Outdoor Industry Pushes Back Against Western Republicans' Oil Friendly Land Policy

Mention Ken Salazar to Republican lawmakers in the west and the response is sure to include the words "land," "grab," "tyranny," and even "Bill Ayers!" if you listen long enough.  In the tea party haze, the only thing less popular than caring for poor people and the elderly is protecting wildlands and the environment.  It's an affront to the American dream, enshrined in the Constitution, to live next to a coal mine or an oil field, drinking brackish "freedom water" and breathing polluted "liberty air."

When it comes to land management policy, few Republicans in the west have contributed more to this attitude than Rep. Rob Bishop (UT-1).  Most recently, Bishop has led the charge -- with the help of a few juvenile state representatives -- in a call for "reclaiming" western lands "for freedom" (of course) and ensuring Utah's right (ney, duty!) to drill/burn/dig/chop-baby-drill.  Also: They're doing it for the children!

But as Republicans from Montana to Colorado strive for the most creative ways to cater only to industries with the deepest pockets, businesses in the west are waking up and pushing back.

One coalition spokesman, business owner Mark Rasmussen, has taken to the op-ed pages:

Last week, 27 Utah-based outdoor-industry businesses joined my company, Petzl America, in calling on our congressional delegation to adopt a balanced, rational approach to protecting Utah's unique and scenic landscapes. We want our Senators and Representatives to understand preserving these lands is critical to our bottom lines, and the jobs our companies create.

We wrote a thoughtful letter to Utah's delegation asking them to reconsider several dangerous policies currently being considered by Congress. We have not heard a reply from any of the delegation, other than the statements of my Representative, Rob Bishop, in the Standard Examiner. Based on these comments, we can only conclude he is not interested in opening a dialogue with an important business group that provides jobs to many of his constituents. His continued assertion that protecting public lands hurts the economy just doesn't hold water.

[...]

This is not to say there isn't a place for oil and gas development and ATV trails. According to the Utah State Parks OHV program, there are over 50,000 miles of OHV trails across public lands in the state. That's a lifetime of beautiful riding for tourists and Utah residents alike. Likewise, there are already five million acres in Utah being leased by oil and gas companies, yet only one million have been developed for production. Thousands of leases issued to oil companies for drilling sit idle.

If it's a balanced approach to public lands we're looking for, the scale needs to swing toward protecting the valuable, pristine landscapes we have left.

Rep. Bishop has supported everything from defunding the Dept. of Interior to H.R. 1581, which would strip 5 million plus acres of protected status in Utah alone (for the children, remember!) in his crusade.  In Idaho, where one study estimated the outdoor industry outpaces the timber industry favorites 6 to 1 in job creation, Gov. Butch Otter fretted alongside Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg that occasionally having to tell the timber industry no would amount to "a war on the west!"

Run for the hills, school children!  Or the strip mine where the treeless hills used to be!  And be careful, that's also where we buried some radioactive stuff

Witness "stewardship" in a red state, folks.  It's no joke.

GOP reps in safe districts are hoping the collision of business interests and sane environmental and land management policy will simply go away.  But as more business owners lacking the political clout of the oil, gas, timber, and mining industries find themselves ignored, the "pro-business" veneer is getting increasingly difficult for Republicans in the west to keep polished.

 

Weekly Mulch: Activist Tim DeChristopher Convicted of Two Felonies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted yesterday of two felony counts. DeChristopher was on trial for bidding on more than 22,000 acres of public land that he could not pay for: his two crimes are making false representations to the government and interfering with the land auction.

DeChristopher made the $1.79 million bid in order to “do something to try to resist the climate crisis,” he told Tina Gerhardt, in an interview published by AlterNet. But, as Kate Sheppard explains at Mother Jones, the judge threw out “the defense that his actions were necessary to prevent environmental damage on this land and, more broadly, the exacerbataion of climate change.”

“They’re hoping to make an example out of me.”

DeChristoper now faces the possibility of  a $75,000 fine and 10 years in prison. In an interview with YES! Magazine’s Brooke Jarvis, before the trial started, DeChristopher said he had faced the possibility that he would be found guilty.

