Rifle native, top-shelf attorney, and Deputy Interior Secretary Bernhardt doesn’t think he’d have any trouble affording a $70 Park fee, according to media reports.
Although no health, safety, or environmental regulation appears safe from the armies of corporate lobbyists and lobbyists-cum-administrators, a particularly fierce animus has been directed to anything with Obama’s name on it. The Clean Power Plan, National Monuments like Bears Ears, and other Obama-era rules aimed at recouping costs for American taxpayers, clamping down on harmful pollution, expanding public involvement, and preventing waste of resources have all been in Trump’s cross-hairs.
Obama Derangement symptoms may be further sign of the psychological rot at the heart of this administration, may reveal the profound, perhaps existential, threat to our Republic the Trump regime poses.
The need to undo a predecessor’s accomplishments does fit in with the behavior of an insecure autocrat. And either by design, or in the vacuum of leadership a naked emperor brings, the administration’s ministries are following suit, ruling by decree.
Consider how the environmental and land agencies are behaving under Trump. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior, for instance, seem to prefer executive fiat to public process, silence over science, and conflicted interests over competence. Under the Trump regime the media is the enemy and the public interest is elitist.
Trump Secretaries Zinke and Perry looking clean and morally straight in the swamps of DC. Zinke believes questions about government contracts are elitist, and Perry thinks fossil fuels decrease sexual assault, per recent agency communications and reporting.
And this royal demeanor extends, many observe, to the actual management of the public’s lands and treasures—the former seems for plunder and the latter for friends.
Take the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule, put in place by Obama to prevent the waste of a public resource, widely popular, practical, and effective. Thousands of stakeholders across America, including oil and gas companies and some industry groups, agree that this rule is an effective way to reduce methane waste.
The recent decision to proceed with large-scale oil and gas development in the upper headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison river, at Bull Mountain, is gaining national attention, with coverage by AP and an article in the Denver Post.
BLM Approves Master Plan for Drilling in North Fork Valley
The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan for oil and gas development in the works for nearly a decade in Colorado’s North Fork Valley.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan for oil and gas development in the works for nearly a decade in Colorado‘s North Fork Valley.
The Daily Sentinel reported Thursday that the master plan calls for eventually building 146 wells about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Paonia (pay-OWN’-yuh) to the south of McClure Pass…
Paonia is home to many organic farms and wineries. Opponents have said the BLM has failed to take into account the cumulative impact of several existing and other proposed drilling development on water consumption and the valley’s agriculture and recreation industries, among other things.
Citizens for a Healthy Community, a Delta County conservation group, has called the decision “unacceptable” although not unexpected. Opposition to the project, and the industrialization of these important public lands and community watersheds, is wide-spread in the valley. A Facebook group is keeping the community updated at Facebook.com/ProtectNorthFork.
Too Wild To Drill
Colorado’s North Fork Valley has been included in The Wilderness Society’s Too Wild To Drillreport for 2017. The Wilderness Society issues a new version of the report every few years to call attention to vulnerable places on public lands.
In the 2017 edition, places highlighted include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–one of the most remote and wild places left in the world, and Colorado’s North Fork Valley. Many locals are concerned that oil and gas development and the impacts it brings are not compatible with the emerging economy of the valley.
The North Fork is the home of Big B’s Delicious Juices and Hard Ciders.
The North Fork Valley, named for the North Fork of the Gunnison River that drains it, is renown for its bucolic and natural beauty, the state’s highest concentration of organic farms, family ranches, a vibrant creative community, and a thriving local food, winery, festival, and agritourism scene.
“This report is a wake-up call to people who love the wild backcountry and national forests around McClure Pass. And to those of us who rely on the clean water that flows from these mountain watersheds. Oil and gas development will enrich private interests but take too much away from the North Fork Valley and its ecology, economy, health, and recreation. These public lands and our water sources must be protected.”
Jeff Schwartz, owner of Delicious Orchards Farm Market and Big B’s Juices & Hard Ciders.
