Conservation, Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, Green

Judge Says More Environmental Study Needed for DAPL Operation

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to redo some of its environmental studies.
A Portland, Oregon Dakota Access Pipeline protest solidarity rally. Photo: Diego G Diaz / Shutterstock.com

On June 14, a federal judge put a temporary block on the use of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by stating that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to reconsider some of its environmental impact studies.

U.S. district judge James Boasberg said that the corps had failed to take into account the level to which a spill might affect “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”

Boasberg had previously rejected two of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s appeals—one based on the fact that construction threatened sites of historical and cultural significance to the tribe, and the other that oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe would damage sacred waters.

“Now that the court has rejected these two lines of attack, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River here take their third shot, this time zeroing in on DAPL’s environmental impact,” Boasberg wrote in his decision. “This volley meets with some degree of success.”

The judge wrote that while the Army Corps of Engineers had “substantially complied” with the National Environmental Policy Act, federal permits issued for the pipeline were in violation of the law in certain ways. “To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court,” Boasberg wrote.

Later on, the judge will consider whether the pipeline must halt operations while the additional research is being conducted. A status conference is scheduled for the week of June 19.

Whether the pipeline is shut during the review or not depends on whether the omissions in the Corps’ analysis can be addressed quickly, or whether they’re large errors that might require more study.

“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and we will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.

Just days after being sworn in, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Corps to do whatever it needed to do to get the pipeline construction underway. In February, the Corps granted the final easement needed to finish the pipeline.

This decision marks “an important turning point,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the tribes in the lawsuit. “Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Trump administration…prompting a well-deserved global outcry.”

Although the protests by the Standing Rock tribe and its allies were effectively over in February, when the main encampment was cleared and the pipeline completed, this decision by Judge Boasberg shows that the struggle for justice—both for the environment and for the tribe—is not over yet.

Business, Environmentalist, Green

EPA Boots Scientists Off Scientific Review Board

At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA's Board of Science Counselors.
At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA’s Board of Science Counselors. Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock.com

At least five academic scientists have been dismissed from a major review board, according to the New York Times.

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries that are supposed to be regulated by the EPA. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said.

This isn’t a surprising move, given that Pruitt is a former oil company executive who has questioned human-caused climate change—something that has been agreed on by at least 97 percent of the scientific community—and has been tasked by President Trump to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean water protection and climate change.

The scientists were dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews and evaluates the research conducted by the EPA’s scientists.

“We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai of the University of Michigan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member commission that advises the EPA on areas on where it should conduct research and evaluates the scientific integrity of EPA regulations. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

On the other hand, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the SAB had become nothing but a rubber-stamp organization that approves all of the EPA’s regulations. He wrote a bill designed to restock that board with more members from the business world.

“The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” Smith said. “The conflict of interest here is clear.”

“Today I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”

“I believe this is political,” said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, said of the dismissals from the Board of Science Counselors. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”

Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, Science

National Academy of Sciences Says EPA Pollutant Studies Are Necessary

EPA employees protest job cuts, March 2, 2017
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers and supporters protest job cuts during rally in Chicago, Illinois, March 2, 2017. Photo: John Gress Media Inc / Shutterstock.com

The EPA periodically performs controlled human inhalation exposure (CHIE) studies, in which people are exposed to air pollutants in order to study their short-term effects. The concentration and duration of such exposure is minimal, intended to not have any lasting harm on participants, and of 845 such participants in eight studies between 2009 and 2016, only one person had an unexpected complication.

But that does mean that there is some potential risk to participants who, while they are provided with information about the potential risks of such studies, are given that information through highly technical consent forms. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently finished a study that found that the value of the CHIE studies outweighs their risk, with some caveats.

Primarily, they suggest that the EPA develop clearer language for participant consent forms, in order to prevent further dangers. “While communicating with potential participants, it’s particularly important to appropriately characterize the risks,” said Robert Hiatt, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “EPA needs to make every effort to ensure that these descriptions are accurate, scientifically grounded, and comprehensible to people.”

But overall, the studies have been found to benefit society far more than they endanger participants, which is exactly what one might want from such studies. By looking at how pollutants interact with human biology on their own, we can learn more about those pollutants in particular, which informs laws about air quality. It also helps us to determine what might be to blame when pollutants mix in the atmosphere and cause otherwise unforeseen problems.

