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The "tyranny of fleece"

Marty Durlin | Mar 10, 2009 08:30 AM

President Obama today named activist and author Van Jones -- an African American -- as his Special Advisor on Green Jobs. Perhaps no one is more qualified to dole out stimulus funds for green jobs than Jones -- especially now, as more and more people are impacted by a deteriorating environment and a failing economy. The founder of "Green For All," an environmental group dedicated to bringing green jobs to the disadvantaged, and the author of "The Green Collar Economy," Jones has devoted himself to lifting people out of poverty through environmental action. His emphasis has been on environmental justice.

"We don't want to be first and worst with all the toxins and all the negative effects of global warming, and then benefit last and least from all the breakthroughs in solar, wind energy, organic food, all the positives. We want an equal share, an equitable share, of the work wealth and the benefits of the transition to a green economy," he told Mother Jones in 2008.

Coincidentally, a New York Times story published this week talked about the lack of diversity in environmental organizations.

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Shale tests the waters

Terray Sylvester | Mar 09, 2009 08:56 AM
Filed under: Water , Energy , Apocalypse

Between 105 and 315 million gallons of water per day: by current estimates, that's the amount of water that could be swallowed by a 2.5-million-barrel-per-day-oil shale industry. It's an impressive number, but a bit of an abstraction. For a more visceral take on the impacts of oil shale, take a look at the 25 opposition letters filed against Shell Oil's water claim in Colorado's Yampa River. They'll give you a sense of the trade-offs involved -- of just who we'll leave wanting if we slake the thirst of oil shale.

As the Denver Post points out, 25 is an impressive number, too:

"There is a big target on the Yampa. Everyone is looking to tap into it," said Glenn Porzak, a water lawyer for the city of Steamboat Springs.

Water-rights applications usually generate no more than seven protest letters, Porzak said. The biggest case he was ever involved in had about 19.

"This Yampa case is big," he said.   

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Crossed purposes in Wyoming?

Terray Sylvester | Mar 09, 2009 04:07 AM

On February 27, Wyoming passed a set of laws designed to flesh out a legal framework for burying carbon emissions in the geologic cavities, or "pore spaces," that lie beneath significant portions of the state. The rules attempt to answer a few pertinent questions. Notably: Who will be responsible for the carbon once it's been injected into a pore space, and for how long?  And, if one person wants to sequester carbon where another plans to dig for coal, drill for oil, or mine uranium, whose claim takes precedence?

It'll be awhile before anyone starts sequestering carbon on a commercial scale (probably more than a decade where coal power plants are concerned), and it's likely that any answers to these questions will change before sequestration becomes a reality. But here are two interesting issues that stick out so far:

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Mixed messages

Jonathan Thompson | Mar 06, 2009 04:20 AM

Yesterday, the New York Times had a swell interactive map that showed unemployment rates in every county in the nation. It showed that, with the exception of Michigan, the West is getting whacked by job losses harder than just about anyone else. California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington are all awash with high unemployment rates.

The exception is energy-intensive counties -- that is, the ones with lots of drill rigs protruding from the landscape. They seem to have better weathered the economic storm. Northwestern Colorado, southeastern New Mexico, Sublette and Sweetwater counties in Wyoming, and San Juan County in New Mexico -- all gas and oil hotspots -- have unemployment rates well below the national average.

At least for now. But signs are on the horizon that even the gasfield communities may face a bumpy ride. Just in Colorado, drill counts are down 46 percent. And the Grand Junction Sentinel has the news that Halliburton has laid off "tens of employees" and:

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My pet gripe

Felice Pace | Mar 05, 2009 04:20 AM

Have you noticed that Americans are always declaring something in their back yard the biggest, longest, cleanest, dirtiest and my personal favorite, most pristine?

One community in rural Northern California decided a while back to erect the nation's "tallest" flagpole as an economic development project. Grants were obtained and the pole went up. For a while it WAS apparently the tallest flagpole in the US. But the distinction lasted less than a year. At least this community was willing to acknowledge that it had indeed lost the short-lived distinction.