As if on cue, this week the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued its long-expected Bull Mountain Master Development Plan decision, approving almost 150 new oil and gas wells on either side of the West Elk Scenic Loop, near Paonia Reservoir State Park. The October 4 notice in the Federal Register says, in part:
“The Selected Alternative approves a plan for the exploration and development of up to 146 natural gas wells, four water disposal wells, and associated infrastructure on Federal and private mineral leases within a Federally-unitized area known as the Bull Mountain Unit.”
Azura Cellars & Galley is an example of the massive investments that hundreds of valley businesses and residents have made over the years, and helps fuel a thriving agritourism industry.
The prospects of bringing new industrial, highly impactful uses to the North Fork’s public lands concerns many in the valley and beyond.
The Texas-based privately held company that wants to drill and frack in the North Fork, however, is pleased. Dennis Webb reports in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
The Bureau of Land Management has approved a 146-well North Fork Valley oil and gas development plan that has been about a decade in the works and has been one of the flashpoints in the controversy over drilling there.
The agency approved what’s called the Bull Mountain master development plan for leases operated by SG Interests. The action included approval of a permit to drill just one of the wells, but the plan provides a framework for developing the nearly 20,000-acre area, with future drilling applications subject to site-specific review, the BLM said.
Robbie Guinn, an SG Interests vice president, said he’s pleased that the Trump administration got the environmental impact statement process for the project finished.
…He believes the project review had dragged out for too long.
Although the industrialization of this rural, agricultural valley could spell disaster for organic and specialty farming, and the burgeoning outdoor, agritourism and other amenity-based businesses in the valley, it is not just the visual scarring, in this highly scenic, highly prized landscape. Or the heavy and inevitable truck traffic, on an already busy and dangerous road. Or the loss of dark skies, clean air, and wild space–although all these impacts are grievous.
As early as the 19th Century, fruit from the North Fork was already winning national fame.
For over one hundred years the North Fork has been an orchard and argicultural community. It has also been home to coal mines for much of that period. One mine is still operating, due in part to favorable policy from the federal government.
Despite community pride in its history, most residents understand the coal industry is in long-term decline. And, as the economy changes, residents want to shape what comes next. Many see a future that relies more on protecting public lands and natural resources rather than in exploiting and developing them.
Economic development experts agree. The area’s clean environment, air, and water, and its rural pace and character with the superlative public lands, top quality farms, wineries, and organic agriculture, create quality products and the quality-of-life that attracts entrepreneurs, investors, and foot-loose economic activity.
“Based on its rich agriculture base, Delta County is well positioned to leverage the existing boom in organic food markets. …According to Better City’s research, Delta County is the hub of organic agriculture in Colorado, and ranks 44th nationwide. The proposed project would seek to create a strategic effort that combines marketing, infrastructure, and distribution. In addition, downtown revitalization – which will support new agritourist activity – was also identified as a complementary piece to this equation.”
Region 10: Better City presents economic development visions for Delta, Gunnison Counties
According to the Too Wild To Drill report, although many residents are building for this new future, the North Fork is facing a range of threats that could jeopardize that positive trajectory. This includes active fracking and drilling operations, and additional new oil and gas leasing and development, on key National Forest and public lands in the region. That sentiment is shared broadly by community members, businesses, and organizations.
“The closest you can come to a wilderness experience in a passenger car”
“Some places are simply too wild to drill. The federal government must resist pressure from energy companies and other special interests to open up our last remaining wild places for development. The Interior Department is required by Congress to manage, on behalf of the American people, almost 450 million acres of public lands for many different purposes, not just energy extraction. Yet oil, gas and coal have long had an outsized influence—and footprint—on public lands. It is long past time that we take some of these lands off the table.”
The drive: This byway circles the West Elk Mountains on a journey through Paonia, Gunnison, Crested Butte and Carbondale. Touching three national forests, the drive crosses diverse landscapes of meadows, rivers, canyons and enormous aspen stands lit up in gold and orange.
Mileage: 205 miles
Pull over for: McClure Pass photos. Views to either side of the high mountain corridor spill out into a green, yellow and auburn canvas sprinkled with striking red scrub oaks.
