, which would encourage the construction of a methane gas plant which could be used to create fertilizer or petrochemicals, could help transform a regional economy which has been hit hard by the closure of a state prison in the area, as well as a decline of coal production in recent years.…—”Legislators, Wolf Administration in talks on petrochemical tax credit compromise, bill author says,” Andrew Bahl, The PLS Reporter, 7/8/20

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In the Shadow
of Shuttered Philadelphia Refinery,
Neighbors Recall Those Lost
to Decades of Pollution

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery was —until last year — the largest and oldest gasoline refinery on the East Coast. The week it was sold began with a community rally that also served as a makeshift memorial service.

On Monday, June 22, as Black Lives Matter protests continued nationwide, members of Philly Thrive, a local grassroots group, arrived outside the perimeter of the refinery complex in South Philadelphia. They posted “in memoriam” placards bearing the names of deceased Philadelphians along the facility’s chainlink borders, handwritten fence-line memorials for departed members of the refinery’s fence-line community. Speakers that day recalled less the fiery explosion that tore through the plant one year earlier and more the long-term harms caused by decades of fossil fuel production in the majority Black neighborhood.

Later that week, on June 26, Hilco Redevelopment Partners closed on the sale of this sprawling 1,400 acre refinery complex in the heart of one of the nation’s largest cities. The new owners have indicated that they do not plan to reopen the refinery, instead publicly discussing ways the heavily contaminated land could be used for warehousing and oil storage.

One year earlier, nearly to the day, a never-inspected segment of pipe inside the 153-year old PES refinery wore through and burst, according to a preliminary report by federal investigators. The breached pipe released a mix of fossil fuel chemicals used to make gasoline as well as one of the most dangerous substances used by industry today, hydrogen fluoride. The blend ignited in a series of explosions, unleashing a fireball so large that it registered on weather satellites orbiting the Earth and some locals mistook it for the implosion of an atom bomb.…—”In the Shadow of Shuttered Philadelphia Refinery, Neighbors Recall Those Lost to Decades of Pollution,” Sharon Kelly, DeSmog, 7/1/20

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Silence is Not an Option

America is in crisis right now. A lot of people want to help, but have no idea where to start. We’re going to dig deep into the reality of being Black and Brown in America, and explore what you can do to help find a path forward.

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Study of 17 Million Identifies
Crucial Risk Factors for Coronavirus Deaths

The largest study yet confirms that race, ethnicity, age and sex can raise a person’s chances of dying from Covid-19.

An analysis of more than 17 million people in England — the largest study of its kind, according to its authors — has pinpointed a bevy of factors that can raise a person’s chances of dying from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The paper, published Wednesday in Nature, echoes reports from other countries that identify older people, men, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with underlying health conditions among the more vulnerable populations.

“This highlights a lot of what we already know about Covid-19,” said Uchechi Mitchell, a public health expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved in the study. “But a lot of science is about repetition. The size of the study alone is a strength, and there is a need to continue documenting disparities.”…

“A lot of previous work has focused on patients that present at hospital,” said Dr. Ben Goldacre of the University of Oxford, one of the authors on the study. “That’s useful and important, but we wanted to get a clear sense of the risks as an everyday person. Our starting pool is literally everybody.”…

An increasing number of reports have pointed to the pervasive social and structural inequities that are disproportionately burdening racial and ethnic minority groups around the world with the coronavirus’s worst effects.…

Many of these individuals work as front-line employees, or are tasked with essential in-person jobs that prevent them from sheltering in place at home. Some live in multigenerational households that can compromise effective physical distancing. Others must cope with language barriers and implicit bias when they seek medical care.…—”Study of 17 Million Identifies Crucial Risk Factors for Coronavirus Deaths,” Katherine J. Wu, The New York Times, 7/8/20

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State Punishment and Private Prisons


To date, the debate over private prisons has focused largely on the relative efficiency of private prisons as compared to their publicly-run counterparts, and has assumed that, if private contractors can run the prisons for less money than the state without a drop in quality, then states should be willing to privatize.

This “comparative efficiency” approach, however, has two significant problems. First, it is concerned exclusively with efficiency, despite the fact that the privatization of prisons arguably implicates more urgent values. Second, it accepts the current state of public prisons as an unproblematic baseline, thus failing to consider the possibility that neither public prisons as presently constituted nor private prisons in the form currently on offer are adequate to satisfy society’s obligations to those it incarcerates.

In this Article, Professor Dolovich examines the private prisons issue from a third perspective, that of liberal legitimacy. On this standard, if penal policies and practices are to be legitimate, they must be consistent with two basic principles: the humanity principle, which obliges the state to avoid imposing punishments that are gratuitously inhumane; and the parsimony principle, which obliges the state to avoid imposing punishments of incarceration that are gratuitously long. After sketching the foundation for this legitimacy standard, Professor Dolovich then applies it to the case of private prisons.

Approaching the issue of private prisons from this perspective helps to reframe the debate in two ways, both long overdue. First, it allows for a direct focus on the structure and functioning of private prisons, without being derailed by premature demands for comparison with public-sector prisons. It thus becomes possible to assess directly the oft-heard claim that the profit incentive motivating prison contractors will distort the decisions made by private prison administrators and lead to abuses. Second, it makes it possible to see that the state’s use of private prisons is the logical extension of policies and practices that are already standard features of the penal system in general, thus throwing into sharper relief several problematic aspects of this system that are currently taken for granted.

[Editor’s note: There is no Constitutional basis for the physical apprehension, imprisonment or discipline of any person by any entity other than the state. That the government has privatized the use of force on battlefields and in private prisons brings into question the of the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on physical force other than personal and property protection. Under such a regime, any pretender to police or other apprehending force may claim authorized use of force, pending interruption by legitimate authority or review in criminal court, for instance. This is exactly how Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes quiet, public street arrests by plainclothes officials in “The Gulag Peninsula.” The population had been trained see the use of force carried out without any obvious credentials whatsoever. That this has escaped every commentator, even one as insightful as Professor Dolovich here, is passing strange and an explosive tragedy. Her last sentence doe hint at some broader reconsideration, one that has not happened fifteen years on.]

In this sense, the study of private prisons operates as a “miner’s canary,” warning that not just the structure of private prisons, but also that of American punishment practices more broadly, may need reconsideration.—”State Punishment and Private Prisons,” Sharon Dolovich, Duke Law Journal, December, 2005

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A New Communities meeting in the 1970s.
Courtesy New Communities

Collective ownership gives power back to poor farmers

…[Decton] Hylton, a fifty-nine-year-old Jamaican with dreadlocks and a rolling accent, belongs to a community organization that supports small black-owned farms like this one. Once part of the estate of General Hartwell Hill Tarver, one of Georgia’s wealthiest slave owners, the land was sold in 1912 to the farmers who planted the pecan grove. These days it belongs to New Communities, a black farming cooperative founded in the Sixties that is widely considered to be the country’s first community land trust.

A CLT is a mechanism by which land is held in trust and managed by a nonprofit, used for whatever a community chooses, whether that’s housing, small businesses, cultural spaces, gardens, parks, or farms. The land is owned by a trust, which keeps it out of speculators’ hands, but residences and other structures can be privately owned and inherited, allowing community members to build wealth.