The findings by the National Academy come at a time when the EPA is under considerable scrutiny by Congress and the President. Anything that can help the EPA prove that they’re helping the American people will be welcome in keeping that agency funded and active, which is necessary if we’re to do anything about climate change and other human activities which damage the planet.

Business, Eco-friendly, Environmentalist

Environmentalists: It’s Time to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

With the repeal of environmental regulations, environmentalists are going to need to do their own green investing to ensure the future of sustainable energy.

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that rescinded Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The president lifted carbon emissions regulations in order to resume coal-mining operations.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump asserted. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy to reverse government intrusions and to cancel job killing regulations.”

Environmentalists saw this coming from a mile away. They tried to voice their concerns in the form of protests, but their collective cries fell on deaf ears. That’s because money appears to be the only language that the current administration understands. In other words, the time for talking about sustainability is over. It’s time to take action by investing in clean energy alternatives.

Some companies, such as private equity firm KKR, are already leading the way in this regard. KKR has invested an astounding $5 billion into ESG (environment, social, and governance) driven companies.

“Investors can play a central role in resolving some of the global challenges in a way that civil society or government organizations cannot do alone,” writes Ken Mehlman, Member and Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. “Our portfolio company Afriflora is a good example. Located in Ethiopia, Afriflora cultivates and produces Fair Trade Certified, sustainably-grown roses.”

It’s like the old saying goes: money talks. And while the average citizen certainly can’t afford to shell out the kind of dough that KKR does, they can still make an impact by purchasing small shares of green companies.

So which companies should environmentalists invest in? According to Investopedia, the top four alternative energy stocks for 2017 are:

  • NRG Yield Inc.
  • MagneGas Corp.
  • Atlantica Yield PLC
  • Covanta Holding Corp.

If there’s anything that the current administration has taught us, it’s that climate change facts and statistics aren’t enough. Environmentalists will have to reach deep into their pockets if they want to influence the future of energy.

Conservation, Environmentalist, Sustainability, Uncategorized

New Brazilian Laws Could Threaten Environment, Indigenous Rights

New Brazilians laws could threaten the environment and indigenous rights.
Indigenous Brazilians in their village. Photo: Shutterstock

New regulations currently being discussed by the Brazilian legislature could have catastrophic results for the country’s environment and indigenous groups. Two initiatives would roll back environmental licensing laws, while the third would allow the building of several new industrial waterways without requiring assessment of potential environmental or social impacts.

The alarm around these potential laws is largely due to the recently announced 29% increase in Amazon deforestation, which comes on the heels of a rocky start for Brazilian president Michel Temer after the impeachment of his predecessor.

According to Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer for the Socio-Environmental Institute, a Brazilian NGO, these new laws would represent “the most worrying regressions of [Brazil’s] recent history.

“If approved, they will certainly make it impossible for Brazil to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement,” Guetta added.

Brazil has agreed to cut 37 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and end illegal deforestation by 2030.

However, if these new laws go into effect, Brazil’s standard environmental licensing procedures would change dramatically. Not only would the overall process speed up, but some companies would be allowed to supply their own licenses—or forgo them entirely. This could be particularly problematic when it comes to greenhouse gas, since 52 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and the way land and forests are used.

About 250 organizations, including NGOs and environmental prosecutors have signed a bill denouncing the potential laws, noting previous environmental disasters like the dam burst in Mariana, which flooded the countryside with millions of liters of mining waste.

The trouble is, in many ways, political. President Temer’s cabinet has shown a tendency to cater to a powerful bloc of pro-agribusiness lawmakers called the ruralista, who advocate legislature that serves local business, often without regard for potential environmental fallout.

The ruralista are also increasingly pushing for changes in how indigenous lands are used and protected—or made unprotected. Another drafted law would transfer control over demarcation of indigenous lands from the executive to the legislative branch. This law would only allow land occupied by indigenous groups from 1988 on to be held as reserves. That means land where indigenous peoples were expelled would now be available for economic development.

“This is a clear violation of Brazilian and international law, which could result in the destruction of whole peoples,” said indigenous activist group Survival International. The organization also warned against increased deforestation in these areas.