Stretch your legs in: Curecanti National Recreation Area. The intersection of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with Morrow Point, Blue Mesa and Crystal lakes is an unbeatable spot for picnicking and sightseeing.
The eastern end of Grand Mesa is draped in colorful aspen and oak, on a recent flight over the upper North Fork. Photo by EcoFlight.
Just over the pass the Grand Mesa starts in an expanse of high-country, then stretches forty miles west flanked in a riot of gold and red.
The Ragged Wilderness to the south, looming ridge atop bright slopes, the lightest dusting of high and early snow. Beyond, mesas and mountains fade into a western sky.
Southwest of the pass, the West Elk Loop splits. One arm heads over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte, and the other winds down into the valley, through Hotchkiss and Crawford, then over Black Mesa, past Blue Mesa, to join U.S. 50 by Cimarron.
The landscape along the route, the public lands that connect the Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys, hold some of Colorado’s best backcountry. This area is home to a complex of roadless National Forest, protected Wilderness, and other public lands running from Battlement Mesa along I-70 in the north, south into the Gunnison Basin, and then to the San Juans and Cochetopa Hills beyond. At the heart of this geography and habitat lies the upper North Fork Valley.
The National Forests and public lands that straddle McClure Pass include headwaters that feed three rivers–the North Fork of the Gunnison, the Crystal River and Roaring Fork, and the Colorado. These public lands provide key wildlife migration routes and important habitat. The hunting opportunitiesprovided are among the best in Colorado.
From Grand Mesa to the West Elk Mountains and beyond. Photo by EcoFlight.
But despite their superior qualities as a public resource, the National Forests and public lands of the North Fork Valley remain at risk.
Looming threats include the Bull Mountain development schemes, but many fear that is just the tip of the spear.
A patchwork of plans, directives, and designations–some written long ago with little relevance to today’s needs–have fueled decades-long battles over the area’s future and continue to present management challenges for these important public lands.
Despite its natural solicitude and quiet, where the loudest sounds are likely to be a bugling elk or a peel of thunder, battles have raged here in the past, over the Clinton Roadless Rule fifteen years ago, the Colorado Roadless rule a decade ago, in a string of land use planning processes, and over oil and gas proposals. These conflicts continue today, with many of these public lands also coveted by oil and gas companies that are used to getting their way.
Taking a Stand at the Summit
In early September, residents and leaders from the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys joined their neighbors and counterparts from the the North Fork at the top of McClure Pass, in a show of solidarity and in recognition of the single, wild expanse of public lands that lies between and cradles their communities.
In mid-September, The Wilderness Society followed this gathering with its Too Wild To Drill report highlighting the threat the North Fork Valley’s and other public lands face from oil and gas development.
“We must protect our wildest places for future generations, and the upper North Fork is one of those places. Just up the hill we have world-class elk and mule deer populations, moose, bear, and even mountain goats, all thanks to the unspoiled streams, parks, and forests of the region. We can’t sell out this place for short-term oil and gas company profits.”
Alex Johnson, Western Slope Conservation Center
These public lands belong to the American people and are critically important for the watersheds they replenish, the wildlife habitat and migration routes they provide, and for the outstanding recreation–from hunting and fishing to epic mountain-biking, backcountry skiing, world-class photography, bird-watching, picnics, scenic drives, and family hikes–they offer. These lands are a rare and precious resource and all indications are they will be even more, not less, prized in the future.
People come from across the nation in hopes to get their Colorado elk from the North Fork.
Meanwhile more natural gas, as a commodity, is currently not needed in America. It is, in fact, glutted on the market. So much so that sugar-plum dreams of massive wealth continue to dance in industry association heads, over the prospect of being able to ship it off to our competitors in Asia–and drive the price back up for everyone.
The value of the North Fork’s public lands are not in their ability to make already wealthy oilmen wealthier. It is not in the short-term boost it might provide in a handful of jobs–most not from the valley in any case, or in the revenue that might end up in Gunnison or Delta County coffers. It is certainly not for the energy resources, which are not needed in the current market. Rather the value of these lands lies in their sustainable use and their ecosystem values.