Further reading: Community Land Trusts and the Fight Against Gentrification | The Atlantic

Few know that modern-day CLTs originated here in Georgia, in a civil-rights-era experiment to build economic power among poor black farmers. But the model has proved durable. Over the past decade, as real estate developers have carved up cities and driven housing costs beyond the realm of affordability, interest in CLTs has swelled. There are now 260 of them in the United States. Advocates say CLTs give communities the space and security to develop neighborhoods according to their needs rather than the demands of the market.

The Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, Vermont, which Senator Bernie Sanders helped establish in 1984, is now America’s largest, with 620 owner-occupied homes. Last September, 2019, when Sanders announced his campaign’s affordable-housing plan, he earmarked $50 billion for CLTs. “Land-trust housing,” he said, “enables people to enjoy the advantages of home ownership while keeping housing perpetually affordable.” Senator Elizabeth Warren’s housing platform included an “innovation lab” to study CLTs and other affordability strategies. CLTs are now considered by most policymakers to be a key component of any progressive housing solution.…—”We Shall Not Be Moved,” Audrea Lim, Harper’s Magazine, July, 2020

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How Wildfires Make Covid More Dangerous

As the coronavirus continues its assault on the United States, it’s easy to forget about other hazards. But public health officials warn that it would be a mistake to ignore a related threat: wildfire smoke.

“There is the strong potential for interaction between these two different types of disasters,” said Sarah Henderson, senior environmental health scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. The danger is particularly high in Western states, where Covid-19 case numbers are rising.

There are several ways that smoke exposure could make the pandemic worse, Dr. Henderson said. “When your immune system is overwhelmed by particles, it’s not going to do such a good job fighting other things, like viruses,” she said.

Scientists fear that the immune effects of smoke may even linger for months. A recent study in Montana found that smoky summers led to more severe flu seasons the following winter.…—”How Wildfires Make Covid More Dangerous,” Julia Rosen, Henry Fountain, The New York Times, 7/8/20

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The Tragedy of Privatization

The Tragedy of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’

The man who wrote one of environmentalism’s most-cited essays was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamaphobe—plus his argument was wrong

Fifty years ago, University of California professor Garrett Hardin penned an influential essay in the journal Science. Hardin saw all humans as selfish herders: we worry that our neighbors’ cattle will graze the best grass. So, we send more of our cows out to consume that grass first. We take it first, before someone else steals our share. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that Hardin described as the “tragedy of the commons.”

It’s hard to overstate Hardin’s impact on modern environmentalism. His views are taught across ecology, economics, political science and environmental studies. His essay remains an academic blockbuster, with almost 40,000 citations. It still gets republished in prominent environmental anthologies.

TragedyOfTheCommonsBut here are some inconvenient truths: Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today.

And he promoted an idea he called “lifeboat ethics”: since global resources are finite, Hardin believed the rich should throw poor people overboard to keep their boat above water.

To create a just and vibrant climate future, we need to instead cast Hardin and his flawed metaphor overboard.…—”The Tragedy of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Matto Mildenberger, Scientific American Blog Network, 4/23/19

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Privatizing Our Public Water Supply

Private water companies want to use the infrastructure bill to accelerate privatization. Why is Tammy Duckworth carrying water for them?

In order to recover from the COVID economic depression, America will need a massive public infrastructure effort. This will do triple duty—in addition to providing stimulus and jobs, it will modernize our museum-quality public facilities, and accelerate an overdue green transition.

The House Democrats have made a good start with HR2, the Invest in America Act—but with one weird exception: A provision slipped into the bill by the water privatization industry and its Congressional allies would create incentives to privatize America’s water supply systems, one of the few essential services that are still mostly public thanks to the heroic struggles of our Progressive Era forebears, who worked to assure clean and affordable water via public systems.

TruthAboutPrivatizationIn the House, the offending language was inserted by Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, whose state is home to water privatization companies, and Richie Neal of Massachusetts, the industry-afflicted chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. And in the Senate, oddly, the companion measure, drafted by the water privatization industry, is sponsored by Tammy Duckworth.

Joe Biden take notice.

A word about water privatization. About 83 percent of Americans get their drinking water from public systems, according to an authoritative report by the leading research and advocacy group, Food and Water Watch.

Privatized systems are typically less reliable, far more expensive, and prone to corrupt deal-making. The average community with privatized water paid 59 percent more than those with government supplied water. In New Jersey, which has more private water than most, private systems charged 79 percent more. In Illinois, they charged 95 percent more. Private water corporations have also been implicated in environmental disasters. The French multinational, Veolia, issued a report in 2015 certifying that Flint, Michigan’s water system met EPA standards, but neglected to mention high lead concentrations.…—”Privatizing Our Public Water Supply,” Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, 7/7/20

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Holding US Government
to Its Treaty Promises ‘For Once,’
Supreme Court Rules Nearly Half
of Oklahoma Still Native American Territory

“The big news at the Supreme Court today will be Trump’s taxes,” said Cherokee writer Rebecca Nagle. “But for Indians in Oklahoma, we’ll be talking about today for decades.”

Indigenous leaders on Thursday hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt vs. Oklahoma as a victory for tribal sovereignty for affirming that the U.S. government’s treaty with the Muskogee (Creek) Nation must still be recognized by Congress and that nearly half of what is known as the U.S. state of Oklahoma is actually Native American land.

In the 5-4 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the liberal-leaning justices and wrote the majority opinion, ruling that since Congress has not stated otherwise, the land promised to tribes in the 19th century remains a reservation for the purposes of federal criminal law.

Despite a history of many broken promises, as is true with many tribal nations, the citizens feel uplifted that for once the United States is being held to its promises. —Jonodev Chaudhuri, Muskogee (Creek) Nation

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” Gorsuch wrote. “Forced to leave their ancestral homes in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever… Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

David Hill, principal chief of the Creek Nation, said the ruling marked “a historic day.”

“This is amazing,” Hill told the New York Times. “It’s never too late to make things right.”…—”Holding US Government to Its Treaty Promises ‘For Once,’ Supreme Court Rules Nearly Half of Oklahoma Still Native American Territory,” Julia Conley, Common Dreams News, 7/9/20

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The Standing Rock Generation
Is Changing the World

A young man from Standing Rock reflects on the Dakota Access Pipeline court decision

…The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is as damning a tale as any told about the crooked dealings of the colonists and capitalists who swindled this continent away from its First Peoples. You’ve probably heard it already, but just in case, here’s the synopsis. An oil pipeline with close financial ties to Donald Trump — he was an investor, and Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that operates the pipeline, is a donor— was rerouted from upstream of the predominantly white city of Bismarck, North Dakota downstream through the treaty lands and drinking supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. When the tribe protested, guards sicced dogs on activists. When people saw the images and descended on the reservation from far and wide to stand with Standing Rock, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple called in the National Guard. Protesters, who took to calling themselves Water Protectors, squared off with law enforcement agents better armed than many militaries: riding in armored vehicles and brandishing all manner of lethal and non-lethal weapons — including, even, a surface-to-air missile launcher. At the protest encampments, TigerSwan, a private security firm employed by Energy Transfer Partners, deployed counterinsurgency tactics brought back from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. After months, President Barack Obama intervened, ordering an environmental review. But less than a week after his inauguration, President Trump reversed the decision with one of his first actions in office. Oil began flowing through the pipeline later that year.

