The Banner, Vol. 6, No. 32 – Earth & Soil

September 22, 2020
In the midst of crises beyond counting, we return to focus on how mismanagement and degradation of soils contribute to and signal further climate change.
But first the news.

In Memoriam

Table of Contents

Viewing this email on a mobile phone and finding the links don’t work?
For a better experience go to our online edition at thebanner.news

NY & Northeast Activist News

National Activist News

Edition Earth & Soil

Indigenous Peoples News

Intersections

Resilience & Deep Adaptation

Industry News

And Now for Something Completely Different


25th Annual National Solar Tour

Climate Change Awareness & Action is taking part in the 25th Annual National Solar Tour from Sept. 28th to Oct 4. The National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots renewable energy event in the nation.

Hundreds of people across the nation will show off their solar homes and businesses. During this week, you will have a chance to ask solar owners questions, and participate in a nationwide virtual solar experience. You’ll also hear from national leaders in the solar and electric vehicle fields, solar businesses, solar schools, and from community organizations advocating for solar and energy equity.

Whether you own your home or rent, can’t afford to pay for a solar system up front or don’t want to – if you want to reduce your electric bill and help the next generation avoid catastrophic climate change this event is for you.

Hear from three Central New Yorkers how they are saving money, contributing to the transition away from fossil fuels and addressing climate change. Look for our tour on an interactive map when you RSVP <www.nationalsolartour.org/rsvp2020>.

Our tour will highlight residential and community solar and explain how you can incorporate solar PV with technologies, such as highly efficient electric heat pumps, so you not only save money and produce your own electricity, but also reduce your natural gas consumption and improve air quality in your home.

Community solar is ideal for individuals who own or rent who can’t afford or don’t want to put any money down up front or don’t have a site suitable for solar.

This “online, virtual tour” will go live Sept. 28th and run through Oct. 4th.

The Tour is free and open to the public –

But please RSVP to NationalSolarTour2020 to view all the tours and the programming calendar* for the week..

Climate Change Awareness and Action, www.climatechange-action.com is a local organization of 2,000 individuals concerned about climate change.

Program calendar

Sept. 28 -Monday: Electric Vehicles
Sept. 29 -Tuesday: Solar Homeowner Day
Sept. 30 – Wednesday: Solar Businesses
Oct. 1 – Thursday: Solar Schools
Oct. 2 – Friday: Community Building through Solar
Oct. 3 & 4 – Saturday & Sunday: Virtual Solar Tours

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2020 Virtual People’s Hearing
on FERC’s Abuses of Power & Law

September 23 10AM-4PM ET

PeoplesHearingFERC

Join us to hear people from across America testify to the abuses the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is inflicting on their communities in the course of reviewing interstate natural gas pipeline, compressor and LNG projects. The VOICES coalition (Victory Over InFRACKstructure, Clean Energy, inStead) is organizing a Virtual People’s Hearing as part of our campaign to urge Congress to make much-needed reforms at FERC.

Hear the stories of experts, advocates & people directly impacted by FERC’s actions, including granting pipeline companies the power of eminent domain for private gain, using tolling orders to keep pipeline opponents in legal limbo, and refusing to take into consideration the climate impacts of the shale gas infrastructure projects they approve.

Register to receive the Zoom link at RegisterVirtualHearing

Share on Facebook: We’ll also livestream the hearing on the Facebook on the Stop the Pipelines Facebook page. Please share the video, and invite your friends to join you in viewing the hearing through Facebook Watch Party.

Invite your U.S. Senators and Representatives to hear people from across America testify to the abuses of FERC. You can send a quick invitation to your legislators using our Action Network letter

Tag your representative on Facebook and twitter. Before and during the People’s Hearing, and encourage them to tune in to the hearing.

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Tell the Truth

Extinction Rebellion DC targets Washington Post and CNN with Tell the Truth Campaign

The climate and ecological emergency is here. Mass extinction is well underway. People are suffering and dying. One million species are on the brink of extinction. Starvation, war and pestilence are coming. The breakdown of society is now a very real possibility. Our children are not safe.

