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The fight over cap and trade

Marty Durlin | Dec 09, 2009 03:55 AM

The carbon emissions trading scheme known as cap-and-trade is on the global table as the United Nations Climate Change conference gets underway this week in Copenhagen.  Cap-and-trade is also a feature of the Waxman-Markey bill currently being reshaped by the U.S. Senate after passage in the House in June. Hailed by supporters as "an important first step" and "better than nothing" in the fight against global warming, cap-and-trade has become a bit of a hot potato in the green community.

Environmental justice groups and many climate activists hate the concept, not only because it allows coal-fired plants to continue to operate, but because it is an invitation to fraud -- many believe cap-and-trade will allow companies to rig the system (two of the biggest players in carbon trading are the scandal-ridden Enron and Goldman-Sachs), while more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere.

On the other side of the argument are most of the Democratic Party and some big conservation groups, including the Natural Resource Defense Council, which see cap-and-trade as a practical tool in dealing with the climate crisis. Set the emissions cap, they argue, and allow trades to achieve it while creating green jobs.

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A new line of defense

Ed Quillen | Dec 05, 2009 09:25 AM

    The attorneys for Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who made bogus bids at a BLM drilling-rights auction last year, have come up with a new line of defense: selective prosecution.
    DeChristopher is charged with such federal felonies as interfering with a government auction and making a false representation. If convicted, he could get up to 10 years in prison.
    DeChristopher had earlier proposed a "necessity defense" based on preventing global warming by stopping some drilling, but that was rejected by federal judge Dee Benson.
    What's selective prosecution? Suppose you're among a crowd of people jaywalking. The cop arrests only you. You might have a "selective prosecution" defense, especially if you can show you were singled out.
    According to paperwork filed by the federal prosecutors in a recent pre-trial conference (the trial is currently scheduled for March 15-17), there have been at least 25 cases where someone bid at a BLM mineral-rights auction, and then failed to pay. And not one of them was ever charged with submitting a fraudulent bid.
    So why single out DeChristopher? The prosecution might argue that the others at least intended to pay, whereas DeChristopher had no intention of coming up with the $1.7 million to cover his successful bids..
    DeChristopher might then point out that, after the action,  he began to raise money on the Internet, thus showing intention to pay, although the government refused to accept any of that money.
    Further, another federal judge later found that many of the parcels offered for auction, which were near national parks and monuments, could not be legally leased under federal law. So if the auction contained bogus parcels in the first place, how could  DeChristopher be guilty of interfering with a legitimate government process?
    This makes a lot more sense than the "necessity defense," and one might hope that, at the very least, it will inspire the BLM to prosecute all successful bidders who can't come up with the cash at closing time. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and what's law for a college student should be law for an exploration company.

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Doggone it

Jodi Peterson | Dec 02, 2009 09:15 AM

The black-tailed prairie dog won't be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the feds announced today. Despite the fact that the 'dogs now occupy about 3 percent of their original habitat, and despite plague, poisoning and "varmint hunts", the federal Fish and Wildlife Service says populations are increasing.

That's good news for farmers, ranchers, and developers, given that black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit 2.4 million acres across the West and federal protection would limit activities on that land. It's also doubtless gratifying to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who, in his former position as Colorado's Attorney General, "threatened legal action if the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the black-tailed prairie dog as threatened".

But it's bad news for prairie dogs and their supporters. Reports the Casper Star-Tribune:

Lauren McCain, prairie protection director for WildEarth Guardians, said she was "very, very disappointed and discouraged" by Wednesday's ruling.

The black-tailed prairie dog, she said, is a "keystone species" that helps create habitat for a variety of other species -- including the black-footed ferret, one of the rarest animals in North America. "The whole life of the prairie depends on the health of prairie dog colonies," she said.

For more perspective, see our 2000 story, when listing the dog was found to be "warranted but precluded": Dog doesn't get its day and our 1999 feature Standing up for the underdog.

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Nuclear Nevada

Cally Carswell | Nov 24, 2009 08:24 AM

"Some of you have been inconvenienced by our test operations," the Atomic Energy Commission wrote to residents living near the Nevada Test Site, in Nye County, in 1955. "At times some of you have been exposed to potential risk from flash, blast, or fall-out. You have accepted the inconvenience or the risk without fuss, without alarm, and without panic."

Inconvenience? That's hardly how Nevadans would describe their nuclear legacy today, nor are they "without alarm" about its consequences. When Yucca Mountain was shelved earlier this year, many breathed a sigh of relief that Nye County wouldn't become a nuclear dumping ground—at least for now. But as the LA Times reports, the county is unlikely to shake its nuclear past anytime soon:

Over 41 years, the federal government detonated 921 nuclear warheads underground at the Nevada Test Site, 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Each explosion deposited a toxic load of radioactivity into the ground and in some cases directly into aquifers.