Killsalive was on the front lines of much of this fight. When his friends confirmed the news — that a judge had, in fact, ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to empty — his heart lifted. “What we did wasn’t for nothing,” he said. “But what still bothers me is that the people who built and approved this pipeline are being shown that it’s a bad idea, but still think they’re doing right.”


A youth climate movement is growing around the
world. On March 15, over one million students
in 125 countries went on strike. Since then,
young protesters across the United States
have been participating in direct action.
The Sunrise Movement and Alexandria
Villaseñor offer a glimpse into the ground-

Killsalive’s mind returned to the beginning. In the waning days of Spring, 2016, his niece, Tariq Brownotter, and two other young women from his reservation: Shayla Gayton and Bobbi Jean Three Legs, began recruiting young people from Standing Rock to participate in a run to organize opposition to the then little-known pipeline. They called it “Rezpect Our Water,” “Rezpect” being a portmanteau of the slang term “rez” for reservation and respect. Killsalive said he hadn’t heard of the project before that, and that people were still explaining it to him when he decided to skip out on the last weeks of school and follow the young women leaders of his tribe out the door. Some people made fun of Killsalive and the other young men who joined the run for that — not the lack of knowledge thing, the following women thing. But Killsalive never cared much. He trusted his peer’s leadership. Brownotter and Gayton were part of a youth group that had traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Obama, after all. Plus, after his own father left him, chasing alcohol out the door, Killsalive was raised by women: his mom and then his auntie (not by blood) and then his cousins. “If it wasn’t for women, this movement wouldn’t have started,” he told me.…—”Dakota Access Pipeline Decision: The Standing Rock Generation Triumphs,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, Rolling Stone, 7/9/20

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Brazilian court orders 20,000 gold miners
removed from Yanomami Park

On 3 July, the First Regional Federal Court (TRF1), one of the most powerful judicial bodies in Brazil, ruled that the government’s ministries of defense, justice, and environment must draw up within five days a comprehensive emergency plan to stop the spread of COVID-19 into the vast Yanomami Park Indigenous Territory, located in the very north of Brazil, near the frontier with Venezuela, and covering 9.7 million hectares (37,000 square miles).

Federal judge Jirair Aram Meguerian made the ruling in response to an urgent request from the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), a group of independent public litigators, who have become alarmed at reports that COVID-19 is spreading among the 27,000 Yanomami.*

The judge recognized that federal authorities have finally taken some measures to combat the disease, but said those actions were “insufficient” and “ineffective.” He ruled that the Bolsonaro administration’s efforts must go beyond medical treatment and include the eviction of 20,000 invading gold miners, all working illegally in the territory and considered to be the root cause of coronavirus spread there.…—”Brazilian court orders 20,000 gold miners removed from Yanomami Park,” Sue Branford, Mongabay, 7/7/20

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The global oil industry is experiencing a shock
like no other in its history

The oil world has seen many shocks over the years, but none has hit the industry with quite the ferocity we are witnessing today

The oil world has seen many shocks over the years, but none has hit the industry with quite the ferocity we are witnessing today. As markets, companies and entire economies reel from the effects of the global crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, oil prices have crumbled. The impacts will be felt throughout oil’s global supply chains and ripple into other parts of the energy sector.

Pressure is coming from all sides: a precipitous decline in global oil demand as the pandemic has slashed fuel consumption, especially in the transport sector, aggravated by a supply shock due to the end of restraints on production from OPEC producers and Russia (OPEC+). The scale of the collapse in oil demand, in particular, is well in excess of the oil industry’s capacity to adjust.

With 3 billion people around the world under some form of lock-down because of the coronavirus, one of the traditional stabilisers for the oil market is missing. Low prices usually stimulate a reaction from consumers, but such a boost to demand is highly unlikely this time around, at least for the duration of the global health emergency. Instead, a rapid build-up of oil stocks is starting to saturate available storage capacity, pushing down prices further.…—”The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history,” Tim Gould,Neil, Atkinson, International Energy Agency, 4/1/20

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Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives
and Raising Climate Fears

An infrared image last year of an MDC Energy
well pad leaking methane (which is invisible
to the naked eye). This month, the site has
continued to leak gases, government
violations show. Credit: Jonah Kessel/The
New York Times

The day the debt-ridden Texas oil producer MDC Energy filed for bankruptcy eight months ago, a tank at one of its wells was furiously leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. As of last week, dangerous, invisible gases were still spewing into the air.

By one estimate, the company would need more than $40 million to clean up its wells if they were permanently closed. But the debts of MDC’s parent company now exceed the value of its assets by more than $180 million.

In the months before its bankruptcy filing, though, the company managed to pay its chief executive $8.5 million in consulting fees, its top lender, the French investment bank Natixis, later alleged in bankruptcy court.

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.…—”Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears,” Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times, 7/12/20

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‘Not our mission’: private fire crews
protect the insured, not the public

Agencies hired to protect assets look like first responders but, if a fire puts them in danger, they can become a liability

The engines, big and small, came from all over the country to fight the Kincade fire in the Sonoma county wine region of California. There were trucks from Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado – and from the wildfire protection unit of home insurer AIG.

As fires have increasingly encroached on development in California’s wild-lands in recent years, communities are grappling with a new paradigm of risk. If the fire creates an existential crisis for people living in high-risk areas, it also creates one for the companies that insure their homes.

Insurers of houses, timber and agriculture have contracted with private firefighting agencies for decades. But now, thanks to longer, more devastating fire seasons, the business is booming.…

“Generally speaking, from our perspective, we have found that private fire crews are not first responders,” said Carroll Wills, communications director for California Professional Firefighters.

[T[he idea that wealthy people can protect their properties, while a lower income person’s house is left to burn is contentious. Nevertheless, private firefighting firms are becoming a fact of life in California.—Stacey Vanek Smith, The Private Firefighter Industry | NPR

Lawmakers grew concerned that civilians would see these private engines and get a false sense of security about remaining in evacuation zones. Government firefighters voiced complaints about rolling onto a scene, believing the area to be fully evacuated, only to find private fire crews who had not alerted incident command.

Guardian-Donate.-1In the 2018 Woolsey fire, Kim Kardashian famously hired private firefighters to save her $50m Calabasas mansion – a crew that, said Wills, never told anyone of their plans. “That’s just incredibly dangerous,” Wills said.…—”‘Not our mission’: private fire crews protect the insured, not the public,” Susie Cagle, Vivian Ho, The Guardian, 11/3/19

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Investigation Into Private Prisons
Reveals Crowding, Under-Staffing
And Inmate Deaths

Seth Freed Wessler reported on substandard medical care in privately-run prisons in the federal corrections system for The Nation, which may have led the Justice Department to phase out their use.

