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Arizona on the edge of a precipice

Jackie Wheeler | Nov 22, 2010 04:20 AM

Even though it’s been a couple weeks since the midterm election, I’m can’t seem to stop wincing. Apparently I’m one of the few Arizonans to have this reaction to both the national and statewide races. My fellow citizens (who, let’s face it, were “tea party” before tea party was cool) displayed their outrage with our alleged out-of-control government by electing, and re-electing, the bunch who support such fiscally responsible classics as the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070, now being expensively litigated in federal appeals court. Who needs schools, firefighters, and social workers? Bring on the attorneys!

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Good news and bad news for New Mexico’s Navajo communities

Caitlin Sislin | Nov 21, 2010 05:00 PM

At the end of a year defined by the Gulf oil spill, failed climate legislation, and an ever-mounting urgency as the weather intensifies, federal leadership makes strides towards clean energy at the same time that leaders continue to dig in their heels in favor of fossil fuels.  And, as everywhere in the world, indigenous peoples in North America stand on the front lines of these critical climate and energy tensions. 

This month, Navajo communities in New Mexico seeking to preserve their lands and ensure the health of future generations experienced both a victory and a defeat at the hands of federal decision-makers. But it’s not just the Navajo Nation, the largest tribal nation in the United States, that is implicated in the struggle for energy justice on tribal land.  These two decisions represent the entrenched split in the federal government’s approach to energy policy, a split that impacts everyone.

So, the bad news: this week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 10th Circuit’s decision earlier this year to allow uranium mining at the site of the largest nuclear spill in U.S. history, on Navajo land.  Because of the high court’s decision, Hydro Resources Inc. may now move forward with its plan to leach mine uranium at Church Rock, the site of an aquifer that provides precious drinking water to 15,000 Navajo people. 

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A new article of faith: don't make the poor balance the budget

Mark Trahant | Nov 17, 2010 08:35 AM

There is a political article of faith: “Don’t raise taxes during a recession.” Just Google the phrase and you’ll find some 2.5 million results. The popular idea is that deeply embedded into our political thinking. Of course it makes economic sense: You want people to spend their money on goods and services. Then producers will hire more people, and people will have more money to spend, yadda yadda.

Here’s my concern: While there is consensus to protect the richest Americans – those who pay income taxes – there is little discourse, yet alone agreement, about protecting the poor and the working poor. We hear about saving the middle class, we hear about tax cuts for everyone (except this only applies to the income tax, not to the payroll taxes, a tax that is far more burdensome to those who earn less). But what about those who work hard but don’t earn a high wage?

Map of Earned Income Tax Credit

Red areas on the map show where more than 40 percent receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. In Montana, it’s basically the state’s Indian reservations. (Source: The Brookings Institution)

I’ve already written about the zest for cutting government programs and jobs, ideas that will add to the unemployment crisis and take more “spending” money out of the economy. Unemployed people, yes, even people who once worked for the government, don’t spend. This is money that will be subtracted from the economy.

I agree that we need to cut federal spending. We need to balance the budget and pay down the massive debts we’ve accumulated. (This is a position I’ve argued for doing for most of my professional career as a columnist.) But we don’t have to do this all at once.

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Go play outside

Bill Lascher | Nov 15, 2010 06:45 AM

An article in the most recent edition of New Scientist about a fascinating study conducted at the University of Washington offers yet more evidence that investing in community green space can pay off in significant public benefits.

The University of Washington study tracked the Body Mass Index of 3,831 children over two years, New Scientist reported. Janice Bell's team found that kids living near green spaces had lower BMI's and gained weight more slowly during the study, the magazine reported, and these benefits were shared across economic levels:


Image courtesy Flickr user Serge Melki.

"Importantly, the effect was independent of the socio-economic status of the children's families, which might have had an impact on their diet, and the housing density, which might indicate how much outdoor space was available for playing in - be it a leafy park or a concrete play area or car park. Bell's team concludes that children are more likely to play physically and exercise if their surroundings include plenty of green space."

There's an important subtext here: making sure kids have access to green space matters. It's a public health issue, not just an environmental one.