This place is too wild to drill. The Bull Mountain project is not a wise decision, and the battle for the public lands here continue. For those of us that live, work, and love the North Fork, the stakes are too high not to fight to protect it. You can learn more and help at www.NorthForkValley.org.
Pete Kolbenschlag works as a consultant on energy, public lands, and climate issues from Paonia, Colorado. Photo by EcoFlight.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or sometimes U.S. EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.
While in Oklahoma City that day, Pruitt was interviewed by The Oklahoman on several topics, including his travel. The interview came soon after a report claimed Pruitt spent 43 out of 92 days from March to May in Oklahoma or traveling between Washington and Oklahoma. Pruitt dismissed the allegations as overblown claims by activists aligned with former President Barack Obama.
The opening stanza of Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front” is a good place to start this blog:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
Reading Greg Walcher’s column is part of my weekly ritual.
Greg Walcher, who many are familiar with as former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (under Governor Owens), a one-time Congressional candidate, and long-time leader of the extractive-industry and Western Slope lobby group: Club 20, writes a weekly column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Reading it is part of my Friday ritual.
Walcher’s column is widely panned as light on facts, heavy on conjecture, and harsh on any who think public health, other life on the planet, and environmental sustainability are more critical than padding private portfolios.
This week he writes about the heavy thumb of Washington holding back rural Coloradans who only want to cut things down, dig things up, and frack their way to freedom. To make his point, he quotes author, poet, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry, who–of course–never really meant what Mr. Walcher seems to want him to. Perhaps it seemed like a handy quote as his deadline loomed–would anyone even know better?
A good deal has already been written here at ColoradoPols.com about America’s largest cloud of methane pollution that hovers over the Four Corners region, including southwestern Colorado. It has been noted in blogs and op-eds and articles and exposés that this region lies within Colorado’s Third Congressional District, currently represented by Scott Tipton who himself hails from the region—and who behaves as if he’s not at all concerned about methane pollution clouding up his constituents’ lives.
Colorado’s junior U.S. Senator Cory Gardner will face his first re-election campaign in 2020. He will be a Republican facing what is certain to be a high-stakes race running in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton once and Barack Obama twice.
And soon the U.S. Senate will vote to follow this brash and ill-advised move, or to support the BLM methane venting rule, America’s clean air, and climate action.
All eyes are on Sen. Cory Gardner as a purple state senator to see if he will follow Tipton’s sooty suit, or if he will prove his purple state bona fides and vote to protect Colorado’s air quality. Sen. Gardner should stand up for clean air and climate action rejecting Tipton’s and the House Republicans’ radical attempt to gut the BLM’s methane venting rule.
First it should be noted that air pollution from oil and gas operations is a public health risk. Ensuring that oil and gas operators are required to do all they can to prevent methane leaks and to capture any methane that is leaking will reduce related pollution, including other harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
FRIDAY UPDATE (PK): The House GOP’s efforts to tear down the national BLM methane venting rules is up today. The Durango Herald has joined with the Sentinel and the Denver Post in urging that Congress leaves this rule in place.
Republicans in Congress are invoking their authority under the Congressional Review Act to repeal rules finalized during President Obama’s last months in office, including several regulations opposed by the energy industry. The Senate yesterday voted to kill an Interior Department rule designed to protect waterways from coal mining pollution…
The House today considers a resolution that would wipe from the books the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which aims to prevent methane venting, flaring and leakage during oil and gas production.
New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber said he is incensed by the possibility.
“The thought of people without a vulnerable exposure, without exposing their own lives, the lives of their families, their wives, daughters, children, to this threat is infuriating to me and so outside anything that’s reasonable or just,” he said.
…”Those insults to our health, air quality, wildlife and climate go on around the clock, and we’re on the sharp end of the stick,” Schreiber said. “We ride our horses right into those BTEX discharges.”
THURSDAY POLS UPDATE: Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah is reportedly killing this bill after intense backlash:
Over “fear it sends the wrong message,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz will abandon his bill that called on the Interior Department to dispose of or sell 3.3 million acres of “excess” public lands.
