Planet Watch

Louisiana tribe becomes first US 'climate refugees'

The Weather Channel reports that a French-speaking Indian tribe who live deep in the Louisiana bayou, some 50 miles south of New Orleans, became the United States' first official "climate refugees" last month when the federal government awarded them $48 million to relocate. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has inhabited Isle de Jean Charles for centuries, but because of a slow-moving disaster caused by sinking land, climate change and oil exploration, they've all but lost the land they call home. With more than 1,900 square miles of land vanishing in the past 80 years, Isle de Jean Charles has been reduced from 11 miles long and five miles wide in the 1950s, to around two miles long and a quarter-mile wide today. The monies are part of $92 million awarded to Louisiana by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a National Disaster Resilience Competition the state won, according to Indian Country Today.

Activists divided on Paris climate accord

In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history... That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT

Obama and the KXL-TPP contradiction

An ominously ironic juxtaposition of news stories, for those who are paying attention. First, the apparent good news. President Obama announced Nov. 6 that he's rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, after seven years of deliberation on the question. Obama invoked the prospect of leaving the 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian shale oil the pipeline would carry in the ground. "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," the president said. "And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership." (NYT, Nov. 6) But one day earlier, Obama notified Congress of his intent to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and finally released the text of the heretofore secretive trade deal. The notification starts a 90-day countdown to the next step in the approval process—seeking Congressional authorization. (The Hill, Reuters, Nov. 5)

Retreat on Arctic drilling —push to open ANWR

This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.

British Columbia mine waste spill: one year later

One year after a catastrophic dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine in the interior of British Columbia, the facility has passed the first phase of remediation and resumed operations—with certain restrictions. The August 2014 disaster sent millions of cubic meters of water contaminated with mine waste into the local Hazeltine Creek, which ultimately flows into the Fraser River. Water-use bans were issued for several local towns, and the spill prompted the government to toughen mine permitting requirements. Imperial Metals Corp has completed a "Phase 1" clean-up overseen by the BC Ministry of Environment. The company has supposedly ensured that water entering Quesnel Lake, which Hazeltine Creek flows through on its way to the Fraser, meets provincial quality standards. The provincial government issued the conditional permit allowing the Mount Polley mine to reopen earlier this month. However, the company cannot discharge water until it receives a second conditional permit, likely in the early fall. (Globe & Mail, July 29, 2015; ThinkProgress, Aug. 5, 2014)

Four Corners haze: harbinger of climate change

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)

Obama pursues nuclear 'modernization' —not disarmament

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 files revised bid for arctic territory

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.

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