This week we returned from a walk on the beach and learned that a dear friend had died at only 39 years old. Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director at Rainforest Action Network, was lost in a tragic drowning accident on December 26. The world lost a fierce hero for the rights of communities and a sustainable environment this week.
Before coming to Earthworks, I worked closely with Becky at RAN, and as we both became directors of our organizations, we leaned on each other for support and advice. Becky was a leaders’ leader; she could hold her own in corporate boardrooms and dive bars; we worked side by side on issues large and small. Her tenure at RAN included remarkable success.
When the State of California announced with great fanfare back in May that it was going to develop regulations for fracking, many of us assumed that meant some sort of system by which the oil and gas companies would be held accountable to state agencies and the public.
Unfortunately, that was wishful thinking; the state's draft fracking regulations take the public health of Californians and put it in the hands of Chevron (CVX), Occidental (OXY) and other oil and gas companies.
That’s because the state’s draft regs -- released this week by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), -- do not hold oil and gas companies accountable.
This week, residents of a small town in Canada are being warned not to drink from the local water supply because of a ruptured tailings dam at a former copper mine in Newfoundland. Yes, another tailings dam has failed.
It's a stark reminder of the risks of the proposed Pebble Mine, where the mining corporations want to build tailings dams, which must be managed in perpetuity, to store up to 10 billion tons of toxic mine waste at the headwaters of our nation's most valuable wild salmon fishery.
The mining industry says that current technology can prevent failures. But the science doesn't support their claims. A recent report has determined that in the ten years since there was a major effort to investigate tailings dams (ICOLD 2001), the failure rate has remained relatively constant - at one failure every eight months. These dam failures are not limited to old technology or to countries with scant regulation. Previous research points out that most tailings dam failures occur at operating mines, and that 39% of the tailings dam failures worldwide occur in the United States, significantly more than in any other country.
Alaska's Bristol Bay supplies roughly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon, and supports 14,000 jobs. This is a renewable resource that will continue to provide food and jobs for our nation as long as the fishery is protected. There is no data to demonstrate that tailings dams can withstand the test of time for mine waste storage in perpetuity. Bristol Bay is the wrong place to try.
Yesterday, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he will lead a seven state coalition intending to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not following through on its obligations under the Clean Air Act. The Attorneys General from New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont take issue with the EPA’s new air rules on hydraulic fracturing in large measure because they do not do enough to curb climate change.
Politicians decide policy; scientists help inform policy decisions by explaining the world we live in. So, it’s disappointing to hear politicians accuse scientists of playing politics. The most recent example of this involves a letter a number of senior GOP House members sent to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The letter openly questions the scientific objectivity of a little known agency within HHS called the (I’m not making this up) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Amid much discord in the United States Congress related to all matters fiscal, occasionally there emerge rare moments of cooperation. The Department of Defense (DOD) budget requires reauthorization during the lame duck session providing an opportunity for the Senate to attach policy proposals that would not likely pass were they stand alone pieces of legislation. On the one hand, the Pentagon seems like an awkward place to advance social or environmental policy. But, because its budget is so large, some policy ideas get their first trial at DOD. The United States Senate unanimously passed a number of amendments to the DOD reauthorization bill related to critical minerals and public lands. Among them was a proposal by Senators Kyl, Risch, and Heller that urges the President to coordinate opportunities within a number of agencies to develop a sustainable supply of critical minerals. Helping ensure this supply is an amendment by Senators Casey and Begich that encourages DOD to recycle the rare earth elements found in the Department’s fluorescent light bulbs. Along the same lines, a number of Senators offered additional amendments concerning various forms of alternative and renewable energies the military should exploit.
Every year, I take what’s left of my family’s Thanksgiving turkey and make soup. The wishbone always floats to the top of the pot—and I superstitiously save it for when I have an important wish to make. Lately it seems like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) might be using wishbones to determine next steps on gas development.