Chaffetz, R-Utah, had reintroduced the legislation in January, saying the disposal was “long overdue.” He’s backed off the plan since then, seemingly in response to the many conservationist groups that protested the plan on social media…
Chaffetz has introduced the bill every year since 2010, but it has never passed or gone forward to a committee hearing. The legislation accords with other Republican efforts in Utah to take control public lands, which account for about two-thirds of the state’s area.
“While there are national treasures worthy of federal protection, there are lands that should be returned to private ownership,” Chaffetz said in 2011.
Rep. Tipton’s district includes some of America’s most prized, visited and awe-inspiring public lands, as well as North America’s largest cloud of methane pollution. House Republicans are preparing to sell some of Colorado’s public lands, and to gut protections for air and water.
As noted in a previous diary I wrote here, the Republican assault on the lands, water and air did not take long. First up under a “rule change” devaluing the public lands held in trust for all Americans. That was immediately followed by efforts to roll back whatever environmental protections are most vulnerable.
Among the rush to gut environmental rules and protections, we learn that Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz has proposed legislation to begin the public lands sell off. Public lands that Chaffetz wants to put up for sale are in ten states, according to an article in The Guardian.
The 10 states affected are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Residents can see how much acreage is earmarked for “disposal” in their counties by checking a PDF on Chaffetz’s website.
January 2017: Public lands already going up for sale. And some of the most vulnerable environmental rules, not to mention bedrock environmental laws, are about to be gutted.
In addition to selling off and opening up more public lands for development, House Republicans are eager to gut protections for clean air and water as well. Through the Congressional Review Act certain of President Obama’s more recent regulations are open to attack by a simple Congressional majority.
Two that are among those most vulnerable to roll back are the Stream Protection Rule–which expands protections for streams and waterways from coal mining; and the BLM’s Methane Waste Rule–which tightens regulations around wasting (which usually means leaking or venting) methane from oil and gas operations, a leading contributor to methane pollution.
Delta County showcases some of its public lands – who knows which ones the House Republicans are about to sell off?
Although Colorado already has methane rules in place, through action at the state level that also applies to most federal lands, our air isn’t protected from activity in adjacent states–like Colorado’s Uinta and San Juan Basins, oil and gas fields which are both in Rep. Tipton’s Third Congressional District and also both in neighboring states where Colorado’s methane rules don’t apply.
EDIT: Cleaned up some typos and repetitive language. Also, Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Chair of the House Resource Committee calls the claim that this is an attempt to make it easier to sell off and transfer public lands, “Bullshit” in an E & E News article (subscription) today. Manyobserversremainhighly doubtful of the Congressman’s claim.
Which of America’s beloved public lands do Colorado’s Congressional Republicans think should be sold off?
The first response was during the campaign, when he accused his Democratic opponent Gail Schwartz of misrepresenting his record. As Charles Ashby reported in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about a Schwartz ad:
In it, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz says Tipton wants to sell off public lands and make them available to private individuals and corporations.
That’s not even close to being true, Tipton said.
“I’ve been a longtime advocate of keeping our federal public lands and ensuring that the American people have continued access to them,” Tipton said.
“Never once have I advocated to sell them off.”
In the ad, called “Public Lands,” Schwartz said Tipton “wants to cut off access to public lands for generations to come, killing thousands of jobs,” adding that the land should remain open for ranching, hunting and fishing.
The second action was in the secret closed-door meeting, and subsequent floor vote on House rules.
House Republicans on Tuesday changed the way Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and other entities, a move that will make it easier for members of the new Congress to cede federal control of public lands.
The provision, included as part as a larger rules package the House approved by a vote of 233 to 190 during its first day in session, highlights the extent to which some congressional Republicans hope to change longstanding rules now that the GOP will control the executive and the legislative branches starting Jan. 20.
POLS UPDATE #3: Per Talking Points Memo, we learn that Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) voted NO on the proposal. No word on the other five members of Colorado’s delegation.