In a study for Nye County, where the nuclear test site lies, [Nevada hydrogeologist Thomas] Buqo estimated that the underground tests polluted 1.6 trillion gallons of water. That is as much water as Nevada is allowed to withdraw from the Colorado River in 16 years—enough to fill a lake 300 miles long, a mile wide and 25 feet deep.

At today's prices, that water would be worth as much as $48 billion if it had not been fouled, Buqo said.

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Down on copper mine

Ariana Brocious | Nov 23, 2009 09:50 AM

Plans to move forward with what would be the third- or fourth-largest copper mine in the country have been shelved for another year. The U.S. Forest Service has postponed an environmental impact study for a proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Ariz., until April 2010 (see our 1997 story). This will push the final decision on the Rosemont mine back to late 2010, six months later than originally planned, according to the Arizona Daily Star:

Last month the Forest Service announced it would have to delay release of the environmental analysis because of complex, controversial issues surrounding the project, including water supplies, water pollution, air quality, traffic, effects on Indian ruins and other cultural resources, and effects on wildlife habitat.

Indeed, the project has caused quite a stir in nearby communities, including Sonoita, Elgin and Green Valley, where residents came out in droves to protest the mine proposal at two public meetings in late October with Jay Jensen, a top USDA official. Concerns ranged from the economic impact on tourist destinations to the destruction of scenic views and local communities, as well as negative environmental effects. Wade Bunting of the Sonoita Community Action Alliance voiced his worries in the Arizona Daily Star:

“It’s a massive industrial project. The mine will be the death blow to our unspoiled natural environment.”

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Keeping uranium out of the Grand Canyon

Marty Durlin | Nov 23, 2009 06:53 AM

Are 21- year-old documents adequate to approve reopening a uranium mine about 15 miles north of the Grand Canyon? The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust say no, and they're suing the Bureau of Land Management for giving the go-ahead, claiming the agency is violating multiple federal laws by using the decades-old environmental assessment to approve the uranium mine.

The Arizona I Mine has changed ownership three times since it was permitted. It is now owned by the Canadian Denison Mines Corporation, which plans to begin mining there in the first quarter of 2010. The company proposes to extract 67,000 tons of ore, enough to produce about 900,000 pounds of yellowcake, from a 1,300-foot mine shaft that parallels an underground formation known as a breccia pipe -- a collapsed cavern filled with sediments and uranium ore.

"The breccia pipe mines are some of the highest grade mines in the United States," Denison CEO Ron Hochstein told the Arizona Daily Sun.

Hochstein told the Canwest News Service that the idea that the mine threatens the Grand Canyon ecosystem can't be justified "by any stretch of the imagination'' because of the site's distance from the park and planned environmental protection measures.

The 1988 documents do not include the southwestern willow flycatcher and four kinds of fish - all native to the Colorado River - that have since been added to the U.S. endangered species list. The conservation groups also claim the mine poses a risk to the seeps and springs at the Grand Canyon.

"If there's the potential for the mine to deplete or contaminate aquifers that discharge into the canyon, that's not a risk worth taking," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "... Neither the mining company nor the BLM can guarantee that aquifer depletion or pollution won't happen."

In July the Department of the Interior barred new mining claims on about 1 million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon for three years. There are as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands near the Grand Canyon. Some 1,100 uranium mining claims are within five miles of the Grand Canyon National Park.

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The law of necessity

Ed Quillen | Nov 19, 2009 06:00 AM

    Tim DeChristopher won't be allowed to put global warming on trial when he's on trial.
    DeChristopher majors in economics at the University of Utah. Last fall, he went into a BLM auction and successfully bid on 13 drilling leases, also driving up prices for other successful bidders. But he didn't have the $1.7 million to pay for the leases -- he didn't even have the intention to pay. In April, he was charged with felonies like interfering with a government auction and making a false representation.
    In recent preliminary maneuvering before the trial, DeChristopher tried to raise the "necessity defense" of choosing the lesser of two evils.
    That is, committing one crime was the only way to prevent a greater crime. One oft-cited example comes from the movie "North by Northwest," where the crime of drunken driving was allowed because it was the only way to prevent the greater crime of kidnapping. It also appeared in a recent episode of "Law & Order," wherein the defendant claimed that the murder of a doctor was the only way to prevent more abortions, which were murders in the defendant's eyes.
    DeChristopher argued that sabotaging the BLM auction prevented more drilling which would have led to more global warming. If the judge accepted that, then the defense could call climate experts during the trial.
    Federal Judge Dee Benson ruled against the necessity defense because DeChristopher had other options besides his false bids. He could have filed a formal protest on the leases, demonstrated outside the auction, or joined the environmental groups who sued and kept the leases from proceeding.
    In other words, even if the court conceded that global warming was a greater offense than some false bids, DeChristopher had other means at his disposal to oppose that greater offense.
    No trial date has been set. If convicted, DeChristopher could get up to 10 years in prison, although the prosecutor, Brett Tolman, said such a long sentence was unlikely.
    Although I enjoyed the "monkey wrench" aspect of DeChristoper's actions, I have to say the judge's ruling seemed sound to me. I don't want someone disabling my pickup, then successfully pleading that the vandalism was necessary to deter global warming.