Wessler appeared as Dave Davies’ guest on WHYY’s “Fresh Air” in August 15, 2016. An excerpt of their interview follows:

DAVE DAVIES, Fresh Air: Well, Seth Wessler, welcome to FRESH AIR. How long has the Federal Bureau of Prisons been using private correctional facilities?

SETH FREED WESSLER: The Bureau of Prisons in the mid-and-late ’90s began a process of privatizing a subset of the federal prisons that it manages. In the ’90s, the size of the federal prison population was growing massively.

And the federal BOP decided that to house some of this population of prisoners, they would start contracting with private corrections companies. And very soon, the Bureau of Prisons decided that they would use these facilities – these private separate facilities – to hold non-citizens convicted of federal crimes.

And the logic was that non-citizens, because they’ll later be transferred to immigration officials and deported, are an ideal group of people to hold in these sort of explicitly stripped down federal prisons because unlike citizens who the federal government says need to be provided re-entry services to return to their communities, non-citizens will be deported and so don’t have to be provided those same services.

DAVIES: Right – even though the sentences are pretty long – right? – in some cases.

WESSLER: Yeah. Yeah. People spend years in these prisons. Usually, the last few years of their sentences – and are then transferred to immigration authorities and deported. So men I talked to who had been held in these facilities for three, four, five years – really languishing there, often just sort of waiting out their time with little access to programs or services before, later, they’ll be deported.

DAVIES: Just to be clear here, these are not – we’re not talking about immigration detention facilities that the immigrations customs enforcement folks do. These are people who have committed crimes and are in federal custody, right?

WESSLER: That’s right. There’s a separate immigration detention system operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people who are waiting for deportation, who are – who may be deported.…—”Investigation Into Private Prisons Reveals Crowding, Under-Staffing And Inmate Deaths,” Dave Davies, Fresh Air|NPR, 8/15/16

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The Pros and Cons of
Privatizing Government Functions

Outsourcing may seem like a perfect solution for deficit-plagued governments, but the morning after can bring some unpleasant surprises.

Last summer, residents of Maywood, Calif., woke up one morning to find the government as they knew it gone. After years of corruption and mismanagement, the small, blue-collar city south of Los Angeles fired almost all of its employees, dismantled its police department and contracted with a neighboring city to take over most municipal tasks. On July 1, local officials announced that Maywood had become the country’s first city to be fully outsourced.

It was an unprecedented move spurred by a loss of commercial liability insurance and Workers’ Compensation. As the city drowned in deficits and faced multiple lawsuits, city leaders saw outsourcing as a light at the end of a collapsing tunnel.

But it was only a mirage.

Bell, Calif., the city that Maywood officials had tapped to run its services, erupted with a pay and pension scandal, forcing several top Bell officials to resign. By September, Bell had scrapped its contract with Maywood, leaving the city to fend for itself and find new contractors for its outsourcing hopes.

The search for financial salvation is sweeping the country as local governments grapple with waning sales and property tax revenues. The economic recession has strangled budgets, forcing layoffs and the disbanding of departments. Feeling pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, cities are trying to find effective ways to make do with less. Maywood, in its outsourcing attempt, may be the most extreme example, but in California and other states in the past decade, more public officials have turned to outside sources for help in providing services at a lower cost to the state.…—”The Pros and Cons of Privatizing Government Functions,” Andy Kim, Governing, December, 2010

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Sunrun and Vivint Form New Solar Goliath,
Leaving Tesla to Play David

The joining of the two companies could reshape the industry, which still accounts for energy production in only 3% of U.S. households.

Monday night is not a time when I expect to see news that could reshape an entire industry, but that’s what happened this week when Sunrun, the leading rooftop solar company in the United States, announced it was buying Vivint Solar, the second-leading solar company.

Sunrun, based in San Francisco, will become the Goliath of rooftop solar at a time when the industry is struggling to sell its services amid the coronavirus.

“We had known about some murmuring of Vivint being sold, being shopped around, but I don’t think any of us really anticipated that the buyer would be another residential solar company and largest residential solar company,” said Bryan White, an analyst for Wood Mackenzie. “It has been a surprising turn of events.”

Sunrun has an agreement to acquire Vivint in an all-stock deal worth $3.2 billion, subject to approval by shareholders and regulators. The combined company would have a customer base of about 500,000 and a value of $9.2 billion.…—”Inside Clean Energy: Sunrun and Vivint Form New Solar Goliath, Leaving Tesla to Play David,” Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News, 7/8/20

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Why The Bakken May Not Come Back

The Bakken shale is already declining because of financial struggles and the oil market downturn, but the potential shuttering of the Dakota Access pipeline could close off the possibility of a rebound.

The 570,000-barrel-per-day oil pipeline carries Bakken oil to the Midwest. On Monday, a federal judge ordered the pipeline to shut down within 30 days after vacating authorization for the project. Energy Transfer immediately appealed for a “provisional stay,” but on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg shot down that request.

Energy Transfer will still file a conventional appeal to stay the judge’s order, and surely the company will follow through on that as quick as possible. But it’s not clear how quickly the judge will respond to that; meanwhile he ordered Dakota Access to be drained by August 5.

Further reading Is This the End of Oil and Gas Pipelines? | The New York Times
The Death Of The $2 Trillion Auto Industry Will Come Sooner Than Expected | OilPrice

Even if a stay is granted, the pause could be “short-lived,” ClearView Energy Partners wrote in a note to clients. The firm cited a separate case involving an electric transmission line that resulted in the Army Corps of Engineers being forced to undertake an environmental impact statement after the project was completed.

“Put another way, even conservative jurists can back a court ruling that finds agency environmental reviews flawed and should be suspended while redone,” ClearView Energy Partners wrote. “[T]he horizon for Dakota Access may be darkening,” the firm added.…—”Why The Bakken May Not Come Back,” Nick Cunningham, OilPrice, 7/7/20

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Rare night clouds may be warning sign
of climate crisis

Noctilucent clouds, on the edge of the atmosphere, are increasingly seen outside of polar regions

Something magical appeared at night over London and other parts of Britain on 21 June: ripples of electric blue clouds shimmered in the twilight sky after sunset. These were noctilucent clouds, the highest clouds in the world, more than 80km (50 miles) up on the edge of space, and looked like something from another planet.

Noctilucent clouds form in the mesosphere, the rarefied upper atmosphere with little moisture and intensely low temperatures. The scant water vapour there can freeze on to specks of smoke from meteors burning up in the atmosphere, creating the crystals that form noctilucent clouds. The mesosphere is coldest in summer, allowing the crystals to form.

These clouds may also be a warning sign of the climate crisis. They were first recorded in 1885 and were rarely seen for years afterwards, largely in polar regions. But in recent times the clouds have appeared much further afield and are growing much brighter.

Guardian-Donate.-1Much of the moisture needed to form the clouds comes from methane, a potent greenhouse gas that produces water vapour when it breaks down in the upper atmosphere. And as methane pollution has increased, so noctilucent clouds have grown more common and more widespread.—”Rare night clouds may be warning sign of climate crisis,” Jeremy Plester, The Guardian, 7/6/20

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Updated Species Extinction List
Signals ‘Urgent Action Needed
to Save Life on Earth’

More than one in four of the 120,372 plant and animal species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are at risk of extinction.