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When Shelton met Oprah

James Mills | Nov 10, 2010 03:50 AM

Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson was as surprised as anyone. “I was more than surprised,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “I was shocked. When the EMTs resuscitated me I was pretty much flat-lined.”

Standing outside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, Johnson thought he was awaiting the arrival of six African-American women, all about to have their first camping experience. “I was told they’ve been friends since college and they were being reunited at a spa,” he said. “But unbeknownst to them they were being taken to Yosemite Valley for a camping trip instead. At least that’s what I thought.”

Johnson thought he was in on a clever plot to welcome a group of nature neophytes into the great outdoors. But the joke was on him.

“Here I’m expecting to meet these six African-American women and who shows but Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King,” Johnson said. “I knew this was a project affiliated with her show, but to have Oprah right there in front of me was something else entirely. So yeah I was surprised, surprised in the best possible way.”

Oprah and her BFF Gayle did indeed spend an evening overnight in the Valley camping. Their experience in Yosemite aired in two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show Oct 29th and November 3rd. Johnson was flown out to Chicago to appear in the studio audience where producers of the program had apparently made up the stage as an authentic reproduction of the Yosemite campground complete with the pop-up camper used on the trip. With two-hours of high profile television devoted to boosting the National Parks Johnson hopes that more people, particularly people of color, will be inspired to visit and thoroughly embrace these wild scenic places for the national treasures they are.

“Oprah has the ability to influence trends in travel, where people go on vacation,” Johnson said. “But she didn’t just visit a National Park. What made this special was that she was camping. She didn’t do the Ahwahnee Hotel. She’s a billionaire and she went camping.”

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A just transition to a clean energy future off coal can happen

Andy Bessler | Nov 08, 2010 06:20 AM

In my first opportunity to join the blogosphere of High Country News, I wish to extend a big thanks to all those who have come before and are currently working towards achieving environmental justice (EJ) in the west. Many EJ struggles are a real challenge, rooted in a complex history with timelines and landscapes that cross vast distances both cultural and natural. As someone who has remained on the front lines of some of the EJ struggles in the Southwest for the past several decades and lived to tell the ongoing tales, I welcome the opportunity to share my perspective. Through my position with Sierra Club, and the Club's commitment to achieving a clean and just energy future for all, I've been able to work in partnership with many great organizations and individuals.

Most folks who are crazy enough to do community-based work know that grassroots organizing is tough work. The hours are long, and complex legal and hydrological details are hidden in thick documents and often get lost in translation. The unique rural communities across the Colorado Plateau operate in their own timeframe and in their own pace, which you must respect. Most folks I work with will likely be out working in a corn field or looking for sheep in some remote canyon rather than of sitting in an office charting the progress of a mining permit application. When I get lucky enough to reach a scratchy voice on the phone, the calls often get cut short as they descend into a canyon on some remote stretch of highway without cell service. In these tough economic times, funding is scarce for all EJ advocates and looking over the looming stacks of the Navajo Generation Station (the fiery horns on my headshot), we are reminded that coal remains a key contributor to regional haze and global warming as Lake Powell's bath rings creep lower and lower.

Yet it is not all gloom and doom. One of the most inspiring events I get to help organize is the Hopi Water is Life (Paatuwaqatsi) Run with my good friend and run founder Bucky Preston. This year’s run was amazing and the traditional Hopi feast that followed the 30-mile ultra-prayer run for water was off the charts.

The issues surrounding a transition off coal have an element of gloom and doom as well as real opportunities for positive change.

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Where should green planning efforts come from?

Bill Lascher | Nov 03, 2010 05:05 AM

Hundreds of urban planners, architects, developers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and policymakers danced around this question last week as they convened on Portland for the second annual Ecodistricts Summit.

Hosted by the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI), the event complements a maturing experiment to make five of the Oregon metropolis's neighborhoods into "Ecodistricts," neighborhoods designed to be more sustainable.

Though the ecodistricts concept is defined differently in different cities, in Portland they are built around developing ambitious sustainability goals that stakeholders in a strictly designated neighborhood commit to meeting. These goals might include capitalizing on district energy to limit the need for power generation from outside the neighborhood, encouraging transit oriented development and walkability, or establishing neighborhood-wide building efficiency standards.