If this were a war we’d be reading about the crisis Every. Single. Day. This is the biggest story in human history and yet, according to Yale polling, 53 percent of the people in this country do not hear about the biggest emergency facing humanity. Only one in 10 Americans feel “very well informed” about an existential threat.

That means outlets like CNN and The Washington Post are failing the American public because they are failing to tell the truth about the scale of the emergency. Public pressure on governments can bring about tremendous change. But before people can act, they need to be well-informed. Our news media is failing to inform the public about the nature and severity of the climate and ecological emergency.…—”Tell the Truth,” Extinction Rebellion DC, 9/22/20

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Groups challenge FERC’s PURPA rule, accuse commission
of ‘actively discouraging’ small power facilities

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) filed a petition for review on Friday against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming its July final rule on the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) discourages small solar development, particularly in western, non-competitive markets.

SEIA’s request, filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, follows FERC’s denial of several entities’ requests for rehearing. FERC denied the requests on Thursday, but said in its order it “may modify or set aside” aspects of the order, meaning that it may later provide some explanation or changes based on issues raised in the rehearing requests.

PURPA was passed in 1978 in an effort to encourage domestic energy production and reduce overall energy demand. The law in part calls for FERC to implement regulations that encourage the development of QFs, often small power generators, but the Electric Power Supply Association, SEIA and others argue FERC’s latest ruling defies the federal law by granting states the ability to eliminate provisions that have been proven to help encourage QF deployment and development.

“In revoking the long-standing regulations that provide the Qualifying Facility with the right to elect to be paid a long-term energy rate in a contract for long-term energy delivery the Commission is actively discouraging the development of Qualifying Facilities in contravention of the statutory direction to encourage the development of such facilities,” SEIA wrote in its request for rehearing.…—”Groups challenge FERC’s PURPA rule, accuse commission of ‘actively discouraging’ small power facilities,” Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive, 9/21/20

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Earth & Soil

Bringing Back the American Serengeti

It turns out you don’t need time travel. Sure, reach back to that rich history for inspiration and to guard against a shifting baseline, where we settle for less than what use to be. But, in the southern Great Plains right now, we can protect an amazing array of uniquely North American wildlife through the establishment of private wildlife refuges. Just buy the land under the critters’ feet. Use the free market and private property rights to advance permanent, tangible conservation. The opportunity is immense, given that the region has seen declining human populations since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, much of the habitat remains intact, and land prices are low.

AmericanSerengetiThe shortgrass prairies of the southern Great Plains provide, in some senses, a step back in time. The sheer extent of sweeping, intact grasslands embodies outstanding scenic and conservation values. The gently rolling landscape challenges the notion of a flat and empty land: its relief can hide a herd of pronghorn or an oasis of grandmother cottonwood trees. Where the swells lessen, you might encounter a lively, bustling prairie dog town. Prairie dogs are the MVPs of the shortgrass prairie, creating habitat for hundreds of wildlife species. Just follow the hawks and badgers: they’ll show you the prairie dog colony hotspots.

I think of the prairie as a place that breaks your heart one moment and makes it sing the next. There’s a melancholy here, and I think it’s because we all know, deep down, how much we’ve lost. Yet, the celebration is in what remains and the promise of returning the whole. Much of the region has never been plowed, and most of the animal species assemblage persists or might feasibly be reintroduced. The coyote provides a defiant reminder of the enduring wild spirit of this place.…—”Bringing Back the American Serengeti,” Nicole Rosmarino, Rewilding

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Doubling Down on Deforestation

DefundDeforestationNow

Sacrificing forests for burgers, bath soaps, and body butter

In 2010, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a consortium of the world’s largest retail companies, made a big promise. The CGF, which includes globally recognized brands such as Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Mondelez, and Unilever, committed to achieving zero-net deforestation in its members’ supply chains by 2020. The commitment highlighted the need for “specific, time-bound, and cost-effective action plans for the different challenges in sourcing commodities like palm oil, soya, beef, paper and board in a sustainable fashion.”Attention from the CGF has driven action by some companies and helped shine a spotlight on the global deforestation crisis, but it has not come close to achieving its goals or solving the problem. Unfortunately, at the end of 2020, CGF companies will have failed to meet their deadline, as deforestation driven by industrial agricultural commodities has continued at an alarming pace.