“There is still the possibility of acquittal, but I think the most likely scenario is probably that I will be convicted,” he told Jarvis. “The prosecution has been very clear that they’re hoping to make an example out of me, to convince other people not to fight the status quo.”

Wild lands

What is the status quo? Bureau of Land Management land, like the parcel DeChristopher bid on, is owned by the government, which often leases out the rights to develop the natural resources, like gas and oil, to private companies.

Up until 2003, the Department of the Interior had the option of setting aside some of its lands for preservation, pending final Congressional approval. But during the Bush administration, the DOI gave up that option and only considered uses like recreation or development for its holdings.

Back in December, the current Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, reversed that policy, again putting on the table the option of using public lands for conservation purposes. But as I write at TAPPED, Republicans are throwing a hissy fit about the change.

Truth or consequence?

The Republicans’ argument goes something like: Using public lands for conservation will deprive Americans of jobs and hurt the bottom lines of states with large tracts of public lands. What they don’t discuss is the potential damage that drilling for, say, natural gas could cause. The Mulch has been writing about the dangers of hydrofracking for awhile now, but over the past week The New York Times began weighing in on the issue with a long series on the dangers of hydrofracking.

The Times‘ series brings even more evidence of hydrofracking’s dangers to light—in particular, about the radioactive waste materials being dumped into rivers where water quality is rarely monitored. As Christopher Mims reports at Grist, the series has already prompted calls for new testing from people like John Hanger, the former head of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection department, which has not been among the staunchest opponents of new drilling protects. According to Mims, Hanger has written that:

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.

Or, as Mims puts it, “No one has any idea if the radioactive material in the wastewater from fracking is appearing downstream, in drinking water supplies, in quantities in excess of EPA recommendations.”

Tar and feather ‘em

Fracking is not the only environmentally destructive practice that the energy industry is increasingly relying on. Earth Island Journal has two pieces looking into the tar sands industry in Canada. Jason Mark’s piece is a great introduction to the history of the tar sands and takes a sharp look into the impact development has had on the community and the environment.

And Ron Johnson details the U.S.’s connection to the destruction: The federal government is considering approving a pipeline that would allow the oil from the tar sands to travel to Texas refineries. Johnson writes:

Green groups warn that the pipelines will keep North America and emerging economies hooked on oil from the Alberta tar sands for years to come. By greasing the crude’s path to market, the projects will encourage further reckless expansion of the tar sands. That would delay the transition to a renewable energy economy, while further degrading Canada’s boreal forests and spewing even more CO2 into the atmosphere.

A new regime

The decision to approve the pipeline lies with the executive branch. But all of Washington isn’t a particularly friendly place to green groups and their causes these days.

For example, as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, the newly empowered House Republicans have done away with one of the smallest green programs the Democrats put into place, an initiative to compost waste from House cafeterias. They’ve justified the cut by saying it was “too expensive,” but as Buczynski writes, “Spending must be dramatically reduced, yes, but also strategically. It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see which programs the new GOP House has targeted first.”

It’s a small thing, but it shows how committed Republicans are to the status quo: They’re not even willing to mulch their leftover salad.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Politics, Power, and the Environment Beyond BP

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Washington has a blind spot when it comes to the environment. BP and the oil spill brought the government’s failures into the spotlight, but the same problems crop up across industries: Corporations pollute water, blast through mountains, and pour carbon into the atmosphere with insufficient oversight. But no one—Congress, the environmental community, or the president—seems to have the power to address these issues.

The Senate says it will take up energy legislation soon, but staffers are saying the body won’t pass a strong climate bill without more public pressure. Energy companies are ripping resources from the land and leaving destruction in their wake, while clean energy technology, though popular, has yet to form a new platform to fill the country’s needs.

And where’s presidential leadership on this issue? “The president had a good meeting a couple days ago with senators from both parties that have led on this issue,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told the press this week, according to Mother Jones. “We have not made any final determinations about the size and scope of the legislation except to say that the president believes, and continues to believe, that putting a price on carbon has to be part of our comprehensive energy reform.”

President Barack Obama has taken his time to reveal definitive policy stances on issues like health care and the war in Afghanistan; in those cases, it was clear a decision was coming. On climate, it’s less clear that the president is moving towards a decision that will push Congress to act.