Then there are the bills known as Decretos Legislativos, or PDCs. Their passage through the legislature has been stalled, but by no means stopped entirely. These bills would authorize the construction of three industrial waterways in major river basins on the Tapajós River, the Amazon, the Tocantins and Araguaia Rivers, and the Paraguai River. While the waterways would help expedite shipments of soy and other products, they would be built without any environmental oversight beyond whatever is supplied by the companies themselves.

The fight between Brazilian environmental activists and a government hoping to improve the economy at the expense of oversight is set to continue in February 2017 after the parliamentary recess.

Environmentalist, Green, Sustainability

Syriza Struggles with Ecological and Economic Needs

Supporters of the Syriza party
The Syriza party of Greece has their work cut out for them with regard to environmental issues.
Image: Kostas Koutsaftikis / Shutterstock.com

The victory of the Syriza party in Greece has many looking forward to a political party with ecological goals, but it will take a lot of maneuvering for Syriza to support both its environmental ideals and its commitment to new coal plants and other job-creating measures.

On the surface, the political setup looks good: Syriza has an alliance with a faction of the Greek Green party, which will have at least one MP in the new government, ensuring that green issues are brought to discussion. The party has also publically stated that they support small-scale diversified renewables production, working with local communities to support the environment. One example of this is Syriza’s plan to expand energy efficient renovations in the country.

“Alexis Tsipras embodies the hope for a change of direction in the European council,” said the Green party’s co-presidents Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lambert. “The Greens/EFA group in the European parliament will do everything it can to support good cooperation between the EU institutions and the new government in Athens.”

However, in a country where extreme austerity measures and massive debt have led to skyrocketing unemployment rates, the Greek government will have to directly address any and all opportunities to create jobs. One of these opportunities is to be found in clean coal production—a step up from traditional coal manufacturing, but still potentially dangerous for the environment.

Syriza is also reportedly in discussions about an east Mediterranean gas pipeline that would help alleviate Europe’s energy security concerns. How involved the party would be with the pipeline—and how the pipeline would affect the ecosystems it travels through—remains to be seen.

Other environmental issues have been tumultuous as well. The party has pledged to end a planned gold mine in Halkidiki, which would devastate the local environment. However, they also face opposition to the increased use of wind turbines, which some communities see as a way for wealthy polluters to take advantage of public subsidies. Turbines installed under the previous government often involved very little regional planning and did more to enrich industrialists than reduce carbon emissions.

Conservation, Environmentalist

Death of Young Activist Leads to Investigation of French Dam

Flags in front of the European Commission
The European Commission will investigate claims against the Sivens dam.
Image: Shutterstock

In the aftermath of the death of Rémi Fraisse, a 21-year-old environmental activist protesting against a dam being built in southwestern France, public outcry regarding both environmental issues and police brutality have continued to plague the area, leading to the involvement of the European Commission.

Fraisse’s death in late October was due to a stun grenade protesters say was thrown by a police officer trying to subdue the crowd. Protestors had been camping at the construction site of the Sivens dam, which was being built on a forested wetland the activists wanted to protect. The police at that location were members of a national military force called the gendarmerie, which is controlled by the minister of the interior.

When Parlaiment met after Fraisse’s death, members of the Party of the Left called for the resignation of Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior and leader of the gendarmerie. Their grievances were aired on national television, as was Cazeneuve’s decision to prohibit the further use of the type of “offensive” grenade that killed Fraisse. In addition, Sègolene Royal, Minister of the Environment and Economic Development, suspended work on the dam.

The purpose of the dam was to provide irrigation for value-added crops, such as corn, on 40 farms in the area.

In the aftermath of these events, the European Commission, which originally provided 30% of the funding, has stated it will look into the project, particularly after it was revealed that local officials were so eager to proceed, they may have violated environmental legislation, including the Natural Habitats directive, which is meant to maintain biodiversity. The Commission is set to discuss the controversy on November 27, at which point they may choose to launch an infringement procedure. This procedure would involve sending a formal notice to Paris and asking the Sivens dam area to resolve the environmental issues within a certain time period in order to continue work on the dam. If an agreement is not made, the issue can be taken to the Court of Justice.