Further reading Full Report: Doubling Down on Deforestation, PDF
Executive Summary, PDF

From 2014 to 2019, global tree cover loss increased by a disturbing 43%.iii An area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom has been lost every year between 2014 and 2018.iv Annual CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation now equal the annual emissions from the European Union. In the words of the platform of the New York Declaration on Forests in its 2019 assessment of industry progress on deforestation, “Forestlands continue to be converted to other commercial land uses, indicating that the short-term profits of forest conversion still trump the long-term benefits of forest conservation and restoration in many land-use decisions.”

FriendsOfTheEarthDONATECGF member companies bear a sizable share of the responsibility for this crisis, and they have been called to task by dozens of civil society groups.vi But CGF member companies are not solely to blame. They are implicitly encouraged by weak legal and regulatory frameworks, subject to lax enforcement, and empowered by their financiers and shareholders to continue their destructive course. The failure of voluntary corporate initiatives to halt the global deforestation crisis reveals a need for greater regulation by governments and for a greater level of responsibility to be taken by the financial services industry.…—”Doubling Down on Deforestation [from the Executive Summary],” Jeff Conant, Gaurav Madan, Friends of the Earth, September, 2020

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Holistic management – a critical review
of Allan Savory’s grazing method

AllenSavoryVid

[Editor’s note: This article is a classic example of a proponent of scientific method’s presumptuousness. The scientific method is not the only way, or even the best way, to organize knowledge and response. Anyone alive encounters the need for other ways of assessing and acting on matters daily. We commonly use at least two unscientific methods to attain knowledge: direct experience, and empirical method. There is a third method we use, one that is not very well described anywhere, called ‘heuristic.’ The term comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘find.’ In this article, the writer is addressing Allan Savory’s use of the heuristic method for developing a system of cattle grazing to deal with desertification. In response, the author claims that Savory has not been scientific, meaning he has presented no numerical basis for his assessments nor demonstrated that his method is “generalisable across diverse grassland ecosystems” (a miserably crazy demand, given the individuality of all ecosystems) for his results. That his method is reproducible counts for nothing, lacking proof of a general theory with a numerical basis.

Is the article worth considering? Is Savory’s TED talk worth considering? To this editor’s mind, yes on both counts. First as an example of the limits of scientific method, and secondly as an introduction to Allan Savory’s heuristic methods, which mirror efforts that owe nothing in particular to Savory, other than the understanding that can be gained out in one’s fields, experientialy, not experimentally. Is Allan Savory correct? How is one to say who hasn’t any herds and wild pasture to try his methods with? But his is an interesting study.]

In a 2013 TED talk entitled ‘How to fight desertification and reverse climate change’ the Zimbabwean ecologist, Allan Savory, claimed that the ‘holistic management’ grazing management method that he has developed and promoted over 40 years, could stop global desertification and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to preindustrial levels, within a few decades.

The talk has been seen by 3.6 million viewers to date, and has resulted in considerable attention worldwide, especially within the grass-fed livestock industry. The theory underpinning this claim, put forth by Savory, is that holistically managed grazing systems leads to increases in grassland plant productivity in concert with the the soil’s ability to infiltrate and retain water. This increased pasture plant growth in turn leads to more carbon from the atmosphere being sequestered into the soil, while also stopping land degradation and improving profitability for herders, by allowing greater stocking rates.

These bold claims have drawn considerable criticism from researchers studying grasslands and agricultural systems, among others, on that basis that they are based primarily on anecdote and selective examples, and are not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence of a systematic or experimental nature. In response, Savory states that scientists, to date, have not made any effort to study anything he has written or said. In order to clarify the evidence base, this report, provides a timely and critical review of the the scientific support for the claimed effects of holistic grazing and management.