The Senate

The problem is not a lack of policy ideas. The Senate has already produced two decent bills that put a price on carbon, an effort that would over time decrease the country’s contributions to the world’s emissions. The second of those bills—the American Power Act, also known as the Kerry-Lieberman bill—would reduce the deficit by $19 billion, as the Congressional Budget Office announced this week.

Plenty of Senators have trumpeted about the need to reduce to the deficit. But in Washington, even a $19 billion reduction won’t help push forward legislation that Senators have decided to shirk. As Aaron Wiener writes for the Washington Independent:

“Will that be enough to get the bill passed? Of course not. The very same centrist senators who frequently raise deficit concerns are wary of legislation that could raise energy prices, and so the APA appears all but dead.”

Clean energy technology

At Grist, Jesse Jenkins suggests that enviros needs to reframe the issue altogether. “If you look at what Americans support in poll after poll, it is clean energy technology,” he says. “Put investment in clean technology front and center—and oh, by the way, we’re going to pay for this with a modest fee on carbon.”

Part of the problem could be that the country’s waiting for big corporations to lead the energy revolution. At Chelsea Green, however, Greg Pahl argues that smaller projects should play a bigger role, too. “Given the choice between a large, corporate-owned coal-fired power plant or a large, corporate-owned wind farm, the obvious choice is the wind farm, regardless of who owns it,” he writes. “But that’s no reason to exclude smaller…community projects that are far more effective in promoting distributed-generation strategies.”

Yes, your Majesty

It should be embarrassing for the Senate that, as a body, it’s more conservative than the Queen of England. This week, Queen Elizabeth told the United Nations that climate change was a front-line issue. Care2 reports that the Queen’s “brief statement was largely unremarkable but for the fact that she called out climate change, placing it on a par with terrorism in terms of today’s challenges.”

On environmental issues in general, though, the American government isn’t living up to its potential. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for example, could be working to minimize the impacts of oil and gas drilling on public lands, but “the agency is reluctant to wiled that power after a drilling lease is granted,” Public News Service reports.

National Marine Fisheries Service

BLM is just one of a tangle of agencies that could, in theory, push back against the interests of big energy companies. They haven’t done so. In the case of the BP oil spill, for instance, TPMMuckraker reports that the National Marine Fisheries Service missed an opportunity to push back against BP’s lease, but, using bad information from the Minerals Management Service, rubber-stamped the operation. Rachel Slajda writes:

“In 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, was asked to give its ‘biological opinion’ on the impact of new oil drilling leases—including the lease of the now-leaking Macondo prospect—on endangered species, including turtles, sperm whales and sturgeon. … In the report (PDF), NMFS estimated the impact of a major spill on endangered species and concluded that the new drilling ‘is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these species.’”

New Dawn

Energy companies are not the only ones tipping the balance against the environment, either. At the American Prospect, Monica Potts delves into Dawn detergent’s less than pristine environmental record. The detergent has benefited lately from a spate of good press because wildlife groups are using Dawn to clean oiled birds in the Gulf. But Potts writes that Dawn’s parent company, Procter & Gamble spent more than $4 million last year on lobbying and opposed measures that would, for instance, regulate household chemicals.

“Procter & Gamble lobbied against a 2009 effort to disclose ingredients in household cleaning products, instead supporting  an industry-led voluntary-disclosure effort. It also lobbied against  bans in various states on dishwashing detergent containing high levels of phosphorus and fought  to delay the bans’ implementation,” Potts explains. “The company opposed stricter household chemical regulations in the European Union in 2003 and is rated poorly by Greenpeace for the chemical content of its household products. Those chemicals, including ones banned in the EU because they can be harmful to fish and humans, end up in the environment.”

The list of such offenses goes on, and touches legions of companies. However limited, a climate bill would be a good start to addressing the country’s environmental woes. The Senate says it needs to hear this from more people before taking real steps to combat climate change; anyone who’s concerned about the planet’s future might want to start speaking up.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: As risks for oil and gas grow, USSF offers change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people’s water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks.

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

“Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out.”

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

“Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

“What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: As risks for oil and gas grow, USSF offers change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people’s water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks.

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

“Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out.”

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

“Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

“What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

 

 

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