Spectrum of sexuality

Arla Shephard | Nov 18, 2009 05:10 AM

On the night of June 16, 2001, Fred Martinez, Jr. was walking home from a party when he was chased into a rocky canyon on the outskirts of Cortez, Colo. The 16-year-old Navajo was cornered in the chasm’s nightmarish shadows and bludgeoned to death. Police found his body five days later. The crime shocked the community.

Martinez was openly gay, and his murder was easy to solve – the murderer, 18-year-old Shaun Murphy of Farmington, N.M., had bragged to his friends that he had “bug-smashed a fag.” The hate crime opened up frank discussions about perceptions of gender among Navajos, says Lydia Nibley, who delves into the topic in her new documentary, premiering Nov. 21 at the Starz Denver Film Festival.

Two Spirits explores the traditional Navajo belief in four genders and how it's changed over time. “Many Navajo people have been acculturated so much to Western ideas that the tradition has very nearly been lost,” Nibley says. “Learning more about who Fred was, we were instantly drawn to this idea of the balance of masculine and feminine.”

The first Navajo gender is a feminine woman, the second a masculine man, the third a male-bodied person with feminine characteristics (nádleehí) and the fourth a female-bodied person with a masculine essence (dilbaa). When Martinez came out to his mother, she identified him as nádleehí.

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Snodgrass slowdown

Sarah Gilman | Nov 12, 2009 06:35 AM

As recently as this summer, it looked like Crested Butte Mountain Resort -- a ski area in western Colorado renowned for its extreme terrain -- might finally expand onto the forested slopes of uncharismatically-dubbed Snodgrass Mountain (Gusundheit!). 

The company has been pushing the expansion for decades, and a strong local opposition movement has been active for just about as long. Opponents have long been concerned that the proposal -- the most recent version of which calls for a handful of lifts and about 276 skiable acres carved out of national forest -- would cut off public access to popular backcountry skiing and snowshoe routes on Snodgrass, increase avalanche danger on other parts of the mountain and harm wildlife habitat, among other things.

Then the economy tanked. With locals scrabbling to make ends meet, it seemed resort officials might finally have their opportunity to really sell the project -- with its promise of new jobs and revenue -- to the community, as Rachel Odell Walker reported in her April, 2009, High Country News feature, "Go sell it on the mountain."

Not so much, it turns out.

On Nov. 5, Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison National Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond rejected the resort's expansion proposal and request for federal environmental review.

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Veteran namesakes

Ed Quillen | Nov 11, 2009 02:01 PM

    It's Veteran's Day. A military post, Fort Hood in Texas, has been much in the news of late on account of a tragic mass murder. And I'm a history buff.
    These threads all came together when I found out that Fort Hood was named for an army veteran -- Gen. John Bell Hood. He did serve in the U.S. Army from 1853 to 1861, when he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army. So we have a U.S. military post named after a man who fought against the U.S. Army.
    That got me to wondering. How many active U.S. Army bases on U.S. soil are named after Confederate soldiers? And how many are named after Union officers?
    I had never heard of any current forts named after the major Union generals. No Fort [Ulysses S.] Grant, Fort [William Tecumseh] Sherman, or Fort [George H.] Thomas. There were some old facilities now closed, like Fort [John] Logan near Denver, but nothing current.
    So I did some quick searching (the list may not be exhaustive) for active Army forts in the U.S. and their namesakes.
    Fort Meade in Maryland, named for Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac, and the victor at Gettysburg.
    Fort Sill in Oklahoma, named for Gen. Joshua W. Sill, who died in combat.
    Fort Carson in Colorado, named for Col. Kit Carson, who led various Union units in the West during the Civil War; mostly he fought Navajo rather than Confederates.
    As for the other Confederate namesakes:
    Fort Benning in Georgia and Alabama, for Gen. Henry L. Benning.
    Fort Bragg in North Caroline, for Gen. Braxton Bragg.
    Fort Gordon in Georgia, for Gen. John Brown Gordon.
    Fort Polk in Louisiana, for Gen. Leonidas Polk, "the fighting bishop." A West Point graduate, he left the Army for the clergy and became Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana. When the state seceded, he joined the Confederate Army.
    Fort Lee in Virginia, of course named for Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
    Add it up, and there are four active forts named for Union officers, and six named for Confederates who fought against the Union. What does this Dixie majority signify? An effort at national reconciliation after the Civil War? The power of Southern representatives and senators on military appropriation committees?
    Or that one way for an American to be honored by the U.S. Army is to fight against the Army, rather than serve in it? In that case, why isn't there a Fort Sitting Bull or a Fort Geronimo?


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