Holistic management can be described as a grazing management method based on planned rotational grazing that ’mimics nature’ with the aim of sequestering carbon and water in soils and thus increase pasture productivity. Holistic management at a meta-level is a framework for decision-making and a planning tool applied primarily to grazing systems. It is based on comprehensive goal-setting, focused on the kind of life pastoralists wish to have. Holistic management aims to use locally available resources to reach set goals by continuous monitoring and adjusting operations. Holistic grazing practised within holistic management is thus an adaptive and flexible grazing management approach. Hence it can take many forms, depending on what each individual herder wants to achieve, climate conditions and the availability of local resources. This, however, makes it hard to test experimentally, in a way that is generalisable across diverse grassland ecosystems.…—”Holistic management – a critical review, of Allan Savory’s grazing method,” Maria Nordborg, Food Climate Research Network, June, 2016

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Rieli Franciscato died protecting
isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon

Rieli Franciscato, one of the most experienced field men of the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (FUNAI, a federal agency to protect Indigenous peoples), died a few days ago with an arrow through his heart. This arrow was shot by an “isolated Indigenous” man, at the edge of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory in Rondonia, precisely by one of those to whom he gave his life to protect. These Indigenous peoples in isolation have remained out of contact with the world we know, fleeing — it is believed — from slavery and massacres committed during the rubber boom times (at the beginning of the 20th century). That is, escaping from the white man.

Personally, this news also hit me through the heart. I traveled in the Amazon with Rieli several years ago, in the company of the former president of FUNAI, the mythical ‘isolated tribes’ guru Sydney Possuelo. Together, we spent several days at one of the checkpoints on the Ituí River, on the edge of the Vale do Javarí Indigenous Land in the Brazilian Amazon. I accompanied them on an emergency mission to establish a relationship with the Korubo people, the beginning of a “controlled contact”, to prevent further killings by illegal loggers or others seeking to settle on those lands. That is the only circumstance in which FUNAI allows a contact.

When we made that contact, under all the health and safety protocols, it was sad and curious to realize that there were no elderly people in that population. Upon taking X-rays, the men had lead gun pellets embedded in their bodies. It was then presumed that the ‘elders’ fell prey to the invaders. Apart from doctors, in that mission we were also accompanied by Indigenous people of another ethnic group somewhat related to the Korubos, the Matís (called the “jaguar people”), who in their languages have some mutual understanding.

The Matís, already experienced with the white man, also served us as masters of protocol. Less than a year before, in the first attempts to contact this tribe, another official, Raimundo “Sebral” Batista Magalhães, died of an unexpected and sudden blow to the head, presumably due to an unaccepted gesture. He too was in the hands of those who, as in the case of Rieli, he wanted to protect. When I asked Rieli why we carried shotguns on this mission, the answer was clear, “rather die, than shoot them.” They were only for deterrent shots in the air. That answer remained in my head to this day. I imagine that Rieli and his companions fulfilled that mandate in his last moment.…—”Rieli Franciscato died protecting isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon,” Enrique Ortiz, Mongabay, 9/18/20

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Chevron Is Refusing to Pay for the “Amazon Chernobyl”

The lawyer challenging the oil company’s toxic waste dump in Ecuador is under house arrest. We need a boycott.

At a time when so many black Americans, Indigenous peoples, people of color, and white allies are protesting at systemic racism, we’d like to highlight a different story of marginalized people speaking truth to power on behalf of their most basic human rights. It’s the story of how “big oil” is now using Harvey Weinstein-like destroy-the-accuser tactics to try to crush environmental defenders. It is also the story of how we can all help those defenders peacefully fight back.

In 2001, Chevron acquired Texaco, including all of its assets and civil liabilities. One of those liabilities was the “Amazon Chernobyl,” a 1,700-square-mile environmental disaster in Ecuador that Texaco created through a disregard – and an attitude that local Indigenous groups have called racism – for the health of the region’s peoples. Texaco, the sole operator of the fields from 1964 to 1992, eventually admitted that it deliberately discharged 72 billion liters of toxic water into the environment, which ended up in the water supply, and gouged 1,000 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor. According to several Indigenous witnesses, including Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Ecuadorian Secoya people, the company actually claimed that the oil wastes were medicinal and “full of vitamins.”