The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity warned Thursday of the “urgent action needed to save life on Earth” in response to a new global assessment revealing that nearly 27% of over 120,000 analyzed plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction.

At this point it’s a matter of political will to rapidly move away from fossil fuels, stamp out the wildlife trade, and overhaul the toxic ways we produce food.—Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity

“This assessment shows that one in four mammals are facing extinction, and although we don’t prefer to think of ourselves as animals, we humans are mammals,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at CBD, said in a statement. “We have to take bold and rapid action to reduce the huge damage we’re doing to the planet if we’re going to save whales, frogs, lemurs, and ultimately ourselves.”

“We know what we need to do to end extinction,” she added. “At this point it’s a matter of political will to rapidly move away from fossil fuels, stamp out the wildlife trade, and overhaul the toxic ways we produce food. We really can do all of these things, but we need world leaders to stand up and do them.”

Curry’s comments came after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Thursday announced an update to its Red List of Threatened Species, revealing that 32,441 of 120,372 assessed species are at risk.

“This assessment shows that one in four mammals are facing extinction, and although we don’t prefer to think of ourselves as animals, we humans are mammals,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at CBD, said in a statement. “We have to take bold and rapid action to reduce the huge damage we’re doing to the planet if we’re going to save whales, frogs, lemurs, and ultimately ourselves.”

“We know what we need to do to end extinction,” she added. “At this point it’s a matter of political will to rapidly move away from fossil fuels, stamp out the wildlife trade, and overhaul the toxic ways we produce food. We really can do all of these things, but we need world leaders to stand up and do them.”

Curry’s comments came after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Thursday announced an update to its Red List of Threatened Species, revealing that 32,441 of 120,372 assessed species are at risk.…—”Updated Species Extinction List Signals ‘Urgent Action Needed to Save Life on Earth’,” Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams News, 7/9/20

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‘The Game Is Up’: Report Says Asset Sales
and Debt-Driven Dividends Show Fossil Fuel
Industry Cannot Be Saved

“To continue to throw money at an industry that is not only causing environmental destruction but also facing economic decline is as imprudent as it is indefensible.”

Recent efforts by oil and gas giants to project an outward appearance of financial stability amid the Covid-19 pandemic by selling off assets or accumulating debt to continue paying out steady shareholder dividends represent strong evidence that the fossil fuel industry has reached its “endgame” and should not be bailed out with taxpayer dollars.

That’s according to a new report released Thursday by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a policy research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The game is up. Oil and gas companies can no longer mask their financial frailty.
—Nikki Reisch, Center for International Environmental Law

The report says the coronavirus pandemic—which has thrown oil markets into turmoil by causing a collapse in demand—has “forced the industry to reckon with the fundamental unsustainability of oil and gas company finances and exposed the steady decline behind the industry’s steady dividends.”

Major fossil fuel corporations such as ExxonMobil and BP, the report notes, “are racking up debt to maintain their shareholder payments and sustain their image as sound investments.”

“Oil and gas companies are also writing down and selling off their assets at heavily discounted prices, in a move that reflects a desperate need for cash and growing skepticism about the future value of fossil fuels,” the report adds.…—”‘The Game Is Up’: Report Says Asset Sales and Debt-Driven Dividends Show Fossil Fuel Industry Cannot Be Saved,” Jake Johnson, Common Dreams News, 7/9/20

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Investors say agroforestry isn’t just climate friendly — it’s also profitable

In the latter part of 2016, Ethan Steinberg and two of his friends planned a driving tour across the U.S. to interview farmers. Their goal was to solve a riddle that had been bothering each of them for some time. Why was it, they wondered, that American agriculture basically ignored trees?

This was no esoteric inquiry. According to a growing body of scientific research, incorporating trees into farmland benefits everything from soil health to crop production to the climate. Steinberg and his friends, Jeremy Kaufman and Harrison Greene, also suspected it might yield something else: money.

“We had noticed there was a lot of discussion and movement of capital into holistic grazing, no till, cover cropping,” Steinberg recalls, referencing some of the land- and climate-friendly agricultural practices that have been garnering environmental and business attention recently. “We thought, what about trees? That’s when a lightbulb went off.”…—”Investors say agroforestry isn’t just climate friendly — it’s also profitable,” Stephanie Hanes, Mongabay, 7/8/20

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Supreme Court deals major blow
to Keystone XL project

Washington (CNN)The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for several pipeline projects to proceed under a fast-track permitting process but excluded the controversial Keystone XL expansion from their ruling, forcing major delays.

Though the case is a partial win for the Trump administration, the exclusion of Keystone XL is a major defeat for a President who made good on a campaign promise to move forward with the project through executive order.

A federal judge in May sided with environmental groups, requiring that new oil and gas pipelines must undergo a lengthy permitting and regulation process in order to build across bodies of water.

That judge’s ruling canceled the so-called “Nationwide Permit 12” for several new pipelines, which authorized and fast-tracked work on pipelines that run across bodies of water. That ruling stated that the Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately consider the projects’ environmental impact on endangered species. The ruling required the projects that received such a permit to stop construction while the environmental impact study was completed.

The Supreme Court on Monday invalidated that lower court ruling in part, allowing many projects to go ahead while the environmental reviews are done, but excluded the Keystone XL. The Keystone XL pipeline must still abide by the arduous environmental review process, the justices ruled.…—”Supreme Court deals major blow to Keystone XL project,” Jamie Ehrlich, CNN, 7/6/20

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Energy Transfer Vows
to Keep Pipeline Open
Despite Court Order

Two days after a judge ordered the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline to shut by early August, its owner Energy Transfer LP is continuing to schedule shipments and has made no moves to take it offline.

The Dallas-based company run by billionaire Kelcy Warren said Wednesday that it’s not currently emptying the pipeline and, in fact, is accepting requests for shipments next month. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had ordered the pipeline to be drained by Aug. 5 while a more robust environmental review is conducted.

“We are not shutting in the line,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email when asked if the company had begun emptying it. Judge James E. Boasberg “we believe exceeded his authority and does not have the jurisdiction to shut down the pipeline or stop the flow of crude oil.” The company later said in a statement that it has no intention of defying Boasberg’s order.

It’s the latest sign that Energy Transfer is preparing for yet another battle over Dakota Access, which four years ago drew months of on-the-ground protests from environmental groups and tribes opposed to the project’s route across Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River just a half-mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

Energy Transfer pressed Boasberg on Wednesday to freeze his “literally unprecedented” decision until an appeals court can weigh in. The company took aim at both the impacts of the judge’s shutdown order, and his underlying conclusion that federal approval for Dakota Access violated environmental law.

“Energy Transfer is playing a very dangerous game,” said Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access. “They don’t get to ignore a federal court order just because they disagree with it.”…—”Energy Transfer Vows to Keep Pipeline Open After Court Order,” Rachel Adams-Heard, Ellen Gilmer, Jennifer A Dlouhy, Bloomberg, 7/8/20

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Climate Liability Cases,
Bolstered by Science, Gain Momentum

Marin County might not seem the most obvious place to launch a climate liability suit, but this coastal community in Northern California has already begun to battle dangerous levels of sea level rise, increased flooding and other impacts of climate change. A single storm caused more than a million dollars in damage last year.