Portland Bike Lane

Photo of Portland bike lane courtesy Flickr user Eric Fredericks.

But backers of all sustainable growth projects need to focus more on building community support, said John Knott, the president and CEO of Noisette LLC, which is working on a sustainable restoration project in the lower-income area of North Charleston, South Carolina. Ambitious energy efficiency goals and other high tech solutions to environmental problems will fail if they come without the buy-in from communities who are just trying to make ends meet.

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Buying "green" in the rural West

Jackie Wheeler | Nov 01, 2010 03:20 AM

I recently took a little unscientific field trip to a Walmart Supercenter near my home in Mesa, Arizona. I chose Walmart partly because of its prices but also because it is widely available in rural areas in the West, where shopping choices are often limited. My "research" questions: Would the prices for 'greener' products be lower than the grocery store where I had bought my dish soap? Would there be more choices?

The answer to these questions was yes. The prices were slightly lower (a few cents for the Seventh Generation dish soap) for laundry detergent, all-purpose surface cleaner, and dish soap. The store had a small dedicated "green" section ("Good for your family and good for the EARTH") containing Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer's products, as well as 'greener' versions of some mainstream brands like Clorox and Arm & Hammer mixed in with the regular products.

Green cleaning

Photo courtesy Flickr user KOMUNews.

Therein was the problem - all the choices! I could save a few cents on a "greener" product, if that was what I sought. However, I could also choose from a wide range of far less expensive products. For example, 100 ounces of Walmart "Great Value" house brand laundry detergent cost $8.00; the equivalent amount of Seventh Generation cost $13.97. When money's tight, even the most motivated environmentalist will struggle with a gap of almost $6.00 for this cleaning staple.

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Obama admin speaks on diversifying the NPS

Bill Lascher | Oct 25, 2010 02:00 AM

Boldness hasn't been an appropriate adjective for the Obama Admistration's approach on environmental issues. The White House seems better known in green circles for allowing Van Jones to be squeezed out of a job, failing to take aggressive strides on passing a climate bill, lifting a moratorium on oil drilling, lowballing information about the extent of the country's worst spill ever just weeks after lifting that moratorium or clamping down on transparency for government scientists and data than for taking huge strides to protect the Earth.

So it was pretty exciting last week when National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis came right out and told a group of journalists on a bus driving through Montana's Glacier National Park that diversity was one of four priorities he chose to pursue when he got his job.

“Just look at this bus,” Jarvis said. “How much diversity do you see on this bus?”

Jon Jarvis

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis speaks to journalists on a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo courtesy Bill Lascher.

The answer was simple. We didn't see much. Many, though not all, of the faces were white.

“This is what we see in the environmental community,” Jarvis continued.

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Journo conference highlights Native American issues

Terri Hansen | Oct 22, 2010 02:49 AM

Editors Note: This piece is cross posted from Mother Earth Journal, where reporter Terri Hansen writes about indigenous people and the environment.

A drive from Portland’s emerald green landscape took me into the Columbia River Gorge and the reds, golds and browns of autumn in eastern Oregon and Washington, through the panhandle of Idaho then southeast to a long and eagerly anticipated destination: the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 20th Annual Conference Oct. 12-18, in Missoula, Montana.

This year’s conference was SEJ’s largest focus ever on Native American issues and gave attendees a substantive look at complex environmental concerns in Indian Country.

I couldn’t think of any better way to kick off the conference than what unfolded at Wednesday evening’s opening reception. After delicious dinner fare both local and sustainable, and welcoming speeches by Montana dignitaries, a drum was carried onstage.

Not just any drum.

It seats 16, and  belongs to the Chief Cliff Singers, an outstanding Native American ceremonial drum group composed of members from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille and the Kootenai tribes, who today call the 1.317 million acre Flathead Reservation in northwest Montana home.

Fairly certain there were but a few Native Americans in the audience, as soon as I recognized drum leader Mike Kenmille’s invitation to round dance I led a bewildered but willing friend through formally set tables to the front of the room, whispering to her that we were DANCING. I nodded to two other friends ‘come joi

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