Studies have shown thousands of excess cases of cancer deaths and other health problems in the region.

Chevron insists that Texaco is only responsible for a portion of the damage, has “already cleaned up its share” and attributes any remaining pollution to Ecuador’s state-owned national oil company. The government of Ecuador has been clear, in turn, that Chevron is liable for all of the damage.

Originally, Texaco attempted to walk away with impunity, but a coalition of Indigenous peoples and local communities sued Texaco in New York, where the company was based. They got support from a small group of American and Ecuadorian human rights lawyers. The eventual leader of the legal team was Steven Donziger, an attorney we’ve come to know and respect.

AmazonWatchDonageSomehow, David beat Goliath. After 18 years of court battles, the coalition won $9.5 billion in damages, based largely on the results of 54 independent judicial site inspections. In all, more than a dozen judges in Ecuador (where Chevron insisted the trial be held) have validated the judgment. In addition, three appellate courts in Canada (where Ecuadorians launched a collective action), including the country’s supreme court, have ruled the Ecuadorians have a right to try to enforce their judgment.…—”Chevron Is Refusing to Pay for the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’,” Alec Baldwin, Paul Paz Y Miño, Amazon Watch, 9/17/20

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Asphalt adds to air pollution, especially on hot, sunny days

Asphalt is a near-ubiquitous substance — it’s found in roads, on roofs and in driveways — but its chemical emissions rarely figure into urban air quality management plans. A new study finds that asphalt is a significant source of air pollutants in urban areas, especially on hot and sunny days.

Yale researchers observed that common road and roofing asphalts produced complex mixtures of organic compounds, including hazardous pollutants, in a range of typical temperature and solar conditions. The results of their work, from the lab of Drew Gentner, associate professor of chemical & environmental engineering, appear Sept. 2 in the journal Science Advances.

Decades of research about and regulations of emissions from motor vehicles and other combustion-related sources have resulted in improved urban air quality. But recent studies show that as those efforts succeeded, numerous non-combustion-related sources have become important contributors of organic compounds. These can lead to secondary organic aerosol (SOA), a major contributor of PM2.5 — an important regulated air pollutant comprising particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter — that have significant effects on public health.…—”Asphalt adds to air pollution, especially on hot, sunny days,” William Weir, Yale News, 9/2/20

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Great ape ‘forest gardeners of Africa’ benefit
from conservation victory

We welcome to the program Ekwoge Abwe, head of the Ebo Forest Research Project in Cameroon. Abwe tells us the story of how he became the first scientist to discover Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees using tools to crack open nuts and discusses ongoing efforts to safeguard Ebo Forest against the threats of oil palm expansion and logging.

GreatApeForestersThe Cameroon government recently announced and then suspended plans to create a logging concession in Ebo Forest, which, in addition to tool-wielding chimpanzees, is also home to a small group of gorillas that were only discovered in 2002 and first caught on film in 2016.

We also speak with Alex Chepstow-Lusty, an associate researcher at Cambridge University who is here to tell us about how chimpanzees were among the seed-dispersing species that helped Africa’s rainforests regenerate after they collapsed some 2,500 years ago, and why that makes chimps important to the health of forests today and in the future, as well.…—”Podcast: Great ape ‘forest gardeners of Africa’ benefit from conservation victory,” Mike Gaworecki, Mongabay, 9/16/20

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The remarkable floating gardens of Bangladesh

In the lowlands of Bangladesh, people are turning to a centuries-old form of hydroponics to keep afloat.

In the lowlands of Bangladesh, people are turning to a centuries-old form of hydroponics to keep afloat.