More than 12,000 homes, businesses and other institutions with an assessed property value of nearly $16 billion will be at risk from tides and surge flooding by the end of the century, according to a vulnerability assessment the county completed in the spring of 2017.

“It made crystal clear that the cost of trying to protect the assets of risk from rising seas and more severe storms, and the human anguish over those that will be lost will be shocking and crippling for our residents,” Marin County Supervisor Dr. Kate Sears said.

Sears spoke during an online panel discussion on climate liability Thursday, an event sponsored by the Stanford Environmental & Natural Resources Law and Policy Program and the Center for Climate Integrity.

It didn’t take long to convince Sears that Marin County should file a climate liability suit. Sears is a former civil prosecutor for the California attorney general’s office who led a team of lawyers that secured a $3.8 billion settlement with predatory lenders.…—”Climate Liability Cases, Bolstered by Science, Gain Momentum, Panel Says,” Karen Savage, The Climate Docket, 7/9/20

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Humanity on Track to Soon Hit 1.5ºC
Paris Accord Limit as Atmospheric CO2
Nears Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years

“It’s still not too late to avoid the worst effects of the #ClimateEmergency. But governments need to act NOW,” tweeted Greenpeace.

As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.

For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom examined CO2 levels during the Late Pliocene about three million years ago “to search for modern and near future-like climate states,” co-author Thomas Chalk explained in a series of tweets.

“A striking result we’ve found is that the warmest part of the Pliocene had between 380 and 420 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere,” Chalk told the Guardian. “This is similar to today’s value of around 415 parts per million, showing that we are already at levels that in the past were associated with temperature and sea-level significantly higher than today.”…—”Humanity on Track to Soon Hit 1.5ºC Paris Accord Limit as Atmospheric CO2 Nears Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years,” Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams News, 7/9/20

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For investors concerned
about deforestation,
there’s a guide for that

Climate change threatens ecological and economic systems. That is why investors are increasingly looking to invest in companies with a plan to address one of the largest drivers of climate change: deforestation.

A newly released Investor Guide to Deforestation and Climate Change provides tools to mainstream institutional investors, such as mutual fund and hedge fund managers, who want to work with and influence the companies in their portfolios to address deforestation.

Further reading: Indonesia lavishes $195m subsidy on palm biodiesel producers over smallholders | Mongabay

The guide was developed by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres along with an advisory committee of nonprofits, major investors and leading scientific experts in deforestation.

“Investors can’t be experts on all topics, so this guide gives investors the information they need to bring deforestation into their engagements,” Meryl Richards, co-author of the guide and director of research on the food and forests team at Ceres, told Mongabay in an email.

The guide covers the material risks of deforestation, countries and commodities of risk, assessing portfolio-wide risks, evaluating corporate action, and next steps for engagement. Investors are provided with key expectations to look for in companies’ deforestation and climate commitments, example questions for companies, and concrete gives action items to address deforestation risks.…—”For investors concerned about deforestation, there’s a guide for that,” Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay, 6/30/20

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Brazil’s Bolsonaro vetoes plans to offer
COVID-19 support to indigenous people

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday vetoed provisions of a law that obligated the federal government to provide drinking water, disinfectants and a guarantee of hospital beds to indigenous communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president’s office said those provisions in the law, approved by Congress, were “against the public interest” and “unconstitutional,” by creating expenses for the federal government without new sources of revenue to cover them.

Further reading: Brazil’s Bolsonaro Faces Suit For Unmasking As He Announced Coronavirus Diagnosis |NPR

Brazil’s indigenous population of roughly 850,000 is more vulnerable to the COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as they live in remote areas with little access to health care systems and because their communal lifestyle rules out social distancing.

Bolsonaro vetoed 16 parts of the law on efforts to address the coronavirus threat to Brazil’s indigenous population, but still allowed for provisions on adequate testing, ambulance services and medical equipment.

“The vetoes deny the minimum necessary for the survival of these communities,” Brazilian indigenous advocacy group Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) said in a statement.

“The vetoes reveal that the president’s plan is not to have a plan,” it said.

ISA called on Congress to overturn the vetoes, which it can do with sufficient votes.…—”Brazil’s Bolsonaro vetoes plans to offer COVID-19 support to indigenous people,” Lisandra Paraguassu, Reuters, 7/8/20

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Camera snaps first ever glimpse
of a troop of the world’s rarest gorilla

This is the first time such a large group of Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli), including babies, has ever been photographed together, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an organization that works with local community members to actively protect these animals. Before this, there were only a few known images of the critically endangered subspecies, which came from camera traps in both Cameroon and Nigeria. These include pictures of an adult gorilla with a missing hand, likely from a snare injury, a lone silverback, as well as a mother gorilla carrying a single baby on her back.

“It is extremely exciting to see so many young Cross River gorillas — an encouraging indication that these gorillas are now well protected and reproducing successfully, after previous decades of hunting,” Inaoyom Imong, director of WCS Nigeria’s Cross River landscape, said in a statement. “While hunters in the region may no longer target gorillas, the threat of hunting remains, and we need to continue to improve the effectiveness of our protection efforts.”

Andrew Dunn, Nigeria country director for WCS, told Mongabay in an email that the gorillas looked to be in good health based on the video. “The best sign of good health is successful breeding,” he said, “animals that are stressed or disturbed by humans will often stop reproducing.”…—”Camera snaps first ever glimpse of a troop of the world’s rarest gorilla,” Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay, 7/10/20

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The Consultant: Why did a palm oil
conglomerate pay $22m
to an unnamed ‘expert’ in Papua?

Part 1: ‘Maybe they didn’t expect us to find it’

In April 2019, an Indonesian delegate stepped onto the stage at a conference hosted by Interpol, the international police organization, at its Singapore headquarters. Among the audience were dozens of law enforcement agents from across the world, there to learn about how white-collar crimes and corruption underpinned the ongoing destruction of the world’s rainforests.

Interpol’s interest in forest crime had been stimulated by the billions of dollars the World Bank had calculated developing countries were losing in tax revenues to the global trade in illicit timber every year. There was a growing recognition among enforcement agencies that the crime scene was not only in rainforests. It was also in the dark recesses of the global financial system, through which bribes were paid and profits laundered.

The delegate, from an Indonesian nonprofit, walked the audience through a “suspicious” $22 million payment made by a conglomerate, which she declined to identify in her presentation. In corporate filings, the transaction had been described as a “consultancy fee,” paid to an unnamed “expert” who had helped obtain the rights to develop a vast oil palm plantation in the Indonesian province of Papua.

It was a curious payment. In Indonesia, permits for plantations have no significant official costs, the delegate noted, as dozens of suited enforcement agents watched from the auditorium. But the government officials who preside over the sector have a notorious propensity for corruption.

In fact, the delegate said, the payment bore the hallmarks of a common ruse deployed in major transnational corruption schemes, in which sham consultants are used to channel millions of dollars to officials in exchange for contracts or permits. Was this “consultant” simply an “intermediary for bribes paid to Indonesian public officials?”