POLS UPDATE #2: As Chris Cillizza asks for “The Fix,” WTF are Republicans doing?:
That so many Republican Members — 119 voted for the proposal — didn’t grasp how remarkably bad it all looks to a public already deeply skeptical of Washington speaks volumes about how sheltered many politicians still are from the constituents who elected Donald Trump president on November 8. Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of the OCE, the manner in which House Republicans scrapped it is remarkably tone-deaf and should worry any member of the GOP about what’s to come in this new legislative year.
POLS UPDATE: After President-elect Donald Trump scolds congressional Republicans on Twitter, Politiconow reporting:
Following a public outcry, and criticism from President-elect Donald Trump, House Republicans reversed course Tuesday on drastic changes to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) offered a motion to restore the current OCE rules, and that was accepted by the GOP conference.
In its first move to help President-Elect Donald J. Trump “Drain the Swamp” the House GOP caucus has voted overwhelmingly to “eviscerate” the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
The House Republican Conference voted Monday night to approve a change to House rules to weaken the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee — a panel controlled by party leaders.
Among the changes: Stripping the OCE of any ability to investigate complaints without the politicians’ approval; Gutting the Office of its ability to communicate with media or to inform the public, which funds the operations of government, including congressional salaries, staff and committees; and, Prohibiting the OCE from notifying law enforcement when it uncovers evidence of criminal wrong doing.
Al Gore Climate Champion leaves Trump Tower after meeting on climate change. “I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued,” Gore reportedly said. Two days later Trump appointed an infamous climate change denier to head the EPA.
Do the media get whiplash? Just a day ago we saw none other than Al Gore, the chief apostle warning humanity of its reckless carbon-belching ways, saying vaguely complimentary things about his summons to the Trump Tower to speak with The Donald and First Daughter to be. Today we get a science-denying climate change villain put forth as nominee for Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
And while you can’t hide the sooty facts behind a pretty face, if media were a harp it might manage a tune of sorts. Played so well by the reality star, real estate magnate, alleged sexual predator cum leader of the Free World. Look there not here. Watch the pageantry, ignore the sleight of hand.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”~Edmund Burke
The Dachau Death Train. German people that did not speak up in time were left with a terrible moral burden when they had to face the brutal reality their inaction enabled.
When I was about nine years old my parents took me to Dachau. We were living in Stuttgart, on a U.S. Army base and it was 1975. The Wall still divided Berlin into East and West, and Red Brigades like the Baader-Meinhof Gang were causing troubles.
The experience still stands as one of the most deeply formative of my life. I was distraught looking at the images of Nazis experimenting on humans, of the piles of corpses, of the cold and clinical way a modern society justified and turned a blind eye to hatred, scapegoating and murder.
So I do not tolerate Nazis well. “White Nationalism” raises a bile in my stomach and a resolve in my will.
Seeing it here in my beloved Rocky Mountain home breaks my heart. But I am not cowed, I will resist and speak out against Trumpism wherever it arises.
Church in Dillon, Colorado tagged with pro-Trump pro-Nazi graffiti in 2016.
Recently that was in Dillon, Colorado.
The Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon was targeted with offensive graffiti last night, marking the fourth reported case of political vandalism in the past two months. The graffiti, sprayed on the side of the church overlooking Dillon Valley, was wide-ranging, including satanic symbols, a swastika, a phallic symbol and “F*** Jesus Trump 2K16.”
Yesterday the lawsuit to stop the President’s Clean Power Plan from moving forward began its oral argument in the court. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the EPA rule that seeks to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the authority of the Clean Air Act.
The lawsuit is backed by some 27 state attorneys general, including Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, and lots of fossil fuel and utility interests. Colorado Public Radio recently gave a rundown on the CPP and the lawsuit.
Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman signed on with about two dozen other states to challenge a key provision of the Obama administration’s fight against global warming. It seeks to reduce carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030.
Climate is in the news for lots of reasons. Based on all the election coverage and sideshow reporting it might be easy to forget that the world goes on, for instance pollution still happens, aside from all this.
Recent news we might tune into includes the conclusion by some scientists that our planet’s atmosphere passed the 400 ppm of CO2 for good—a threshold well past the 350 ppm that some have long tied to a planetary tipping point.