Ripening squash, bitter gourd and okra loom over a mass of water hyacinth. Birds fly low over the surface of the water. Bijoy Kumar, a farmer in the low-lying Gopalganj district of Bangladesh, stands knee deep in water, tending to his plants. He and his family could not escape the rising waters in the volatile monsoons – so they abandoned the traditional rice crop. He turned instead to an eco-friendly practice that had been used by his ancestors in the southern flood plains, a traditional form of hydroponics, called floating vegetable gardens.

Bangladesh, by the fact it was formed by the alluvial plains of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river systems, is prone to floods and water-logging. Fierce monsoons, Himalayan snow melt and severe cyclones exacerbate the problem for the country. Two-thirds of Bangladesh is wetland, criss-crossed by highly sedimented rivers that frequently change their course. Vast swathes of land in the country are under water for as much as eight months in a year, while seawater intrusion also makes much coastal land useless for growing crops.

This has made a great difference to my life. Now I have enough food in the floods – Bijoy Kumar

And yet agriculture is one of the most important contributors to the country’s GDP. Bangladesh is also one of the world’s poorest countries, where 48% of the 160-million-strong population is landless. The number of people displaced from their homes in Bangladesh because of climate change is predicted to rise to one in seven of the population by 2050. Some farmers are giving up agriculture and looking for alternative ways to make a living, while others find work at clothing factories or moving to farm shrimp.

But in one part of south-central Bangladesh, for 300-400 years, people have been following an age-old traditional method of cultivation called dhap, or known locally as baira. These are floating vegetable gardens – artificial islands, that simply rise and fall with the swelling waters. Now farmers are reviving this old practice to reduce their vulnerability due to climate change.…—”The remarkable floating gardens of Bangladesh,” Kalpana Sunder, BBC|Future, 9/10/20

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Colorado oil, gas industry ramps up opposition to bigger buffers for fracking sites

Lauren Petrie, of Food & Water Watch, holds up a photo of a fracking site near a playground and wears a mask to show opposition to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission board members during a public comment session on Oct. 30, 2017 in Denver. The commission was considering proposed well sites in Broomfield.

The oil and gas industry’s opposition to proposed 2,000-foot well setbacks is heating up, prompting more than 180 companies to send a letter Friday to Gov. Jared Polis that said the rule’s impacts would undermine the industry’s economic recovery.

The leaders of two of the state’s largest industry associations held a news briefing during which they said the proposal by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is driven by politics instead of data, science and facts and, if approved, will significantly limit where companies can drill.

“What we’ve said from the beginning is that what we really sorely need for this industry in Colorado is some clarity and some certainty, and we feel at this point neither of those has been achieved,” said Lynn Granger, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute-Colorado.

Granger and Dan Haley, CEO and executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said their organizations have spent “hundreds of hours” talking to regulators and other interest groups to try to find solutions.…

The proposal on setbacks is just one of several being considered by the COGCC as it implements Senate Bill 181, a 2019 law that mandates revamping regulations to prioritize public health, safety and the environment. However, setbacks, or how far well sites must be from homes and schools, have become a flashpoint as drilling has increased and moved closer to populated areas.…—”Colorado oil, gas industry ramps up opposition to bigger buffers for fracking sites,” Judith Kohler, Denver Post, 9/19/20

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Nuclear industry has been pushing for less oversight,
and it’s working

Fewer mock commando raids to test nuclear power plants’ defenses against terrorist attacks. Fewer, smaller government inspections for plant safety issues. Less notice to the public and to state governors when problems arise.

They’re part of the money-saving rollbacks sought by the country’s nuclear industry under President Trump and already approved or pending approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, largely with little input from the general public.

The nuclear power industry says the safety culture in the U.S. nuclear industry — 40 years after a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania — is “exceptional” and merits the easing of government inspections.

Maria Korsnick, president of the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, said she welcomed changes in NRC plant oversight “to ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.”

Opponents say the changes are bringing the administration’s business-friendly, rule-cutting mission to an industry — nuclear reactors — in which the stakes are too high to cut corners.