 From whence does this tendency come? Is it just Americans who do this sort of thing or is locally biased exaggeration a tendency in all human societies?

We should be able to rely on journalists to fact check claims of this type when they encounter them in the course of researching stories. And we should be able to rely on editors to require fact checking and to catch most misstatements of fact.

Unfortunately, fact checking seems to be out of favor these days necessitating the sort of correction in the comment above. This is curious in light of the web which makes fact checking so much easier than in the old days. 

But even the web can be confusing. I just did a web search - US longest free flowing river - and was not quickly able to get the answer. I had similar problems on I did however learn the name of Missouri's longest "free-flowing" river - the Meramec - as well as Alabama's longest - the Cahaba.

I suspect that the proliferation of factual errors in modern journalism is the result of changing values. Most journalists and their editors appear to be more concerned about whether the article reads well than about whether it is factually accurate.  In this they may simply be reflecting the values of readers.

I invite readers of this Blog to comment: Are factual errors proliferating or is it just that there is more "journalism" being done? Are major publications more or less likely to contain factual errors? What, if anything, should be done about the situation? 

And what about my pet gripe?  Is this a uniquely American tendency or is it universal?  Is it more prevalent in the American West than in other parts of the US?

While you are at it, please share your favorite example too.


Endangered Species Act restored

Jeff Chen | Mar 04, 2009 08:18 AM
Filed under: Politics , Wildlife

Gray wolves and other endangered species will be happy about President Barack Obama's decision on Tuesday to bring back the original rules of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).



In December 2008, as a parting gift, the Bush administration introduced rules to allow federal projects to bypass a mandatory review from either the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. So if federal agencies decided that their proposed highways, dams or mines pose no threat to imperiled species, they wouldn't have to consult with scientists.

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Requiem for a jaguar

Jodi Peterson | Mar 03, 2009 06:21 AM

On Feb. 20, we wrote that for the first time ever in the U.S., scientists had trapped a jaguar and fitted it with  a radio tracking collar.  Just 10 days later, though, the big cat was dead.

Known as Macho B, he had prowled 500 square miles of the U.S.-Mexico border region  for more than a decade (see our story "Cat Fight on the Border"). Distinguishable by a Pinocchio-shaped rosette on his side, he was photographed by remote cameras 63 times during those years. In his prime Macho B weighed up to to 150 pounds, but he was down to 118 when he was captured in February, although scientists thought the 16-year-old cat still looked to be "in fine shape." When he was recaptured last Sunday and euthanized by a zoo vet, kidney failure had whittled his frame to 99 pounds, reports the Arizona Republic.

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Western water woes

Jeff Chen | Mar 03, 2009 05:15 AM

A deal in the 1920s divided water rights amongst Western states. But back then, water conditions were more ideal. Now that we're in somewhat of a prolonged drought, many water managers are warning that there may not be enough water to fulfill the Colorado River Compact. Matt Jenkins spun an excellent tale about the issue in the March 2 issue of HCN.

And KUNC's Kirk Siegler speaks with HCN editor Jonathan Thompson about future water woes in the West.

Be sure to check back each issue for more interviews with KUNC.

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A loss for Klamath dam and water deals

Felice Pace | Mar 03, 2009 05:10 AM

In a defeat for those organizations and interests which support proposed Klamath River Water and Dam Deals, the California Water Resources Board has rejected a request from energy giant PacifiCorp to once again delay consideration of the impacts PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams have on water quality.

In a late February letter to “interested parties” the Water Board refused to delay a key part of the dam re-licensing process. The water quality certification or “401” process determines what dams must do to meet established water quality standards. Some experts believe that completion of the process for the Klamath dams would make it clear that rel-icensing the Klamath River dams requires changes that could cost over $1 billion dollars for fish ladders, water quality treatment and other environmental mandates.