The International Business Times reports:
Now, scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory have revealed another sobering finding. This September — usually a month when the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their lowest levels in the northern hemisphere, the level of the greenhouse gas remained stubbornly above the 400 ppm.
This measurement all but ensures that monthly carbon dioxide levels won’t drop below 400 ppm any time in the foreseeable future.
Still the lawsuit and arguments are taking up a lot of the space for climate news. In the CPR story listeners learn that Colorado’s state leadership is split on the Clean Power Plan:
Sometimes it seems that a headline should be too obvious to write, a title too trite and true. The “Dog Bites Man” story.
But there it is. And here we are–policy-wise–debating as if it is actually a question whether Colorado’s air quality is harmed by industrial development known to spew methane and volatile compounds.
Such is the power of money and slick PR. And it doesn’t just buy opinion and confound the public, it seems to buy congressmen too.
Congressman Scott Tipton represents Colorado’s Third Congressional District, home to America’s largest concentration of methane pollution from oil and gas development.
Earlier this month a new NASA study put to rest any doubt that America’s largest cloud of methane pollution was tied directly to oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin, the Durango Herald is reporting.
A two-year study released by NASA on Monday confirmed suspicions that energy extraction practices are largely responsible for the methane hot spot in the Four Corners.
“The argument that most of the emissions are from natural seeps, definitely, we can put that to rest,” said Christian Frankenberg, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Most of the plumes we observed were directly related to industrial facilities.”
Shortly after the study was made public, a coalition of local and regional oil and gas associations in Colorado and New Mexico decried NASA’s findings, calling it limited in scope.
“They did not fly the entire outcrop,” Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said of the area where methane naturally escapes from the Earth’s surface. “We disagree with it (NASA’s study) wholeheartedly. We know and believe the largest sources are that outcrop.”
And this past Tuesday the state health department issued a pollution alert for the Front Range according to the Denver Post:
Over twelve million Americans are at increased risk of cancer and other adverse health impacts from oil and gas development according to a new report that reviews current peer-reviewed science and health studies, and a new mapping tool that allows potentially impacted residents to gauge threat risk.
Using the latest peer-reviewed research into the health impacts attributed to oil and gas air pollution, the map conservatively draws a ½ mile health threat radius around each facility. Within that total area are: 12.4 million people; 11,543 schools and 639 medical facilities; and 184,578 square miles, an area larger than California.
Oil and gas development in Weld County sited between a school and subdivision.
The interactive Oil and Gas Threat Map was developed by Earthworks, which partnered with the Clean Air Task Force in developing the study and tools. CATF simultaneously issued a report: Fossil Fumes.
The report finds that: 238 counties in 21 states face a cancer risk that exceeds EPA’s one-in-a-million threshold level of concern; Combined, these counties have a population of over 9 million people and are mainly located in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Of these counties, 43 face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 250,000, and two counties in West Texas (Gaines and Yoakum) face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 100,000; 32 counties, primarily in Texas and West Virginia, also face a respiratory health risk from toxic air emissions that exceeds EPA’s level of concern (with a hazard index greater than one).
The report comes out as petitions are in the field regarding several ballot measures that would restrict where and how oil and gas development can occur in Colorado. It also comes on the heels of the Colorado released findings from its own air quality study in Garfield County. That study which looked at emissions during well drilling and completion of new wells found the highest level of air pollutants, including known carcinogens, during the “flowback” stage of well completion.
Notably, the team observed higher rates of emission of many volatile organic compounds and methane during flowback operations than during drilling or hydraulic fracturing. Flowback is last in the chain of well completion events, and refers to water and fracking fluids flowing up from the ground after injection of water and chemicals into the well, the process known as hydraulic fracturing.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has been targeted for emission reductions by the state of Colorado and the federal government, was the most abundant compound in measured emissions, with median emissions of 2.0, 2.8, and 40 grams per second (g/s) for drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and flowback activities, respectively. Other emitted VOCs of interest and their overall median emission rates included ethane (median emission rate of 0.31 g/s), propane (0.15 g/s) and other short-chain hydrocarbons that are important constituents of natural gas. They also looked at air toxics such as benzene (0.04 g/s) and toluene (0.27 g/s). Wide ranges of emissions were observed both across activity types and within a given activity.