While many of the regulatory rollbacks happening at other agencies under the current administration may be concerning, “there aren’t many that come with the existential risks of a nuclear reactor having a malfunction,” said Geoff Fettus, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council on nuclear issues.…

The country’s nuclear regulators were looking at “far-reaching changes to the NRC’s regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki.…

 

In general, according to attendance logs, the rollbacks are being hashed out at meetings attended almost solely by commission staffers and nuclear industry representatives. Occasionally, a single reporter or representative for private groups monitoring or opposing nuclear power is shown as attending.

U.S. nuclear plant operators have seen their operating costs rise as the country’s nuclear plants age. Competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources is increasing marketplace pressure on nuclear power providers, making the financial costs of complying with regulation ever more of an issue.…

In January, in one of the comparatively few widely reported changes, commissioners rejected staff recommendations for making nuclear plants harden themselves against natural disasters on the scale of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns at three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

New recommendations by staff made public Tuesday would cut the time and scope of annual plant inspections. They also would change how the commission flags safety issues at plants for the public and for local and state officials.

Some of the changes would be subject to a vote by commissioners.

Greg Halnon, an official at Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., was one of those complaining at an industry trade meeting this spring about the news media putting “out a headline on the webpage to the world” whenever the regulatory commission released notices of nuclear safety issues.

Some rollbacks pushed by the industry have been rejected by the commission’s staff. Others are still under consideration, including one that would further cut inspections by regulators and allow more self-inspections overseen by plant operators.

This week’s staff recommendations for rollbacks in government oversight are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Lyman said.…—”Nuclear industry has been pushing for less oversight, and it’s working,” Ellen Knickmeyer, Los Angeles Times, 7/17/19

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Oil Companies Are Profiting From Illegal Spills.
And California Lets Them.

In May 2019, workers in California’s Central Valley struggled to seal a broken oil well. It was one of thousands of aging wells that crowd the dusty foothills three hours from the coast, where Chevron and other companies inject steam at high pressure to loosen up heavy crude. Suddenly, oil shot out of the bare ground nearby.

Chevron corralled the oil in a dry stream bed, and within days the flow petered out. But it resumed with a vengeance a month later. By July, a sticky, shimmering stream of crude and brine oozed through the steep ravine.

Workers and wildlife rescuers couldn’t immediately approach the site — it was 400 degrees underground, and if the earth exploded or gave way, they might be scalded or drown in boiling fluids. Dizzying, potentially toxic fumes filled the scorching summer air. Lights strobed through the night and propane cannons fired to ward off rare burrowing owls, tiny San Joaquin kit foxes, antelope squirrels and other wildlife.

Over four months, more than 1.2 million gallons of oil and wastewater ran down the gully.

California had declared these dangerous inland spills illegal that spring. They are known as “surface expressions,” and the Cymric field was a hot spot. Half a dozen spills and a massive well blowout had occurred there since 1999.…—”Oil Companies Are Profiting From Illegal Spills. And California Lets Them.” Janet Wilson, Lylla Younes, ProPublica|The Desert Sun, 9/18/20

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Meet the güiña—a six-pound ‘mystery cat’ vulnerable to extinction

Tiptoeing through scrubby woodlands and fern-rich rainforests in Chile and a sliver of Argentina is a tiny feline called the güiña.

Half the size of a house cat, with a bottlebrush tail and a cartoon-cute face striped with black, the güiña holds the record for smallest wildcat in the Americas. Its petite stature—just under six pounds—combined with its extreme shyness and scientific obscurity means most people don’t even know it exists.

Until now.

The güiña, named Pikumche, marks the 10,000th animal in National Geographic’s Photo Ark, a quest by photographer Joel Sartore to document every species living in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around the world.

As with most of the planet’s 33 small wildcat species, the güiña, whose spotted fur ranges in hue from silver to russet, is “very much a mystery cat. They live in the shadows,” Sartore says. (Read more about little-known small wildcats.)…—”Meet the güiña—the little ‘mystery’ cat that marks a big milestone,” Christine Dell’amore, National Geographic, 5/26/20

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