The water quality process which now continues will also determine interim changes in dam, powerhouse and reservoir operations and management which PacifiCorp must implement while it and the federal governments consider whether or not to remove the dams. Under an “Agreement in Principle” (AIP) which PacifiCorp, the federal Department of Interior, Governor Schwarzenegger (California) and Governor Kulongoski (Oregon) have signed, a decision on whether or not to remove the dams would not be made until the end of 2012; if the dam removal options is chosen, removal would not begin until 2020.

The long time lag under the AIP between when a decision on dam removal would be made and the beginning of the dam removal process - as well as the fact that PacifiCorp can “opt out” of dam removal in the meantime - makes the “interim conditions” placed on annual dam operating licenses between now and 2020 critically important. The Klamath River and its salmon suffer from terrible water quality conditions – especially below the dams. Recent assessments found that 100% of the salmon in the 30 or so river miles below the Klamath dams suffer from diseases associated with poor water quality. It is now well documented that many of the salmon produced in the Klamath River and its tributaries perish as a result of these diseases before they can reach the ocean.

Those who reject the 2020 time-line for the beginning of dam removal believe that requiring PacifiCorp to take steps to mitigate poor water quality now will persuade the company to agree to remove the dams well before 2020.  Interim conditions would also be likely for a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir (Keno) which the company proposes to transfer to federal ownership. Keno Reservoir receives all agricultural wastewater generated within the 200,000 plus acre Klamath Project operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. Fish kills related to poor water quality occur in this reservoir every year including die off of sucker species listed as “endangered” under the federal ESA. Measures to mitigate Keno’s poor water quality could be included in the “interim conditions” PacifiCorp is ordered to implement.    

One of the most controversial provisions of the Agreement in Principle on the Klamath River dams would link it to an even more controversial Water Deal. That proposed deal would require federal legislation to give water allocation priority over salmon to irrigators within the federal Klamath Project. Federal legislation would also be necessary to provide close to a billion dollars in new subsidies for Klamath Basin Agricultural Interests and federal tribes and to free PacifiCorp from liability not only for dam removal but for Klamath Hydro-Project legacy impacts going forward.

Under the proposed Water Deal, State of California legislation would also be required to exempt irrigators who commercially farm on Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges from provisions of the California Endangered Species Act. The C-ESA prohibits “take” of the Bald Eagle and other listed species. Scientific assessments have concluded that farming on the refuges “takes” Bald Eagles when the Bureau of Reclamation allows refuge marshes to be dried up in order to supply irrigation water for farming on the refuges.  This occurs during drought years.

A recent meeting of the California Water Resources Board, at which PacifiCorp’s request for another water quality certification delay was discussed, revealed where various Klamath “stakeholders” stand in relationship to PacifiCorp, the Agreement in Principle on the dams and on the Water Deal which has been linked to a dam removal agreement. Those standing with PacifiCorp and in support of a delay in 401 and interim water quality programs include Trout Unlimited, the Yurok Tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association. These organizations are also among the most avid proponents of the proposed Water Deal. Opposition to delaying the water quality process included the Hoopa Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Northcoast Environmental Center, an alliance of several environmental organizations based on California’s Northcoast.     



Tell me sweet little lies...

Emily Underwood | Mar 02, 2009 04:30 AM

Bottled water has always been an elaborate PR scam-- both an invented necessity and a bizarre symbol of luxury. Nevertheless, I buy it sometimes, especially on long car trips. I don't know why, but I usually pick Fiji. Maybe it's the square shape and snazzy palm frond label. 

I have always known that I am being seduced by shameless greenwashing: "natural artesian water" so eco-friendly that "every drop is green." However, like most of us, I enjoy forgetting what I know, as I listen to the  gurgle of gasoline filling up my tank and eat a frozen Snickers bar.

Every bottled water company has a special spin: Evian has tried for years now to convince us that drinking its bottled water will make us thin and sophisticated, possibly even French. Dasani, by Coca Cola, goes for mystery with its shapely blue bottle and "mouthwatering" mineral formula.  

Something all the bottled water companies have in common these days, however, is aggressive greenwashing. It turns out Fiji is running one of the most surreal and manipulative campaigns.

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