The regulations would require oil and gas companies to improve how they detect and plug leaks at new and modified wells, pipelines, compressor stations and other industrial sites.
The subscription-based news service ClimateWire has a more detailed story up today:
The Obama administration today is finalizing a suite of regulations targeting emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from new oil and gas industry operations, according to multiple sources.
U.S. EPA’s final rules are a key part of the Obama administration’s goal of lowering methane emissions from the oil and gas industry between 40 and 45 percent by 2025 compared with 2012 levels. The rules also represent the first time that EPA has directly regulated methane from a source.
Environmentalists believe that reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a key part of addressing climate change.
“The Obama administration’s new national standard to cut methane pollution from oil and gas facilities is an important step to protect our climate and the health of nearby communities,” said environmental watchdog Earthworks’ policy director, Lauren Pagel, in a statement last night.
Methane, according to EPA, is a greenhouse gas that’s more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. EPA’s recent inventory of greenhouse gases found that the oil and gas sector was the No. 1 source of methane emissions in the United States in 2014.
Methane leakage from oil and gas fields is a major source of this pollutant, a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and human-caused climate change.
Indeed, in Colorado we already have methane capture rules in place, which industry has admitted they can comply with without much cost or trouble; but those too were fought by trade associations that, just a few short years ago, predicted mass calamity should oil and gas drillers be required to clean up their act.
2015 was the hottest year on record. 2016 is on pace to break it.
The Obama administration has pledged to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas, both with this rule making and with another underway in the Interior Department to prevent methane leakage from energy development on public lands.
Like the GOP foes he vanquished in becoming the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump denies the established science supporting the reality of human-driven climate change.
And while there may be many accurate charges to level that the Obama administration is taking one step back for each step-and-a-half it takes forward, that it waited so late to get started on these important rule-makings, that these efforts are but half-measures when we need to be doubling down on ending our fossil fuel addiction if we are serious about addressing this global crisis.
Make no mistake that the consequences of our selections this fall matter in a real and tangible way. One major party alone – almost in all the world – still denies the science that shows us the nature and veracity of this threat.
If you care about your future, and that of those who are coming up into it, weigh your vote carefully. If you support climate action, then support these rule-makings even if you also demand that the time to Act on Climate is past due, and that these are but tepid steps toward a sustainable world. They are steps forward all the same, and we cannot afford to take even one step back at this critical moment.
Its not news that Colorado’s economic recovery has been uneven. As the Front Range booms much of the Western Slope has been left behind. Consider this article from the Daily Sentinel, today:
Colorado’s population rate ranked as the nation’s second-fastest in growth in 2014 and 2015, with most of the increases on the Front Range. While the state saw an increase of 101,000 people, most of those people located or were born on the Front Range.
The Front Range’s explosive population growth may not be news to some people, but Mesa County also experienced a modest growth rate of 3 percent, or 456 people, during that time.
That’s important to note because some counties in the state, like Delta County, experienced a population loss those years, said Elizabeth Garner, a demographer for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
And while the article works to put a good spin on that disparity (500 people!) the conclusion is unavoidable, communities in western Colorado that have long been linked to extractive industries are struggling.
For instance, this happened today.
The silo at Oxbow’s Elk Creek mine, which sat above the former ‘company town’ of Somerset came down.
Although the Oxbow mine was shuttered due to a mine fire (and not due to Democrats as much as some fossil fuel advocates claim otherwise) when it comes to coal the writing is on the wall. And natural gas and oil prices remain depressed. By fits and starts the era of fossil fuels is making way for something different.
So it was rather upsetting, if not altogether surprising, when the Republicans in the Colorado Senate killed, for a second time, a widely supported bill (SB 81) put forward by Sen. Kerry Donovan to aid struggling rural economies with the transition that even they have come to realize is underway.
Why did they kill the bill? According to Sen. Ray Scott because “grants don’t create jobs, people do.”