Just weeks before President Obama announced details of his climate change action plan, federal officials approved a deal to allow expanded mining of coal on Navajo lands and its continued burning at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, NM. The deal extends the lease on the plant by 25 years, and allows for an expansion of the Navajo Mine that supplies it. It came less than a month after operators of the Four Corners plant (chiefly Arizona Public Service) agreed to settle a lawsuit by federal officials and environmental groups that claimed plant emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, operators agreed to spend up to $160 million on equipment to reduce harmful emissions, and to set aside millions more for health and environmental programs. The regional haze produced by the plant and others ringing the Navajo reservation has long drawn protest. Under pressure from the EPA, the plant in 2013 shut down the oldest and dirtiest three of the five generating units to help the facility meet emission standards. But many locals are not appeased. "Our Mother Earth is being ruined," said Mary Lane, president of the Forgotten People, a grassroots Navajo organization. "We don't want the power plant to go on. It's ruining all the environment, the air, the water." (Navajo-Hopi Observer, July 21)
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment this week issued a report on the Obama administration's planned "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal, finding it could cost $704 billion between 2015 and 2039. The biggest chunk will likely be borne by the Navy to develop a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarines. Together with maintaining the warheads themselves, this will amount to some 70% of the cost estimate. The Air Force will see costs break $4 billion a year between fiscal 2029 and 2031 to bring online the next-generation Long Range Strategic Bomber. (Air Force Times, Aug. 5)
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 4 announced they have submitted a revised bid claiming over 350 nautical miles of Arctic sea shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The country's previous bids in 2001 were rejected for lack of evidence. Under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), Russia now argues it has a right to extend its control up to 350 nautical miles. Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US are also attempting to claim territories in the Arctic. The sea shelf is believed to hold a large amount of oil and gas which Russia estimates could be worth up to $30 trillion.
A group of First Nations activists in northwestern Ontario are walking 125 kilometers of the proposed Energy East pipeline route to demonstrate their opposition to TransCanada's plan to convert the natural gas pipeline to transport oil. The walk began at Eagle Lake First Nation, near Dryden, Ont., on Aug. 3 and is expected to arrive at Shoal Lake 39 First Nation, west of Kenora, Ont. this weekend. The Anishinaabe protesters cite concerns for the region's waters in the event of pipeline leaks, and are calling the cross-country march the "Water Walk." TransCanada on July 29 announced that the company has reached an "engagement" agreement with Grand Council Treaty 3, which represents First Nations in the region. But Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White said the agreement does not mean that the Treaty 3 nations support the project, only that the company will "share information and listen to the people." At least one Treaty 3 chief is openly opposed to the pipeline. Shoal Lake 39 First Nation Chief Fawn Wapioke is taking part in the Water Walk. "Water is life," she said in a news release at the start of the walk. "Our Anishinaabe laws and values tell us everything we need to know about Energy East that is why we say no." (CBC, Aug. 5)
Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe returned to Arizona this week after traveling to Washington DC to protest the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, Ariz. A land swap to facilitate the project got federal approval last December, when it was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, although a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) aims to repeal that section of the measure. The protestors, from the group Apache Stronghold, oppose the swap, which would open Oak Flat, a part of Tonto National Forest that they hold sacred, to mining. Resolution Copper expects the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to start by year's end. Caravan member Standing Fox said at the Capitol, "I'll die for my land." If lobbying and legislation don't work, then in a "worst-case scenario, we will be out there blockading. We'll be stopping the whole process physically."
Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT?
BP on July 2 reached a settlement that will require the company to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages to settle all claims regarding the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The agreement, the largest corporate settlement in US history, will add to the $43.8 billion that BP had budgeted for penalties and cleanup costs, bringing the total cost of the spill for BP to $53.8 billion. The settlement with the US Department of Justice and the affected Gulf states specifically requires the company to pay at least $12.8 billion in penalties stipulated under the Clean Water Act and natural resource damages. Another $4.9 billion will go to the affected states. [An additional $1 billion will be paid to local governments.] Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement said, "Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the largest environmental disaster in our nation's history—the Justice Department has been fully committed to holding BP accountable... The Deepwater trial team has fought aggressively in federal court for an outcome that would achieve this mission, proving along the way that BP's gross negligence resulted in the Deepwater disaster."
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a final environmental impact statement (PDF) on the dangers of fracking on June 29, which carries the force of law and officially bans fracking in the state. Signed by DEC commissioner Joseph Martens, the report cited significant water withdrawals, increased stormwater runoffs, potential severe flooding and inadequate waste disposal as possible dangers that may affect the state's water resources. The report also cited the dangers of increased greenhouse gas emissions and the release of naturally occurring radioactive material. The Department considered extensive mitigation measures but were not convinced as to their efficacy. "In the end...[t]he Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations." This decision confirms a report issued in December by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration affirming their intent to block hydraulic fracturing across the state.