“Maybe they didn’t expect us to find it,” the delegate, who asked to remain anonymous, later told us. “I think they were being careless.”

The company in question was the Korindo Group, a privately owned conglomerate that has been logging Indonesia’s rainforests since the 1970s. The payment was made at a critical juncture as Korindo rapidly grew its operations in Papua. Between 2009 and 2014, through this deal and several other concessions for which it obtained licenses directly from the government, Korindo acquired the rights to an area of land in the province twice the size of Seoul, the South Korean capital.…—”The Consultant: Why did a palm oil conglomerate pay $22m to an unnamed ‘expert’ in Papua?” The Gecko Project and Mongabay, Mongabay, 6.25/20

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World’s biggest trade deal in trouble
over EU anger at Brazil deforestation

The European Union-Mercosur free trade agreement, finalized one year ago last June, faces growing opposition from European national governments, EU parliamentarians, and non-profit organizations, in addition to Latin American entities, putting its ratification at risk.

At the heart of this resistance: the EU’s strong dissatisfaction over Brazil’s destructive environmental policies and rapidly rising deforestation rate under President Jair Bolsonaro.

One of the biggest opponents of the trade agreement to date is the French government of Emmanuel Macron, whose party failed to triumph in municipal elections against the victorious Green Party on June 28, 2020. A day later, Macron suspended negotiations with the EU-Mercosur bloc. “[We will not make] any trade agreement with countries that do not respect the Paris Agreement,” said Macron, a clear reference to Bolsonaro and the Brazilian government.

The French president also urged the creation of the crime of ecocide, a crime against the environment, which should be judged by the International Criminal Court.…—”World’s biggest trade deal in trouble over EU anger at Brazil deforestation,” Jenny Gonzales, Mongabay, 7/6/20

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Leasing the Rain

LeasingTheRainThe world is running out of fresh water, and the fight to control it has begun.

In April of 2000, in the central plaza of the beautiful old Andean city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the body of Víctor Hugo Daza lay on a makeshift bier. Daza, a seventeen-year-old student, had been shot in the face by the Army during protests sparked by an increase in local water rates. These protests had been growing for months, and unrest had also erupted in other parts of the country. The national government had just declared martial law. In Cochabamba, a city of eight hundred thousand, the third largest in Bolivia, a good part of the population was now in the streets, battling police and soldiers in what people had started calling la guerra del agua—the Water War. Peasants from the nearby countryside manned barricades, sealing off all roads to the city. The protesters had captured the central plaza, where thousands milled around a tiled fountain and the catafalque of Víctor Daza. Some of their leaders had been arrested and taken to a remote prison in the Amazon; others were in hiding.

The chief demand of the water warriors, as they were called, was the removal of a private, foreign-led consortium that had taken over Cochabamba’s water system. For the Bolivian government, breaking with the consortium—which was dominated by the United States-based Bechtel Corporation—was unthinkable, politically and financially. Bolivia had signed a lucrative, long-term contract. Renouncing it would be a blow to the confidence of foreign investors in a region where national governments and economies depend on such confidence for their survival. (Argentina’s recent bankruptcy was caused in large part by a loss of credibility with international bankers.) The rebellion in Cochabamba was setting off loud alarms, particularly among the major corporations in the global water business. This business has been booming in recent years—Enron was a big player, before its collapse—largely because of the worldwide drive to privatize public utilities.

Further reading: Addressing a growing water crisis in Bolivia | Stockholm Environment Institute

For opponents of privatization, who believe that access to clean water is a human right, the Cochabamba Water War became an event of surpassing interest. There are many signs that other poor communities, especially in Third World cities, may start refusing to accept deals that put a foreign corporation’s hand on the neighborhood pump or the household tap. Indeed, water auctions may turn out to test the limits of the global privatization gold rush. And while the number of populists opposing water privatization seems effectively inexhaustible—the leaders of the Cochabamba rebellion included peasant farmers and an unassuming former shoemaker named Óscar Olivera—the same cannot be said of the world’s water supply. There was a great deal more than local water rates riding on the outcome of this strange, passionate clash in Bolivia.…—”Leasing the Rain,” William Finnegan, The New Yorker, 4/1/02

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Myanmar ponders what to do
with its out-of-work elephants

Captured in the wild in 1973, in the country then known as Burma, Thaung Sein Win has been ridden by various mahouts over the years, dragging thousands of freshly felled teak logs out of the forests. A 4,100-kilogram (4.5-ton) Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), he has lived through the rise of the Republic of Myanmar, the explosion of the logging industry, the fragmentation of Myanmar’s forests, and the poaching of his wild counterparts.

Now, as he enjoys a lavish retirement with a caretaker and veterinary check-ups, he’s living through a new era for Myanmar’s elephants: the looming end of logging work.

“This is a huge animal welfare crisis coming down the road,” says Peter Leimgruber, head of the Conservation Ecology Center at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Throughout the country, more than 2,000 privately owned elephants face an uncertain future following the decline of the logging industry. “It’s like a steam train coming down and no one’s going to stop it,” he says.

Thaung Sein Win is one of the lucky elephants because he is owned and cared for by an arm of the national government: the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), which owns more than 2,900 captive elephants. Several thousand more elephants, privately owned, used to receive contract work with the MTE, dragging logs from the muddy forests, but are now jobless and thus vulnerable to poachers and traders.…—”Myanmar ponders what to do with its out-of-work elephants,” Curtis Segarra, Mongabay, 7/5/20

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New Report Uncovers the Real Costs
of Outsourcing Public Services…

The call for outsourcing or contracting out of government services is often made through an appeal of cost savings to taxpayers. Since the Great Recession, state and local governments facing budget challenges are increasingly shifting the delivery of public services – from school bus drivers to accountants and trash haulers – to outside firms to save money. Yet the full extent of the social and economic consequences facing communities whose governments decide to outsource public services has not been examined.

Thankfully a new report released today, “The Decision to Contract Out: Understanding the Full Economic and Social Impacts,” shines a new light on these real costs. The study argues that governments should pursue broader analysis of contracting out, much like how cities and states have been requiring environmental impact studies ahead of major policy-making and financial decisions.

PrivatizingPublicServicesReport author, Daphne T. Greenwood, professor, Department of Economics, University of Colorado, explains that “there is a wealth of evidence that outsourcing public jobs often diminishes quality without substantial cost reduction.” But broader social and economic effects “are often forgotten when considering the cost effectiveness of a contract. Since local and state governments are major employers in many communities, their decisions about how to deliver services are important to economic development.”

