Calling it "a model for working together to make decisions about our energy future," Department of Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne yesterday unveiled the agency's plan to open 190 million federally-managed acres to geothermal energy development. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest System, the land sprawls across 12 Western states and represents 90 percent of the country's geothermal resources. The initiative could increase geothermal electrical capacity by a factor of 10.
Kempthorne said the plan, called the Final Geothermal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, "benefited greatly from the involvement of both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders," including states, local communities, industry and environmental groups.
About half the current production of geothermally-produced electricity in the U.S. -- some 16,000 gigawatt-hours generated in 2005 -- comes from federal lands. Twenty-nine geothermal power plans now operate on BLM lands in California, Nevada, and Utah with a total capacity of 1,250 megawatts -- enough to power more than 1 million homes.
Under the new PEIS, lands already withdrawn or closed to geothermal leasing will continue to be off limits. The National Park system, including Yellowstone, are unavailable for leasing. The PEIS also excludes wilderness areas and wilderness study areas, and allows the BLM discretion in closing Areas of Environmental Concern and parts of the National Landscape Conservation System.
The final version of the plan can be viewed in the Federal Register starting on Friday, October 24.
For more information on geothermal energy in the West, see HCN's story, Power from the underground.
Ray Ring's story on Rexburg, Idaho and how the Mormon Church is throwing huge amounts of money into the campaign to pass the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California is fast on its way to becoming the most commented-upon article in the history of hcn.org. Meanwhile, Proposition 8 is fast on its way to becoming either the biggest defeat -- or the biggest victory -- for marriage equality in the short history of the marriage-rights movement. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com has this run-down of the latest polls on Prop 8.
Silver puts the chance of gay marriage surviving this challenge as at best 55%. The message to all our California readers who care about these sorts of things: talk to your friends about Prop 8 and the other important ballot questions going before California voters this year, which you can learn about via HCN's politics map. And do the obvious: get out and vote.
I first heard of the concept of Crypto-Jews back when I was a college student in Santa Fe during the late 1980s. New Mexico Hispanos had noticed their supposedly Catholic neighbors and relatives engaging in rituals that, it turned out, resembled Jewish religious practices. Some scholars -- most notably Stanley Hordes, who was New Mexico's state historian in the early 1980s -- posited that these Jewish rituals had been handed down through generation after generation. Their origins, he said, were Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition, and ended up in the New World. In other words, the strong Catholicism of northern New Mexico was spiced with people of Jewish descent who continued, to a degree, to practice Jewish customs.
I loved the story.
Read More ...
Fields here are draped over hillsides and wrapped around sandstone canyons like brown and green quilts. Farm machinery rolls along county two-lanes, filling them from shoulder to shoulder. Houses of the hunker-down school of architecture sit here and there, each surrounded by a scruff of thirsty trees.
This is Dove Creek, Colorado, the Pinto Bean Capital of the World. The tourism and recreation and amenity-migrant boom that has infected much of Colorado zoomed right past Dove Creek on its way to Telluride, Moab, and Durango – all within a couple hours’ drive. The median home price hovers under $100,000. On average, families here make about $14,000 less per year than the rest of the country; more folks are veterans than college grads; and dry bean farming is the number one industry.
But Dove Creek is poised to get a boost from the global economy.
Read More ...
For a lifelong Coloradan, this has been a strange election year. We're a "swing state" where the polls are close in the presidentail race, and that's a novelty. In the past 60 years, the Democratic candidate has carried Colorado only three times: Harry Truman in 1948, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Bill Clinton in 1992.
It's easy to joke that we were meant to be a "red state" because, after all, Colorado means "red" in Spanish.
Our regional issues may not be getting a lot of attention, but the national media are paying a lot of attention to Colorado, though it's generally focused on the suburban counties around Denver.
So it was something of a surprise to find that the New York Times had visited my remote backwater, and on Oct. 15 published this article.
And I confess, it's an angle I hadn't considered, which apparently makes me a rather typical resident of the headwaters valley of the Arkansas River.
Like much of the country and all of the media, HCN is focused on the upcoming election. One of the ways we're feeding our obsession is by surfing the web, seeking out new tidbits, poll numbers, and punditry. To help you navigate the political world from the base of our Winning the West page, you can now widget your way to some of our favorites: Politico.com, electoral-vote.com, and OpenSecrets.org. Check it out!
Seven months ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Oregon off the endangered species list, marking the end of 34 years of protection. In July U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy issued an injunction against killing wolves in the region after conservationists filed suit, saying it was too early to delist the wolves. Yesterday, Molloy officially restored the wolf's endangered status.
The judge cited three reasons for his decision: wolves haven't established necessary genetic diversity to be viable; the Wyoming law that allowed unregulated shooting of the wolves was inadequate; and the population of 1200-1500 wolves is not big enough to ensure the species' survival.
Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs said the agency would reapply for delisting "within four to five months" after revamping its proposal. But Doug Honnold of Earthjustice, a lawyer representing the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and 10 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the issue would be back in court if "they are hellbent on delisting and just trying to paper over those major flaws" in the proposal.
Ranchers in Wyoming will retain the right to shoot wolves that are attacking livestock or dogs, and state agencies can still kill packs of wolves if they are damaging herds of elk or moose.
The federal government has spent more than $27 million on wolf recovery efforts in the Northern Rockies.
For more about the gray wolf, see HCN's video exploration of the topic, Still Howling Wolf.
On Oct. 10, the Bureau of Land Management proposed a rule change that will make it harder for the Department of Interior secretaries and Congress to protect public lands through an “emergency withdrawal.”
In June, the House Natural Resources Committee used the rule that the BLM is attempting to change when it called for an emergency withdrawal of land near the Grand Canyon from uranium exploration. On Sept. 29, environmental groups filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, alleging that he violated federal law when he ignored the congressional mandate. The rule change would prohibit future congressional emergency interventions, and it would let the Interior secretary off the hook for failing to act on the mandate. In the immediate future, this could stymie efforts to slow or halt uranium exploration on about one million acres of public lands near the Grand Canyon.
The BLM opted for just a 15 day public comment period on the proposed change. This is one more in a long list of policies, plans and changes that federal agencies are rushing through during Bush's final days in office, furthering opening the door for rampant energy and resource development.
Oil companies have bought influence in Washington and used that influence to make life easier for themselves and harder for their competitors. This may be a controversial statement, but it's not an unfounded one, given the amount of money the oil industry pours into politics and the regularity with which it gets its way in policy debates. It certainly has more basis in reality than the claims of your average political attack ad.
But it's apparently a claim that's too unfounded and controversial to make in an advertisement on ABC. That -- well, that plus a bizarre concern about using an image of the U.S. Capitol -- is why the TV network refused to air this ad, which the We campaign wanted to run during the September 26 episode of 20/20.
The Bush administration just won't quit trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Big rewrites require Congressional approval, so instead they're quietly revising the regulations that implement the act.
In August, the administration proposed letting federal agencies decide for themselves if, say, a new dam or highway would harm any endangered or threatened species, rather than requiring the agencies to take advice from federal wildlife biologists. And, in the wake of the polar bear listing, the proposal also contained provisions to ensure that climate change effects don't have to be considered (hey, it's bad for business).
Now, leaked government documents from PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, show how administration officials are rushing to ensure that enviros won't again succeed in using the Endangered Species Act to help address global warming.
Read More ...