The study, released by the Colorado Center for Policy Studies based at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and funded by Jobs With Justice Education Fund, found government outsourcing can lead to a host of negative consequences, including:

  • Reduced accountability and transparency in government services
  • Fewer whistle-blower protections
  • Frequent conflicts of interest and nepotism
  • Reduced worker wages and benefits, which leads to reduced spending in local communities as well as potential health and safety issues, fewer opportunities for middle-class jobs and upward mobility, lowered job standards and opportunities for women and people of color and increased use of public assistance
  • Varied cost savings, which often diminished over time
  • Frequent problems with quality of service delivery

To help leaders assess the full impacts of outsourcing decisions on their own communities, the report includes a guide for calculating the social and economic consequences to a state or community. Examples of statutes that address broader economic and social issues are also included.…—”New Report Uncovers the Real Costs of Outsourcing Public Services,” Erin Johansson, Jobs With Justice, 3/11/14

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The cold hard facts about America’s
private prison system

The United States has more prisoners per population than any country in the world. In fact, about 1 in every 110 U.S. adults is currently incarcerated and 1 in every 38 U.S. adults is under some form of correctional supervision. These are big numbers, and whenever there are large numbers of people, business comes calling.

The privatization of prisons in America can be traced back to before the Civil War when in 1852, a facility now known as San Quentin opened in Marin County on the San Francisco Bay. More recently, in the 1980s, the private prison industry began booming, fueled by the War on Drugs. As of 2016, about 19 percent of federal prisoners are held in private prisons.

Private prisons are a multibillion-dollar industry – and growing. Take for example CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the largest operator of private prisons in the U.S. In fewer than 20 years, it’s seen its revenue increase by more than 500 percent, from roughly $280 million in 2000, to $1.77 billion in 2017.

With the government paying private prison operators about $23,000 per year per inmate (keep in mind, the minimum wage is $15,000 per year), it’s a lucrative business. CoreCivic’s reported 2017 revenue was close to $1.8 billion, and a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that with 80,000 beds supported by the government to the tune of $23,000 per inmate per year, it’s collecting about $1.8 billion annually from the government. Business is booming indeed – thanks to the American taxpayers.

To boot, with most private prison contracts, if the prison beds aren’t full, the government has to pay for them anyway. For example, in 2011, Arizona paid Management and Training Corporation (MTC) $3 million when a 97 percent quota wasn’t met. (By the way, this payout came a year after three prisoners convicted of homicide escaped Kingman – an Arizona state prison run by MTC – after workers ignored alarms indicating a breach. The escaped prisoners murdered a retired Oklahoma couple before being apprehended.)

Not only are your tax dollars funding these private prison operators, but you might also be investing in them without even knowing it. As of 2016, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BNP and U.S. Bancorp, all played a role in bankrolling private prison companies. And I can see why. Including the three main private prison companies – CoreCivic, The GEO Group and MTC – the industry rakes in about $5 billion in revenue a year.

And a lot of that cash is used to make sure that business keeps booming.

The Sentencing Project found that from 1999-2010, CoreCivic spent on average $1.4 million per year on lobbying at the federal level, and employed over 70 lobbyists at the state level. In addition, the largest private prison companies are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a public policy organization that has developed model bills for state legislators to use when proposing “tough on crime” initiatives.

Further reading: Private Prisons Are the Problem, Not the Solution | American Civil Liberties Union

This means that private prison companies, which benefit from having more prisoners, inevitably influence legislation for longer sentences, like the 1994 “three-strikes law” which imposed a mandatory life sentence on anyone convicted of more than two serious crimes. Not surprisingly, between 1992 and 2003, the number of people serving life sentences increased by more than 80 percent.

Private prisons are certainly direct beneficiaries of more prisoners and longer sentences. But are they good for our society?…—”The cold hard facts about America’s private prison system,” Liberty Vittert, Fox News, 12/19/18

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Trump Admin Scraps Plans
To Reintroduce Grizzlies
To Northern Washington

The restoration effort, which the president’s first Interior chief supported, called for returning some 200 grizzly bears to the wilds of the North Cascades.

The Trump administration is terminating plans to reintroduce grizzly bears in the North Cascades region of northern Washington, citing concerns from cattle ranchers and other locals.

The move is the latest is a years-long fight over the prospect of returning the iconic apex predator to this part of its historic range. The plan, first launched by the Obama administration in 2015, called for eventually reintroducing some 200 grizzlies to ecosystem. There has not been a sighting of a grizzly in the U.S. portion of the Cascades since 1996, and it is estimated that fewer than 10 bears remain in the 9,800-square-mile ecosystem. It is considered the most imperiled grizzly population in North America.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the agency’s decision during a round-table in Omak, Washington. It will halt preparation of an environmental review related to the species restoration plan.…

Bernhardt’s predecessor, former Interior chief Ryan Zinke, had revived the Obama-era effort in March 2018, saying at the time that “restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades ecosystem is the American conservation ethic come to life” and its disappearance from the area “would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon.” His surprise support outraged local cattle ranchers who argue the existence of the animal (which is native to the region) would pose a devastating threat to their livelihood, as NPR reported.…—”Trump Admin Scraps Plans To Reintroduce Grizzlies To Northern Washington,” Chris D’Angelo, HuffPost, 7/8/20

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Yellowstone Grizzlies Win Reprieve
From Trophy Hunt as Court Restores
Endangered Species Protections

Grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho won’t be subject to a trophy hunt thanks to a federal court decision Wednesday upholding endangered species protections for these iconic animals.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 decision from the Montana District Court reinstating protections for Yellowstone area grizzly bears after the Trump administration stripped them of protections in 2017. Wyoming and Idaho then announced plans to hunt the animals for the first time in more than 40 years.

“This is a tremendous victory for all who cherish Yellowstone’s grizzly bears and for those who’ve worked to ensure they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) attorney Andrea Zaccardi said in a press release. “Grizzlies still have a long way to go before recovery. Hunting these beautiful animals around America’s most treasured national park should never again be an option.”

Further reading: The Importance Of Keystone Species | Frontier

GrizzlyBearsEcoWatchDonateCBD joined the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association in suing to reinstate protections for the bears. The plaintiffs were represented by Earthjustice, according to a press release.…—”Yellowstone Grizzlies Win Reprieve From Trophy Hunt as Court Restores Endangered Species Protections,” Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch, 7/9/20

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The sponge with the secret recipe:
A cancer-fighting chemical

Throughout the waters surrounding Indonesia, a porous tubular creature sits fixed onto coral reefs, its plain appearance hiding a potentially lifesaving secret.

Researchers recently found that this sponge produces a substance that could fight cancer and other lethal diseases, and they’ve proposed cultivating it to benefit Indonesia’s marine environment and economy.

Acanthostrongylophora ingens yields a molecule called manzamine A, which counters cervical cancer cells in the lab, according to a paper published in the Journal of Natural Products.

Although Pap smears and human papillomavirus vaccines have lowered this type of cancer’s occurrence over the years, it remains the fourth most common in women, with roughly 14,000 diagnoses and more than 4,000 deaths projected in the U.S. alone for 2020 by the American Cancer Society. Manzamine A, which comes from bacteria living in a mutually beneficial relationship with the sponge, has huge implications for stopping this killer because it could restrain aggressive tumors without damaging healthy cells, according to the paper.

“It prevents cell replication rather than killing the cell outright, leading to immediate impacts on tumor growth, and then other drugs are useful for killing remaining tumor cells, or they may die on their own,” said Mark Hamann, a professor with the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences and corresponding author on the study.…—”The sponge with the secret recipe: A cancer-fighting chemical,” Julia John, Mongabay, 7/8/20

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